In a Time of Dangerous Opportunity
Clearly we are living in challenging times. The problems facing leaders these days are becoming increasingly complex and are presenting themselves at an ever accelerating rate. I suspect this is one of the reasons that executive coaching is becoming ever more prevalent in modern organizations. The challenges of this time require a different kind of leadership that people simply cannot provide without working on themselves. The right coach can make a big difference in working on oneself.
What I mean by this is, human beings evolve with a certain pattern of strengths and weaknesses or blind spots, what we currently call competencies. Competencies are defined as clusters of native abilities, skills and the motivation to use them. When we map competencies we discover dichotomous patterns. For instance, people tend to be more oriented towards people or towards tasks, more interested in what is, or what could be, more flexible or more structured, more detailed or more generalized, more feeling oriented or more intellectual. Our individual makeup reflects a pattern of preferences and blind spots, strengths and weaknesses on these dimensions.
The challenges that face modern leaders are so complex that the “single brilliant and autocratic leader” is no longer a viable success strategy. Problems are solved and decisions are now made best by carefully designed and skillfully lead teams. Many years of experiments with consensus management has proven that it is not enough to just become a purely facilitative leader. One must know when to seek consensus, when to take charge and make the hard call, and when to delegate the decision to somebody else.
This means the effective modern leader must lead people who are stronger in their areas of competency than he or she is. This requires both a significant level of confidence, and sufficient awareness of one’s blind spot areas to be able to communicate effectively with others that are strong, where one is weaker. Furthermore, given the accelerating rate of change, one must be able to continuously question one’s assumptions and the approach one is taking, and at the same time hold a firm hand on the tiller, and maintain a direction.
All this requires that the modern leader work on themselves, seeking an understanding of one’s conditioning that produces one’s world view, as well as that of others, who may be very different. This leads, for instance to discovering how ones strengths taken to excess may have become weaknesses, and how the very people one understands and likes the least may be the very people one needs most to succeed in understanding the complexity of a whole problem.
Given this situation, the approach that I take to executive coaching employs two personality profiles, (the DISC and MBTI) which produce a very rich predictive map of individual values, motivations, natural abilities and interests, complemented with a leadership 360 survey, which validates the map in terms of how the individual is actually perceived by the people they work with. As I see it, my job as an executive coach is to do three things:
Identify the highest leverage development focus as is possible. People don’t have much time to work on themselves these days, so the issue they pick to work on is extremely important. It must be timely and produce the highest possible benefit for the effort expended. The personality profiles, 360 survey, interviews with people who know the individual and extensive dialogue with the client provide the information needed to identify the development focus.
Figure out how to work on the development focus. Very often the coaching engagement is initiated because of a major change in the client’s work life, a promotion, a change in the organization. One may have reached a different stage in their career, or have discovered that it is time to explore a major blind spot that they have discovered. In all of these cases it is often challenging to figure out how to start working on oneself. It is my job to help the client learn how to work on an issue that may be very new, unfamiliar, or which has proven challenging in the past.
Remind and encourage the client to keep working. We have all experienced the New Year’s Resolution syndrome where best intentions don’t carry through. And we have all probably been in a workshop or other learning environment where we clearly understood some fundamental truth about ourselves, only to forget it completely in the rush of Monday morning demands. It’s my job to help the client stick with the program and modify it as required to get to the desired outcome.
A typical coaching engagement is six months in duration. After the initial assessment (composed of the profiles, 360 survey, interviews and a two hour debriefing) we meet for 90 minute sessions once every two weeks.