Coaching Report

2016 November Coaching Report

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2016 November Coaching Report

At our 2015 Annual Coaching Conference, one of the Research Sessions ended with a video of a huge flock of birds hypnotically flowing up and down and in all directions, in unimaginable synchronicity.  Not one bird was out of synch, not one stood out from the group.  This flight video was shown at the conclusion of Sean O’Connor’s presentation, as a metaphor for the “Ripple Effect” – how coaching individuals resonates through a group or organization.  The presentation was based on a study that Sean O’Connor and Michael Cavanagh had carried out the previous year, partly supported by a Harnisch grant from IOC.  The findings from this study are elaborated in their article – The Coaching Ripple Effect: The effects of developmental coaching on well-being across organizational networks 1.  In our November Webinar, O’Connor will present new research and take these ideas further. The Webinar will expand our understanding of how coaching an individual can send ripples into the organizational relational networks, affecting not just the coachee, but also others, and how it can address the network cognitions (perceptions of social ties in the organization) of leaders and thus support their effectiveness.   

Metaphors abound in our attempts to capture the power of relationships and the possibilities of relational realities.  A new 2016 special issue of Leadership Quarterly approaches these topics from different perspectives, employing diverse ways of visualizing collectives, networks and relationships. They see leadership as “a property of the collective”, as shared among the group.  One article actually introduces the concept of “flock leadership”2, and models how individuals coordinate with their peers.  It asks how such ideas of emergent group behaviors change the role of leaders, and explores the implications for practitioners.  Employing also the metaphor of an orchestra, the article tells the story of the Von Karajan, the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, who conducted with minimal movements and directions.  Instead, he would direct the orchestra’s attention to particular musicians, and the members would continue playing by listening and coordinating with each other; creating music is beyond the simple sum of the individual players.

In this Coaching Report we feature in more detail another article from this special issue of Leadership Quarterly on collective and network approaches to leadership, exploring collective identity3, as well as the book Relational Leading - Practices for Dialogically based Collaboration4.

Coaching is usually associated with individual development through the one-on-one interaction with a coach. , This month’s coaching report theme and the featured materials illustrate the relational nature not only of the coach-coachee dyad, but also of the non-linear reverberations that a particular coaching interaction can have through social networks.

1.         O’Connor S, Cavanagh M. The coaching ripple effect: The effects of developmental coaching on wellbeing across organisational networks. Psychology of Well-Being: Theory, Research and Practice 2013;3:2.

2.         Will TE. Flock Leadership: Understanding and influencing emergent collective behavior. The Leadership Quarterly 2016;27:261-79.

3.         Chrobot-Mason D, Gerbasi A, Cullen-Lester KL. Predicting leadership relationships: The importance of collective identity. The Leadership Quarterly 2016;27:298-311.

4.         Hersted L, Gergen KJ. Relational Leading - Practices for Dialogically based Collaboration: Taos Institute; 2013.

Irina Todorova, PhD, Director of Research, Institute of Coaching

Predicting leadership relationships: The importance of collective identity. By Chrobot-Mason, Gerbasi & Cullen-Lester  in The Leadership Quarterly,2016,  27(2), 298-311

Summary by Irina Todorova, IOC Director of Research

Diverse literature that has been emerging on alternative, non-hierarchical conceptualizations of leadership – such as collective, network, plural, relational, distributed, shared -   what is common to such understandings of leadership is that they “view leadership as a property of the collective, not the individual”.  In light of this, a new special issue of the journal Leadership Quarterly recently brought together several articles which explore this shift in understandings of leadership.

The special issue includes articles that use different theories as a basis for such collective conceptualizations of leadership, as well as diverse methods for studying them. All of the articles in this issue of the 2016 Leadership Quarterly are thought provoking are available in full text to members of the Institute of Coaching.  From these we have selected one article, which we will explore in greater detail.

This empirical study explores the relationships within an organization and how leadership can be understood as a network of informal leadership relationships, rather than just as stemming from formal individual leaders.  Leadership is defined very specifically for this discussion – as “a social process for generating the direction, alignment and commitment needed by a group to accomplish collective goals”. Further, it proposes that how individuals in these networks construct their identity in relation to the team and the organization plays a role in such a collective understanding of leadership.  For example, those whose self-concept includes the organization would be more likely to be seen as leaders, and to see others as leaders, whether they are formal leaders or not. 

The research methods and assessments employed in the study are informed by this definition of leadership.  For example in the network analysis participants in the organization were asked “to what extent is each of the following individuals a source of direction, alignment and commitment of your organizations’ goals”.  They analyzed who the participant sees as a source of leadership, as well as is the participant seen as a source of leadership by the others, and thus identify the networks of these multidirectional “leadership ties”.  They identified dyads and their degree of reciprocity – did both members of the dyad see the other member also as a leader; as well as more complex relationships within the networks.

The findings from this study illustrate a relational view of leadership. For example, reciprocity was confirmed in the sense that if one person was seen as a leader, this person also tended to acknowledge others as leaders.  Maybe not surprising, people in formal leadership positions were seen by others as leaders, but they themselves tended not to see other team members as leaders.  People who create identities through valuing and working toward organizational goals tend to be viewed by others as leaders.  Similarly, those that have a collective identity regarding the organization, also tend to be more likely to view others as leaders, independent of whether they have a formal leadership position or not.

In summary, collective identity is associated with a relational view of leadership in the organization; the article concludes that for an organization to espouse shared or distributed leadership, people need to identify with its goals and values.  Coaching often is focused on developing a strong personal identify of individual leaders, while this article suggests that in addition to that, a collective identity might be associated with successful leadership, understood broadly.  Leadership coaching can explore how the coachee identifies with the organization and supports such identification.  This can lead to more egalitarian organizations, in which everyone’s leadership skills and contributions are acknowledged and valued.  Additionally, such a view in which everyone is seen as a leader is also an egalitarian view of leadership coaching – in which everyone has the right to receive and benefit from coaching.


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