Leadership can be defined as influence. The most effective leaders build a relationship of trust and respect with those around them in which they are able to draw people in and influence them to take initiative in the accomplishment of mutually-established goals.
John Maxwell, perhaps one of the best-known leadership coaches, has stated, “The challenge of leadership is to create change and facilitate growth.” An essential means for leading change and growth and drawing people into a relationship of influence is the development of a coaching mentality. In coaching we draw out the inner wisdom, knowledge, and ability of those around us. We describe coaching not as a skill, but rather as a trait of leadership, or as a way of life. This coaching mentality is built upon the belief in the value of every person and the belief that each person has within themselves untapped capabilities. A leader with a coaching mindset believes that he or she has the opportunity and responsibility to assist people in drawing out these untapped capabilities.
Effective leaders have a focus on helping people grow and develop. They are willing to give up authority while retaining responsibility in order to develop those around them into leaders as well. The coaching mentality is focused on asking, not telling. For example, rather than making a decision themselves, a coaching leader assists the person closest to, or most affected by, the situation to reach the decision. By doing so, the leader accomplishes two major goals. First, the decision-maker (the team member) has buy-in to the choice that he or she has made. Secondly, in the process of reaching a decision, the team member has developed important decision-making skills. There is an old saying: give a person a fish and you feed them for a day, teach them to fish and you feed them for a lifetime. The most effective way to teach is to draw that ability out of the student, rather than simply instructing them. Therefore, we could add a third alternative to that old saying: coach a person to embrace fishing and they will do so for a lifetime.
The coaching mentality, as mentioned before, is built on valuing people and believing in their capabilities. Coaching as a leader is put into action through three disciplines:
- Keeping the team member (or coachee) responsible
Through these disciplines, the coaching leader draws from the team member the knowledge, wisdom, and capability required to make good decisions or to take the necessary and appropriate actions toward their goal.
The coaching mentality in leadership always has these elements:
- Belief in people, valuing them and trusting that they have the wisdom, knowledge, and capabilities within them.
- A basis in listening and asking, skillfully drawing out from the team member the information, options, and decisions.
- An action orientation, focusing on having the team member define the best next step.
- A growth orientation, always understanding that the coaching process builds skills and self-confidence in the coachee.
- A future focus, as the coaching leader invests time and energy into building team members through effective listening and asking.
- A relational partnership, as the coaching leader and the coachee work together in a climate of influence rather than authority.
Often people in authority view the right to make decisions and direct people as a prerogative of their position. They view their abilities as greater than others and view making decisions themselves as the more expedient route. But the coaching mentality is quite different than the command and control model. The coaching leader delivers long-term value to the organization by building the capabilities of the team members. More importantly, the coaching mentality in action draws people into a relationship that leads to a more cohesive and productive team.
In speaking about leaders, Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, once said, “In the future, those who are not coaches will not be promoted.” The coaching mindset is a necessity for effective leadership.
Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.