The Benefits Of Coaching Leaders For Growing Organizations
- POSTED ON MARCH 22, 2023
I’ve been coaching leaders and teams for about ten years now. I often get hired during or after periods of organizational growth to help leaders repair or rebuild something about their working dynamic that has broken down. When teams hire me to help them align as leaders, a question I’m naturally curious to explore with them is:
“What is leadership?”
One consistent thing I’ve found when posing this question in different contexts over the years is that “leadership” can be hard for people to define. It’s especially hard to succinctly articulate in a way that an entire team agrees with. At some point, I started asking a different question:
“What is it not?”
What almost always follows is a flurry of responses so fast and decisive, I can’t write quickly enough to capture all of them. Here are just some of the things that almost always get named in the category of what leadership is not:
“Command and control”
Even if you whole-heartedly agree that these qualities are not representative of good leadership, it is surprisingly easy to fall into practices that reinforce all of the above without knowing it. One of the most common well-intended but ineffective leadership practices I encounter in growing organizations is the “I’ll just do it myself” tactic. This is when, in the face of an emerging challenge, a leader swoops in to fix it rather than taking the time to empower their team to generate a solution. Justifications for this approach typically include: “it’ll be faster if I do it,” “If I want it done right I need to do it myself,” and “I don’t want to add another thing to my team’s plate”. The all-too-common leader-as-problem-solver approach risks four things:
- They work on the wrong problem.
- They do the work their team should be doing.
- The work doesn’t get done.
- They reinforce hierarchy by telling people what to do.
Resisting the urge to fix sounds simple, but when you’re in the thick of the day-to-day and so many things feel urgent, it can be hard. When you practice proactively staying curious rather than reactively taking the wheel, you have a much better shot at addressing the actual problem creatively and collaboratively. This is why adopting a leader-as-coach approach can be transformative.
“Good questions get us to good answers” -Sonja Renee Taylor
At Co-Active, one of the first things we teach coaches is how to ask powerful questions. A powerful question is simply an open-ended question. They are powerful because they evoke thoughtfulness from the receiver, allowing them to discover their own answers. Learning to ask powerful questions is key for developing leaders on your team as your organization grows. It’s also an effective way to shift your team culture from control and delegation (telling people what to do) to trust and collaboration (leveraging the intelligence and creativity of all). Here are five questions that I recommend keeping on heavy rotation. You can use them in 1:1’s, team meetings, and for your own personal reflection.
Five Essential Coaching Questions for Leaders
- What’s the real challenge here (for you)?
- What else?
- What do you propose?
- What’s the first step?
- What support do you need (from me)?
Ask “What” instead of “Why”. There is a reason all five questions start with the same word. It’s because “Why” questions are for information-gathering. When you take a coach-approach, you don’t need the backstory because you are not problem-solving. “What” questions open up the conversation whereas “Why” questions tend to lead to justification and defensiveness. Instead of “Why did you do that?” ask “What were you hoping for here?”.
Find out the real problem. Asking “What” questions frequently and even asking the same question more than once increases the likelihood that you will get to the root of the actual problem. Resist the urge to move straight into action (our default tendency) by staying curious a little longer than you think you should (which is where “And what else?” comes in handy).
Consider that it’s not your job to have all the answers. Your job as a leader is not to be a problem solver. Your job is to unlock the creativity and resourcefulness of your teams. That’s what complex problems require - the wisdom of many. And that’s why coaching and asking questions is so powerful. When you are leading a fast-growing organization, it’s not enough to simply hire people who have diverse perspectives and trust that those ideas will naturally shape the organization. You have to take an active role in rigorously inviting those ideas to the table and actually allowing them to influence decisions.
When a company is growing, it is natural for people and teams to outgrow tactics that may have worked beautifully at an earlier stage of the business. As organizations evolve, so do the people who work inside of them. Implementing coaching into your leadership practice will help keep your operating system up to date at every stage of growth.