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The secret to optimised leadership coaching

Leadership coaching can make a real and tangible difference if you get the timing, the tone and the focus right. Our experience shows that to be most effective a business needs to hold both discipline and freedom in mind at the same time – for their leaders, their business and the coaches with whom they partner.

Leadership coaching can make a real and tangible difference if you get the timing, the tone and the focus right. To be most effective a business needs to hold both discipline and freedom in mind at the same time – for their leaders, their business and the coaches with whom they partner.

The challenges of leadership coaching

Coaching for senior leaders is widespread for both individuals and teams, and yet leadership coaching can be hard to define, and hard to really understand if you aren’t on the receiving end.  Yet those individuals and businesses who benefit swear by it as a route to significant improvements in individual and business performance.

It can take time to build trust in the coaching relationship and in the coaching process. Businesses often look for immediate results and rarely is coaching integrated between individual leaders and their teams.

We believe that to be most effective, coaching should be contextual and involve dynamic exploration of the organisational ‘system’.  This typically involves the role, the individual and the team as well as the strategic and commercial realities of the organisation. While this might sound obvious, all too often coaching interventions can be narrow in their focus and miss the opportunity to work with and explore the dynamics that exist between individuals, change processes and wider organisational groupings.

  • Leadership is a dynamic activity. To be most effective and impactful leadership coaching must always work within a context: individual leaders and their businesses.  Leadership coaching needs to be treated as something which evolves over time for all concerned.
  • Team performance is closely connected to a dynamic feedback and learning culture. The close integration of leadership and team coaching interventions means the whole leadership team is more aligned with the organisation’s needs.
  • Leadership coaching is fragmented as an industry at large so is hard to control. We strongly advocate that control should be in the hands of those who receive it.  Leaders are, after all, accountable for the performance of their business.
  • A ‘cookie cutter’ standardised approach or solution doesn’t work since all individual leaders will have different needs – and all businesses will have their different leadership challenges.
  • ‘Timeboxing’ leadership coaching (a specific number of sessions to ‘fix’ an issue) rarely works well for anyone – leadership and businesses are dynamic and constantly evolving.
  • Team performance is a critical and related factor – we know that individual leaders are only as good as their teams. Experience tells us if we find ways to integrate leadership coaching with the senior leadership team dynamics then the value of the coaching, and the investment in coaching, is magnified.

So to the Big Question:

How does a business make sure the focus is on getting the best results for individuals, teams and the business, providing a return on the significant investment needed?

 Some potential ‘answers’ we encourage you to consider:

  • Choose the coach and client wisely
    • Identify when the time is right to begin the coaching process – for example
      • Career change or transition into a new leadership role
      • A significant ‘step change’ in the leadership agenda – a new operating model, a merger or acquisition, new business market challenges, new technology or ways of working e.g. moving to hybrid working, generative AI
    • Explore whether the individual is ‘ready’ – open to support and challenge – which is an essential part of the leadership coaching process.
      • Leadership coaching provides space and opportunity to be open to exploring new ways of behaving, and it ‘shines a light’ on difficult issues. To be effective the coach needs to be capable of ‘truth-telling’, and the client willing to listen, and act
      • Leadership coaching holds a mirror up – prompts reflection – and encourages the individual to explore the myriad of options and choices available to them. To be effective, the coach needs to be capable of ‘seeing’ the issues (often from having ‘been there, done that’)
      • The client needs to be willing to invest time in thinking and acting on choices that may be different from those of their past
    • Of course, choose a coach based on chemistry – but importantly also on the experience the individual has of the issues at hand: particularly validated experience of coaching others with similar challenges
  • Leadership coaching is not a substitute for line management.
    • Managing performance, and delivering on objectives, will all potentially be part of the dialogue but coaching provides a different lens through which to generate insights, evaluate options, and support decisions made as a result of new insights
  • Focus on what works for the individual leader
    • ‘Standardised’ approaches and corporate checklists can take much time and effort to comply with – but ultimately do little to support the individual. Our experience says to focus on what works for the individual (which will be many and varied – remember this is not a cookie-cutter experience) – and measure the benefit by the value the individual leader gains, and the progress they make, as perceived by both the individual and their line manager
  • Recognise the value of integrating leadership coaching with wider senior management populations
    • Trust and confidence in the process evolve by the leader choosing to engage their senior team in some of the dialogue they have with their coach
    • Use the leadership coach to support the senior team too. For instance, facilitating ‘offsites’ as part of the regular rhythm and governance of the business enables strong bonds to be built over time and helps maintain a collective focus on the strategic priorities
    • Enabling teams to have powerful and honest dialogues, at both an individual 1:1 level and as a group, is proven to enhance trust and performance
  • Do a few things well – our core principles include
    • Actively manage the process: fully engaged contracting will include identifying what aspects of the leadership spectrum are core to the conversations with the individual and with their team
    • Recognise the time needed to build trust and real relationships
    • Ensure coaching interventions are within the context of strategic business priorities and challenges as well as individual needs
    • Review the progress with the individual and their line manager – keep checking in – and importantly, if it’s working, let it be
    • Work to build sustainable coaching skills across the organisation. Leaders can and should learn from external support and build those skills internally for their teams and down into their organisations

Leadership coaching has the potential to drive forward a step change in the performance of individual leaders, their teams, and so the whole business.

But it isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ magic bullet.

What works will be what works – and everyone – every business – is different.  The ‘magic bullet’ if you will – is having the courage to engage with and then trust a process that can make such a powerful and positive difference.


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