Transformation Through Leadership Coaching: The Benefits
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Transformation Through Leadership Coaching: The Benefits

In Season Three of “The Office,” Michael Scott visits the Dunder-Mifflin headquarters to interview for a corporate role. In response to a question about his greatest strengths as a manager, he famously responds, “Why don’t I tell you what my greatest weaknesses are? I work too hard. I care too much. And sometimes I can be too invested in my job.”

When pressed further on his strengths, he says with great pride, “Well, my weaknesses are actually … strengths.”

We laugh at the lack of self-awareness, but his muddling of strengths and weaknesses, while mined for comedy, isn’t that farfetched. I encounter many leaders who can’t admit their shortcomings or accurately assess their strengths. This can lead to ineffective hiring of direct reports because a leader misidentifies the skills needed for a well-rounded team. Or it can lead to poor business decision-making when a leader operates with more confidence in their strengths than is warranted.

Can a lack of perspective about their abilities become liabilities for leaders?

The short answer is yes.

The ability to generate many fresh and innovative ideas is terrific. But if a leader can’t select one idea and move it forward, their team can get stuck in concepting and stall progress. You don’t need a platinum mousetrap when a simple wooden one will do the job. Some leaders are decisive and exhibit a bias for action. But, under stress, they may take unnecessary risks when a more restrained approach would be more appropriate.

So, how do leaders understand their true strengths and employ them successfully while taking steps to grow in areas of improvement? Many of them use executive coaching as a tool.

As often as I get asked about what a leader can expect from a coaching relationship, I also hear the question, “Will it really make a difference?” Undoubtedly. Through coaching, a leader experiences a positive change in how they work and how others experience working with them. Not only that, but their entire organization will benefit. If you’re curious about who engaged in coaching and in which situation it’s most helpful, here are three scenarios for coaching that I encounter frequently.

1. High Potentials

A high potential employee (or HIPO) is an individual who has the capability, drive, and desire to take on more complex responsibilities within their organization. Often, they will be identified by an HR leader and direct supervisor, then connected with me for executive coaching. Our sessions are focused on preparing these individuals for potential leadership roles. We often begin with identifying strengths and areas to work on.

One such individual I worked with was seen as highly skilled and showing signs of leadership. But there were concerns about his relationship-building skills and his tendency to always make it known that he was the smartest in any room. When he received new opportunities to test his leadership, we strategized about how he could bring these strengths to a situation without overusing them.  We developed ways to build trust with colleagues and team members by toning down the habit of knowledge over-sharing and instead actively listening, contributing ideas and asking questions when appropriate. The high potential employee began to build emotional intelligence, or EQ, recognizing that his role was not to be the best, but to help others become their best.

Over time, this high potential became a highly effective leader. Peers, direct reports, and superiors saw positive changes in how they were getting results with a minimum of noise. The leader was promoted to head a division of his large organization.

2. Transitioning Leaders

Stepping into a new professional situation is often challenging. A new leader needs to get up to speed quickly and understand the scenarios they will encounter as well as cultivate important relationships so that they can succeed. I coached a new manager who was being perceived as a threat by some of their new colleagues and had difficulty getting their new team members to respond.

As much as the new leader wanted to succeed, the organization needed them to win. The CEO asked me to help this CHRO to find their way. By the time I met with them, they were walking on eggshells, worried that their every comment or email was being dissected or ignored.

The initial charge set before this leader was to set a strategy for their business department, achieve broad acceptance of it, and move forward it by setting and achieving associated goals.

We developed a road map to establish trusting relationships. The new leader spent time determining what was important to colleagues and team members and identifying how they could support those priorities and connect them to the overarching strategy. We interacted frequently, discussing how best to respond to opposition, how to be as transparent as possible, and how to get up to speed without feeling overwhelmed by all they didn’t yet know.

With insights gained through candid dialogue and an eye on the company vision, the leader established the required strategy rapidly and developed balanced and trusting relationships with their peers and manager. Seven years later, the leader is still with the company in a leadership role. Coaching helped them achieve both success and longevity.

3. Established Leaders Navigating Change

Sometimes a highly effective leader needs support and coaching when company direction has changed, or their team makeup differs greatly from what it was previously. Maybe their responsibilities have been altered, or their department absorbed another one and the headcount has doubled. There are many situations that could cause a solid performer to wobble, and coaching can be there to support them.

One of my clients, a former high performer, faced difficulties due to a changing organizational landscape. Their traditional management style no longer resonated with a diverse team made up of multiple generations with different needs and wants.

Organizational leaders wanted to invest in this person and save them as a long-time and important member of the team. The leader, however, was in jeopardy of being replaced. They were not connecting well with their new team, managing fires rather than looking forward to future opportunities or challenges, and team members felt no sense of accountability or ownership.

Throughout our coaching engagement we worked on new approaches to communication, a less micro style of managing, and ways to help the team understand the purpose and value of the work they were doing. This leader had to embrace these changes to model them. And by modeling them, the leader successfully transformed their team from a state of confusion to a thriving and accountable unit, regaining confidence in their abilities to be a senior contributor.

Overall Benefits

No matter the stage, whether just beginning a leadership journey or navigating change after years of management experience, leaders who participate in executive coaching benefit in a variety of ways:

  • Better Decision Making. Coaching helps leaders refine their decision-making processes, considering various perspectives and potential impacts.
  • Freedom to Innovate. Leaders can use coaching as a secure environment to test ideas and approaches, fostering creativity and innovation.
  • Enhanced Self-Awareness. Individuals gain a deeper understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and how their actions may impact others through coaching.
  • Effective Conflict Engagement. Coaching equips leaders with the skills to manage conflicts constructively, leveraging them as opportunities for growth and collaboration.
  • Confidence in Motivating and Guiding Teams. By working with a coach, leaders can dedicate the time needed to strategically plan for team success rather than getting to it “eventually.”

When done effectively, executive coaching goes well beyond theoretical concepts to actionable feedback and real-time insights. A skilled coach can help transform leaders, providing them with practical skills, strategic guidance, and a supportive space to identify their strengths and define their leadership style. Leadership is a journey. Coaching ensures that today’s high potentials and established leaders have the right tools and knowledge to lead effectively.