After coaching people in leadership positions for over 30 years, it has been apparent that many of them had a limited or uneven sense of their own leadership “presence” and its impact on others. The result would often be “mixed” or “incongruent” messages to their direct reports, leadership teams and other audiences. Let me provide an example.
I’m often struck by the very different assumptions that organizations use when deciding to hire an executive or leadership coach for one of their managers. Over time I’ve learned that these assumptions are usually implicit and thus not apparent to those making such decisions. I sort these differing approaches to utilizing coaching into five categories:
In my work as a leadership coach, I often encounter clients who lead long-term change projects, like creating a more team-based, collaborative workplace environment, streamlining a state agency, overhauling a non-profit or leading a campaign to reduce the incidence of sexual harassment/assault in an organization. These clients are often challenged by the fact that upper leadership who champion these change projects initially will likely to be replaced before the change project has been completed, endangering the project’s continuation.
Leadership or executive coaching can be the most powerful form of professional development because it is embedded in the work life of the client and can immediately address how to approach opportunities and challenges in nearly real time. To be effective and successful, however, coaching requires specific goals for professional improvement. In turn, specific goals require an adequate assessment of what a client does well and those areas needing improvement. This double-barreled assessment is critical because in coaching a leader’s strengths are leveraged to develop needed capacities in other areas. The gold standard for a leadership assessment is a 360 Developmental Assessment or a 360 for short.
In my thirty years of coaching people in leadership positions, I’ve learned that in order to establish valid coaching goals, a coach must have a dependable method to assess a client’s strengths and areas of needed improvement. With some of my clients, HR personnel have already assessed a client and determined the client’s coaching goals, and then directed the employee to choose a coach to help achieve them. Far too often I would learn later on that not only were the goals poorly formulated, but also in too many cases the actual person needing coaching was the identified client’s supervisor who lacked adequate supervision skills. To avoid scenarios like this one, I favor conducting 360 assessments to identify a client’s strengths, areas for improvement and suggested coaching goals.
I continue to have coaching clients who are challenged in their efforts to manage and supervise certain employees, especially newer and younger employees. The issue is rarely the person’s job performance but more often an inability or unwillingness to observe common workplace norms of appropriate professional conduct. Examples include employees who:
It’s no secret that generational and cultural differences in the workplace have reduced clarity regarding norms of professional behavior, leading to conflict and disagreements about what behavior is acceptable and what’s not. What is less well known, however, are that the same dynamics also affect boards of directors as well — corporate boards, non-profit boards and also public sector boards. In short, there is increasing confusion and ambiguity about the role that boards, board chairs and board members should play and how they should behave.
Organizational climate is the most palpable, immediate experience of organizational culture but is much more malleable than culture. Organizational climate consists of the behaviors experienced and observed in an organization, its norms and other conventions; and can also include tone, energy level, pacing and other characteristics. Improving organizational climate is easier than commonly assumed, but it is an art, not a science.
The graphic below represents a classic framework for diagnosing and improving organization climate, culture and performance. It spells out the characteristics of four different orientations and their characteristics. The article in which it appears, while over 30 years old, still provides solid advice about moving an organizational system from the Reactive stage through Responsive and Proactive stages to the High-Performing stage. If you can’t find a copy of the book that contains this article in your library, online used bookstores usually have copies at a very reasonable price if you search for Transforming-Work-Second-Edition.
Engagement agreements are one of the most powerful interventions a leader can use to shape behavior as well as workplace climate and culture. While most people think of engagement agreements as contractual agreements between professional firms and their clients, engagement agreements are also be utilized within a company or organization to create norms for expected behaviors and accountability for observing them. Engagement agreements are a vehicle for making desired behavior become normative, Once in place, engagement agreements begin to shape the climate of an organization, and over time, its culture.
- Conflict with a direct report, a peer, boss or board member(s)
- Wanting to improve a particular skill area such as team leadership or communication skills
- Concerns about how to turn around an increasingly negative work environment
- Improving impact and effectiveness as a leader after a negative experience
- Assistance sorting through the implications of a reorganization or change in role
- Addressing inter-generational conflict in working styles, pacing and norms
- Understanding organizational resistance to change and exploring steps to counter it
- Support and strategies for improving organizational work climate following an incident
- Assistance in better managing the activities and tone of dysfunctional board committees
- Help in developing engagement agreements for a team with conflicting work styles
- Improving “leadership presence”
- Developing a strategy for breaking down the silos in a leader’s organization
- Improving the level and quality of collaboration with other organizational partners
When employers utilize leadership coaching for their leaders/managers, it’s common practice to conduct a 360 developmental assessment at the beginning of a coaching engagement to identify priority areas to address in coaching. It’s important to also emphasize that such assessments are developmental in nature and not evaluative (i.e., performance evaluations).
Typically the client invites 10-14 people in their work environment who will be interviewed by the coach to answer two questions:
- What does the client do very well?
- What two or three things could the client do to further improve his or her leadership effectiveness and impact?
It’s not difficult to select a leadership coach who’s a good fit for you, but it will require some effort on your part. Search online for both local and national listings of coaches in your geographic area and also ask your friends and colleagues for referrals. Narrow your search to two to five coaches and study their websites to get a sense of their style of coaching and specialties. Also search LinkedIn and other social media for additional information about the coaches. Almost all coaches want their clients to be a good fit for them as well…and the complimentary initial consultation allows both the potential client and the coach to assess questions of fit. If the fit clearly isn’t a good one, many coaches will refer you to other coaches who might be more appropriate.
Most coaching engagements begin when a client contacts a leadership coach to see if the coach would be a good fit or not. Leadership coaches typically offer a complimentary first session because they also want to make sure the client is a good fit and has goals that the coach can help the client achieve. The leadership coach usually discusses with the potential client what he or she wants to achieve, how and by when, and also invites questions from the potential client. This session is usually done in person, distance permitting. For examples of challenges and opportunities clients often bring to leadership coaching, see Common Topics in Leadership Coaching.
Many leaders seek out a leadership coach because of concerns about how to address the behavior of peers, direct reports or even broader patterns of negative behavior within their organization. These concerns can be about job performance but more often center on personal behavior that is unprofessional, conflictual, disrespectful, or disruptive.
While a leader’s challenges with peers and direct reports may be seen as conflicts between individual styles and personalities, they may also reflect a workplace climate needing improvement. Many of my clients have had continuing challenges addressing negative behavior on the part of employees. The following are typical examples:
Clients and potential clients often ask me what the difference is between a leadership coach and an external advisor. Both provide an external perspective but in different ways that can be subtle at times:
A leadership coach is focused on helping an individual client address certain identified opportunities and challenges, where the client is typically an individual. An external advisor is usually focused on a client that is a team, project, change effort, board of directors, organization or community and making the client successful in whatever they would like to achieve.
In most instances, leadership coaching fees are paid by the employer. Many organizations view leadership coaching as an important form of professional development as well as a perk for retaining promising employees. Since coaching is an ongoing vehicle for professional development, it is typically seen as having much more impact and value than other professional development activities, such as attending professional development conferences. Many CEOs enlist a coach to work on areas that challenge them and also encourage members of their senior leadership teams to do the same.
Update – the Republicans’ 2017 tax bill has eliminated deductions for unreimbursed employee expenses such as job-related coaching, making the following information invalid:
If your organization won’t pay for or reimburse you for leadership coaching, that cost may be deductible as an unreimbursed employee expense as found on line 21 of Schedule A of your Federal Income Tax Form 1040.
The HR department or your boss may want to review and approve the choice, which is appropriate since company resources are involved. At the same time, however, it’s critical for the prospective client to be the one who chooses the leadership coach because the process of choosing empowers the client and builds her or his commitment to making needed or desired changes in behavior.
It’s important to point out that leadership coaches are reluctant to take on some coaching clients because the workplace situation they face is already irreparable or close to it.
- Situations in which a leader’s relationship with a boss or board has reached such a low point that the client is close to being fired (and the best option is to seek other employment).
With the beginning of the New Year, many of us plan to make resolutions to address an issue or improvement that we know needs our attention — regarding our career, workplace challenges or opportunities, health, diet, exercise, relationships or some other aspect of our lives. Working with a coach specializing in the type of change you want to make can help you sharpen your goals, time frame, and most importantly, your sense of how to move forward. Furthermore, a coach can support you as you make these changes, and help you to create a framework of accountability that keeps you on track to accomplish your goals.
Do you have friends, family members or a spouse who are stuck in a rut regarding work, health, family or other issues and have been expressing the need to get unstuck? Consider giving them a coaching gift this holiday season.
There are several ways to do this. Since most coaches offer a complimentary initial session, you could offer to pay for the second and third session or more. Another approach would be to pay 50% of the cost of a number of coaching sessions. Or consider paying the full cost of coaching sessions initially and reducing the percentage over time. There is a catch, however: you can’t choose the coach — clients need to choose the coach.