By Julius Ordoñez, MCC, ACTC
Oftentimes, I come across the same kind of frustrated leader—the kind that feels like the walls of the building would collapse if they ever lost focus for one second. They feel that to deserve their role, they need to be the problem solver, fixer, know-all and be-all of the team. Not only is it their obligation to have all the answers, they also feel less of a leader if they don’t. So they operate on “Command and Control” mode. They have difficulty delegating tasks, and if they do, they want things done exactly their way. Since work keeps expanding and becoming more complex, it often reaches a point where they feel they are juggling 100 balls simultaneously, and looking away for a moment means complete and total disaster.
I also come across another kind of leader often—those who spoon-feed their team and protect them from making big decisions because they’re too risky. They guide their team by telling them what to do and solve problems for them, thinking it is a way of nurturing and being a good leader. Therefore, when sudden changes occur, their team members don’t know what to do and simply wait for the boss’ instructions. All big presentations and complex matters are handled by the leader, so team members don’t grow and are always in the shadows, like their work does not make a difference. They cannot step in when it counts, causing frustration on the leader’s part as well.
Both these leadership styles are unsustainable, and the situations I described are the reasons why several leaders are burned out, anxious, frustrated, and feeling like they are carrying the whole world on their backs.
A coaching leadership style uses a different approach. It means being collaborative, knowing that you do not have all the answers. It means asking questions instead of telling people what to do, to encourage thinking and inspire new ideas. It means involving your team in creating solutions, even if it may take more time to get there than being directive. This facilitates the optimization of talent in your team because everyone is part of the solution as creative and critical thinkers, not merely order-takers. Leaders who use coaching are often pleasantly surprised to discover how their team members think and how much more productive and engaged they become when they are given the space to grow and make decisions on their own. Those who were too afraid to speak up at meetings or share their suggestions for fear of sounding stupid become more secure when they feel their leader wants to know what they think and welcomes their ideas. A coaching leadership style also, heightens people’s awareness and self-confidence. They become empowered as self-directed learners and independent thinkers, going the extra mile and feeling more engaged, as part of the company’s success. This removes the pressure from the leader to know everything and find all the solutions, and allows them to see who are ready for broader roles and leadership positions. As Jack Welch (GE’s former CEO) said: “Before leadership, success is about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is about growing others.”
Of course, applying a coaching leadership style isn’t easy. It requires humility to understand that you don’t know it all and you don’t have to be the smartest person in the team. It means leaving behind old habits that worked for you in the past, understanding that ‘what got you here, won’t get you there.’ It means giving allowance for mistakes, taking risks and failing forward to develop a strong, empowered and engaged team. The question is, are you willing to take the challenge?