Coaching Is the New Leadership

Margaret Moore's picture Submitted by Margaret Moore June 13, 2018 - 10:53am
Coaching Is the New Leadership

Executive or leadership coaching is now an everyday activity in the life of many leaders, helping them grow and develop beyond what they can do without an expert facilitator of change. The now-common experience of coaching impact on leaders is igniting interest in learning coaching skills, which were pioneered in the book Leader as Coach twenty years ago by Hicks and Peterson, and more recently popularized by the new book The Coaching Habit (Bungay Stanier). 

Wider dissemination of coaching skills and development of a coaching culture has emerged in recent years. A coaching culture is particularly relevant to the healthcare industry where workforce health and population health depends on everyone making sustainable change and being fully engaged in self-care and healthy lifestyles. Healthcare leaders are called to navigate or, even better, create disruptive change, which often needs to start with self-disruption.

These disruptions come none too late in our age of accelerations, when  changes in the external world happen faster than humans can change themselves. It’s time for everyone, not just leaders, to grow faster to avoid burnout and keep up, or even get ahead, of external forces of change. That means living and thriving on the growth edge, like what happens in a good coaching session.

Harvard psychologists Bob Kegan, Lisa Lahey, and colleagues recently published a book titled An Everyone Culture on becoming a deliberately developmental organization. One of the book’s lessons is that a coaching culture is one where there is an investment that balances...

performing at a high level to produce strong results, and 

growing to develop the capacity for even better results in the future 

It’s hard to welcome growing as equal to performing. Growing takes time to cultivate. It’s sometimes awkward and clumsy as people experiment with new mindsets and behavior. As a nonlinear process, growing is unpredictable — even the best coaches can’t predict the timing of transformational insights or shifts, or the conditions that might generate small and large shifts.

My work life has placed me at the interface of coaching (as a coach and trainer) and leading (three organizations and a larger field). Distinct from my pre-coaching career in biotechnology, I’m now using coaching skills as a leader. But first I went through many clumsy, awkward phases, shifting from:

directing and advocating as the expert/boss to cultivating others’ self-determination

sitting in the driver’s seat to being comfortable in the passenger seat

attached to the expert/boss identity to serving others first

being in charge to pulling back to observe and reflect

seeing what’s wrong to appreciating what’s strong

critiquing and judging to accepting (I mean really accepting)

Like other leaders who have become coaches, I’ve grown to a higher level of consciousness, resonating with the emerging movement of conscious leadership or capitalism, which encompasses:

  1. Quickly embracing missteps and turmoil as opportunities to grow, instead of getting down on what everyone did (including me) to produce the turmoil
  2. Getting excited about messy chaos as a signpost to pursue change, instead of wishing for more control or certainty
  3. Loosening the grip on any wishes, goals or agenda to allow the unpredictable, nonlinear growth process to unfold
  4. Being calm and detached when assumptions and syntheses are overthrown by events and I don’t know what to do
  5. Entering a state of wisdom and grace when the inner and outside worlds are not wise or graceful

All of this has led me to teach a refresh of the longstanding model of transformational leadership (Bernard Bass), which includes self-transforming leadership as well as coaching and self-coaching competencies. A quick map of the coach approach to the four “I’s” of transformational leadership looks like this:

Idealized influence — modeling self-transformation

Inspirational motivation — inspiring others to be visionaries

Individual consideration — coaching everyone to grow

Intellectual stimulation — open, accepting, risk-taking, creative, evolving mind 

Coaching is the new leadership. Sometimes you lead. Sometimes you coach.

The growth edges?  Know how to do both and when to do what.