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Can You Let Go In Order To Lead Better?

BY Dr. Paige Williams

As disruption and rapid change continue to impact workplaces around the world, it has become increasingly clear that it is no longer realistic to rely on leaders to always have the answers, take charge of teaching, and direct others to get things done.  But how can leaders effectively lead others when uncertainty, complexity, and disruption have become the new norm in many workplaces?

“The command-and-control style of leadership is too slow, too unwieldy, and just doesn’t work anymore, for a lot of the time,” explained Anne Scoular, a globally recognized expert in business coaching when we interviewed her recently.  “In contrast, a coaching style of leadership that asks questions to bring out the best in your people, and then trusts them to get on with it, is proving far more effective, given the incredible pace of change today.”

When leaders take a coaching approach, they understand that if they want more than short-term compliance, trying to “command” their people to change is usually a waste of their time and energy. Instead, they realize that long-term commitment is gained by “coaching” people to adapt to constantly changing environments in ways that unleash curiosity, creativity, connection, confidence, and accountability.

“Traditional mentoring, consulting, or advising ‘puts in’ content in the form of information and guidance, whereas coaching ‘pulls out’ the capacities we have within,” said Anne.  “And everybody needs both – the putting in and the pulling out.”

Leaders who have been taught how to take a coaching approach are able to safely and effectively tap into the neurological, psychological, and social strengths of their people to create change and make progress.  Research by The Leaders Lab has found that when leaders take this approach, not only are they significantly more likely to gain their peoples’ buy-in and deliver change successfully, but their teams are also more likely to report higher levels of wellbeing.

To help leaders adopt a coaching style to leadership, Anne suggests the following:

  • Capture micro-coaching moments –  Look for opportunities in the small, very quick exchanges you have with others at the water cooler or on Zoom, which take less than 30 seconds.  For example, if someone says, “I’ve got so much on at the moment,” you can take a coaching approach by just asking, “What have you already thought of, or what are you going to do?”  In this way, you can flip the energy and the ownership back to the person.  And if you’re quick and authentic, then chances are they won’t even notice what happened but will feel a bit more energized.  As a leader-coach, you can have hundreds of these tiny coaching moments throughout your day.
  • Listen deeply –  Listen, not just in a superficial way, but as if your life depended on it.  Really listening can deepen your understanding and give you different perspectives.  For example, one organization Anne worked with was committed to tackling a lack of diversity and women in senior leadership positions.  Instead of focusing on unconscious bias or diversity training, the leaders were given the skills and permission to really listen to others.  As they listened deeply with their hearts to their junior women and to their people of color, they were shocked by what they heard.  This gave them a new perception of how the world can be, in ways that no diversity or unconscious-bias training could have provided, and the ripple effects were some extraordinary diversity changes in their organization.
  • Be clear on goals –  While you need to have the ability to be non-directive on content – that is, what others choose to talk about – you also need to be quite directive and clear on the process, especially in meetings.  Chances are, you’ve been in many meetings that felt like a waste of time because you didn’t know why you were there or what you were meant to do. Setting goals for your meetings can really build your organizational capability.  Make your goals clear by stating at the beginning of the meeting that you’re specifically here to do X, in Y amount of time, and Z is the outcome you’re all looking for.

How can you balance your directive and non-directive leadership approaches with your people today?

To discover more evidence-based practices for helping people to thrive at work, check out the Making Positive Psychology Work Podcast.

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