Inspiring Leaders: Behaviours Build the Brand

Context & Approach

It is no surprise that when we think of inspiring leaders, we identify people we want to emulate, model ourselves after and have the opportunity to work with. As a colleague once observed, leadership can be summarized very succinctly: “Leaders inspire”.

And it is seldom because of ‘what’ they do, but rather ‘why’ they do it and ‘how’ they do it. A book by Simon Sinek entitled Find Your Why and an earlier TED talk by the author expand on this point.[1]

If one looks further into the part inspiration plays in effective leadership, a trusted source such as the Harvard Business Review (HBR) is a good place to begin. Over a few years, the HBR published three articles on the topic. It is clear that the topic of inspiration warrants serious examination as a major aspect of effective leadership.[2]

Four thoughts informed the writing of this article:

  1. A belief that inspirational leadership was never more necessary than it is in these uncertain times;
  2. A leader’s inspirational behaviours will be a mix of core aspects of character; inspiring actions are often situationally-driven, guided by genuine caring for others and directly related to the needs and expectations of teams, followers and the wider organization.
  3. Moreover, effective leaders inspire through their significant ability to retain balance between and among the competing demands they face; and
  4. While the best leaders are strongly inspirational, they too need support as they continue to lead in a way that invites engagement and commitment. Conversation is of course an important element in this regard, but pragmatic and focused action steps also play a prominent role.

As noted by Ian Cullwick, a retired partner with an international consulting firm: “At a system-wide level, inspiration includes the need to demonstrate and deliver genuine and consistently-applied leadership and management practices; to accomplish this, an accountability framework and related delegated authorities are essential.”

Our discussion starts with some basic thinking about ‘inspiration’, informed in part by a current focused survey of a range of senior leaders, coaches, consultants and clients. In addition, I identify some shared behaviours which I have experienced directly from among those I work with. Along with the research findings, these become for our purposes a ‘baseline’ for the balance of the article.

From there, I highlight some of the challenges leaders face as they manage their own resilience and at the same time, remain supportive of colleagues. The ‘work’ of the leader – and the leader’s organization in supporting their leaders – as they remain strongly inspirational is discussed. Finally, I conclude the article with a few key practical action steps for leaders to consider as they continue to maintain a high degree of effectiveness which balances their own wellbeing with continuing inspiration, engagement and commitment of colleagues.

Download PDF: Inspiring Leaders: Behaviours Build the Brand

Footnotes

[1] Sinek, S., D. Mead and P. Docker. (2017) Find Your Why. London: Penguin Books Limited; Sinek, S. (2010) TED Talk entitled How Great Leaders Inspire Action.

[2] See the following HBR articles: Kaufman, S. (2011, November 8th). Why Inspiration Matters; Zenger, J. and J. Folkman. (2013, June 20th).  What Inspiring Leaders Do; and Garton, E. (2017, April 25th). How to be an Inspiring Leader.

Leaders and Change: Imperatives in the ‘New Normal’

Positioning the ‘Conversation’

The pandemic experience, while incredibly challenging for leaders and teams, also provided important learnings. We came to recognize the greater impact and influence of such attributes as resilience, agility, humility, curiosity, self-care, compassion and caring, and attention to growing self-awareness, as central to the leader role in guiding teams and ensuring that organization priorities are realized. These are foundational and increasingly expected of the most effective leaders.

Courage, however, stands out as it is a pre-requisite, a ‘non-negotiable’ way of behaving. If our learnings from the pandemic are to be applied in a way which has both positive impact and also yields essential results, then courage and courageous action has to be ‘front-and-centre’. I like Mark Kingwell’s phrase and I think it is quite apt as we think about courage. Through the experience of the pandemic, we see that the place of courage in the leader’s role as being “not so much new as more vivid”.[1]

The Ongoing Challenge of Leading Change

As I thought about the changing role of leaders, I was in the process of reading Professor James Conklin’s recent book on change entitled Balancing Acts: A Human Systems Approach to Organizational Change.[2] With his thoughtful model of change before me and my decision to use the courage ‘lens’ as my guide in writing this article, I set out to explore the leader’s role in navigating the uncertainties of the ‘new normal’ of organization life. That led to the generation of a number of ‘courageous questions’ which internal leaders might use in challenging organizations to marshal energy appropriately in making desired changes.

One important note, however, is that Conklin’s model is focused on external interveners, including consultants and related outside advisors. That said – and based on a short conversation with Professor Conklin – I believe that his model can be used effectively by leaders within organizations. The primary caution is that the leader and his/her organization must pay particular attention to areas in which an absence of complete objectivity can potentially detract from the full effectiveness of the change initiative.

(To address this obvious reality, I offer some ideas at the close of this article to mitigate, to the extent possible, the ‘downside’ associated with having an internal leader guiding the change).

Applying the Conklin Framework

As noted above, there is no doubt that it is often a daunting challenge to bring tough, sensitive and courageous questions to colleagues and more senior leaders when you are part of the organization; this is never more obvious than when the questions touch on sensitive ways of behaving. As tough as that might be, however, this is very much part of the role leaders are expected to take on in this new reality.

In essence, Conklin’s approach looks at the patterns of thought and behaviour in organizations and how they interact with structure or are influenced by it. Those elements summarize what constitutes a ‘human system’.[3]

The notion of paradox, or ‘seeming paradox’ is intriguing and part of understanding and applying Conklin’s change model. His framework speaks to four aspects of balancing in the process of leading change:

  1. An initial phase of ‘Confrontation and Compassion’, in which there is a tension between balance and push, and creation of safety;
  2. A ‘Planned and Emergent’ phase, where the balance is between staying the course and changing the course;
  3. A ‘Participate and Observe’ phase, in which the leader or intervener is in my words ‘in the system’ but not ‘of the system’; and
  4. A Fourth phase, referred to as ‘Assert and Inquire’, where the leader is not there to provide answers but rather to work with the organization to generate or discover answers and approaches.

In each case, the model also assumes that reflection, review, and two-way conversations inform any actions or change in direction.

The Approach

With that in mind I offer a set of questions which I believe might be helpful to teams, their leaders and the wider organization, even when they are accompanied by a necessary tension. For each, courage will be necessary to both pose the question and then work through it and any consequent discomfort. Intention is always to focus on developing clarity and generating options for action. For many, while this will be ‘new territory’ it has the potential to very rich ‘learning territory’! There will be days when the comment that ‘…now we know what doesn’t work so well’ becomes the beginning of wisdom.

Courageous Questions to Help Leaders Connect, Integrate and Coach at Each Phase of a Change Process

The implicit assumption around the most important change efforts is that the current situation is unwanted, unsustainable and/or unhelpful in the context of current and perhaps future organization priorities.

Guided by Conklin’s language let’s look at each phase and propose a few questions which will balance two essential elements: the need for respect at all times – for ideas, resistance and challenge – with the equally-important need to be clear and toughminded in order to help the organization move forward:

1.   The Confrontation & Compassion Phase:

  • Why is this change effort an imperative for you?
  • What are your underlying assumptions, beliefs and values which you bring to the initiative? Let’s talk about any biases, conscious or otherwise, which might impact the work, both yours and mine as you perceive them.
  • What is at risk for you personally in engaging actively in the change? What risks will you be willing to assume, and which will you not? What are the risks for me in taking on this role?
  • What needs to happen to make this challenge as ‘safe as possible’ for you and your colleagues (e.g. team, organization unit)? What do I need to do to help ensure that there is that level of safety? What should I not do?
  • What concrete actions will you look for that build trust in my leadership or facilitation of the change effort? Again, what will work against or erode that necessary trust?
  • To what degree do I have freedom in asking the difficult (but what I believe to be necessary) questions? What might be off limits?

2.  The Planned and Emergent Phase:

  • When we have the data, understand it, and identify major themes, are you willing to commit to an action plan which I draft, we discuss, revise, and finalize? Where will you anticipate the team being less open, less certain, or less comfortable? Where do you think I will need to be especially aware of concerns in the team or areas of potential disagreement and resistance arising?
  • Some of what I find will probably require that you and others will have ‘to suspend disbelief’ in order to understand countervailing opinions or perspectives clearly at odds with your understanding and view of the reality. What might I expect by way of behaviours in those instances? Will you be willing to declare them in order for us to see new options for moving forward positively?
  • What will you need from me if I see a need to ‘change course’ based on new information or emerging themes?
  • What are the key elements in creating and maintaining confidence in our ongoing communications?

3.  The Participate and Observe Phase:

  • In order to lead this change effort, I will need to be intimately involved with you and your colleagues in this change effort. We know each other well and we are part of the same organization. That said, my role is to participate fully but also maintain a distance to avoid colluding or losing any sense of objectivity. That is no small task, so what is going to be the key challenge for you and the change team? For me as a leader?
  • A key challenge is one that an external consultant would not face. In a sense, while I am ‘of the system’, for this work I need to behave as if I am only ‘in the system’ – a ‘visitor’ in a sense – but as much as possible without having our work derailed or overly-influenced by my obvious vested interest in the change outcome. While it may be ‘raggedy’ and imperfect, what do I need to do to achieve that balance to the extent possible? What can I count on you and your team to do to help with that ‘boundary’ issue?
  • On occasion, I will need you to push back, if you think I am mixing the ‘participate’ role with the ‘observe’ role. Will you be willing to do that in the interests of the critical need for integrity in our change process?

4.  The Assert and Inquire Phase:

  • If I am going to be truly helpful to the team in making the change, I will have to balance making statements with asking questions; the former must take second place to the latter if I am to lead effectively. Where do you think I will have the most difficulty in achieving that balance? How can you help me with that challenge(s)?
  • There may be occasions when you look to me for an answer and I will resist or choose not to provide one. (I may have ideas or even think I have the answer, but it will be my answer and not one that you have thought about and committed to). How will we have that important conversation?
  • My job is to enable the best answers. This may take time, be frustrating and obviously position me in a coach role, not ‘subject matter expert’ or ‘boss’. Where do you think you’ll need support in staying with that distinction in role and what will you look to me for as a coach-leader? Where do you think you will you be most stretched or challenged with learning new approaches (and perhaps letting older ones go)?
  • Where do you think that you might be in the best position to ‘coach’ me? Based on what you know of me, where do you think coaching will most benefit the change initiative and my growth? Can I count on you to be ‘straight’ with me when you think I need that clarity or feedback?

The Role of an Internal Change Leader: An Owner’s Manual

This article is and was a ‘work-in-progress’, in that it attempts to work with a model not originally designed for use by internal leaders of organizations. But more importantly, we have no complete certainty as to what the ‘new normal’ will ask of us as leaders in our organizations. That said, given the need to lead change and inspire others to join in the effort, leaders have no choice but to engage, consult, learn, act and coach.

While Professor Conklin’s ‘architecture’ is obviously a very strong model for making change, we must also recognize that by virtue of being part of the organization, there are limitations and challenges to how the leader goes about being the courageous change agent. In an exchange with Professor Conklin on this very point, he points out that the internal leader’s use of the model is “difficult, but not impossible”.

In order to take account of that caution and mitigate any unwanted impact when the change leader is an intrinsic part of the system, I suggest the following actions as potentially useful:

  • The choice of a leader for the change initiative is crucial. Demonstrated effectiveness, thoughtful listening skills, concern for the wellbeing of colleagues and a reputation for ‘honest dealing’ in achieving results can position the leader most effectively to lead the work;
  • A pre-requisite for launching the initiative includes positioning the work as a learning opportunity first and foremost. Convening a conversation which includes the designated leader and key stakeholders to talk about ‘learning’ and ‘un-learning’ and to define the nature of the risks which might arise, the likelihood of their occurrence and the potential impact on the initiative is a key step;
  • A supportive and skilled HR business partner can be a great assist to the leader in both understanding process, broader organization culture and dynamics while potentially serving as a coach to the leader;
  • Active involvement of executive and other senior leadership sends a strong signal of support and commitment both to the initiative and to the leader charged with being at its head; active support is what the organization will both see and therefore believe;
  • A commitment to ‘reflect and refine’ throughout is a further opportunity to ensure that unwanted outcomes or ‘stumbles’ do not detract from or compromise the impact of the change work in a lasting way; and
  • Finally, the extent to which the leader is self-aware in respect of such factors as his or her ‘blind spots’, any ‘unconscious bias’ and remains open to clear feedback throughout will contribute directly to the potential for a successful change process and a strengthening of the leader’s role and the trust others have in him or her.

On this last point – and incorporating an email exchange with Professor Conklin – the leader’s task is to ensure that he or she is deliberate in identifying any “hidden commitments” which might impact their attempts at balance and objectivity. As Professor Conklin reminded me, the work of Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey developed in their enduring and thoughtful work entitled ‘Immunity to Change’ remains a very relevant reference for the self-aware leader.[4]

Concluding Thoughts

A clear implication and one which runs across each of the phases outlined above, is that ‘straight-talk’ and courage will be foundational in the leader’s role. In addition, there is an implicit assumption that leadership is going to be informed by and at times shared with stakeholders. The process requires time to ensure that common understanding and commitment are present throughout and that focused time for reflection on actions taken, results and adjustments to plan is built into the change initiative.

The leader remains in what some have described as the ‘conductor’ role. But what is new…or ‘more vivid’ as Kingwell writes… is that he or she becomes the primary and increasingly courageous voice in connecting relevant ideas with necessary actions, integrating these with larger organization priorities and coaching the behaviours in colleagues charged with executing and operationalizing the plans – a skilled ‘conductor’ certainly but also a ‘respectful provocateur’!

 

About the Author

Ross Roxburgh

 

 

 

 

Ross Roxburgh is a leadership coach and organization consultant with several decades of experience with a wide range of clients, both domestic and international across the private, public and para-public sectors. He has a strong interest in the effectiveness of individuals and teams in complex organization environments; in many cases he brings both coaching and consulting experience to client engagements. Ross holds the designation of Certified Management Consultant (CMC) as well as that of Master Corporate Executive Coach (MCEC). He has been certified in the use of the EQ-I 2.0 instrument as well as the LEA 360. He is a facilitator with Queen’s IRC on a range of programs related to Board effectiveness, Committee evolution and Performance Management. He has written a number of articles for Queen’s IRC on the topics of coaching and leadership.

 

References

Conklin, J. (2021). Balancing acts: A human systems approach to organizational change. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to change: How to overcome it and unlock potential in yourself and your organization. Harvard Business Press.

Kingwell, M. (2020). On Risk. Windsor, Ontario: Biblioasis.

Recommended Reading

If you enjoyed this article, you might be interested in others which the author has written for Queen’s IRC:

Footnotes

[1] Kingwell, M. (2020). On Risk. Windsor, Ontario: Biblioasis

[2] Conklin, J. (2021). Balancing acts: A human systems approach to organizational change. Toronto: University of Toronto Press

[3] Ibid.

[4] Kegan, R., & Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to change: How to overcome it and unlock potential in yourself and your organization. Harvard Business Press.

The Shifting Challenges for Leaders

In January 2020, when we had only vague and incomplete information on a new strain of virus, The Economist published a column entitled A Manager’s Manifesto for 2020: Eight Resolutions to Adopt in the New Year.[1]  It highlighted many wise practices and behaviours we knew about but which the authors thought we might pay special attention to, e.g. “give out some praise”, the “buck stops with you”, “listen to your staff” and similar important reminders.

And then along came a global pandemic and leaders found themselves in deeper and uncharted waters. The advice cited above from The Economist still remains sound and helpful. What changed, however, in my experience is best described as the need for some aspects of the leader’s role to become “more vivid”. [2]

Leaders realized that the need to balance both task and relationship was central to being consistently effective in their role. The task part of the equation was always central but now the need for attention to, and support of the safety, security and overall wellbeing of teams, was very much a central part of the work of leading others.

Nine months into the pandemic, I conducted a survey to see what changes teams were experiencing and how they continued to operate effectively. What emerged was a parallel series of changes, namely those which leaders of teams were also experiencing.  See Team Effectiveness: From Pandemic to Promise in the Learning Organization (Research Report)[3]

My continuing work with coaching clients, along with the ongoing literature around leadership skills and related topics, [4] prompted this further look at the role of leaders today and what might remain important over the next many months.

Download PDF: The Shifting Challenges for Leaders

Team Effectiveness: From Pandemic to Promise in the Learning Organization (Executive Summary)

This research on the effectiveness of teams was conducted in the early fall of 2020. It is largely supportive of, and consistent with, much of the thinking of others who were paying close attention to the experience of teams and leaders in a virtual environment. And the focus on teams also highlights the important relationship between teams and organization leadership and their interdependencies.

The research also highlights a number of important insights and ‘learnings’ that will serve us well in the coming months; while it is difficult to predict with any certainty, it is possible that new habits will emerge as teams continue to focus on their overall effectiveness in support of organization priorities.

Chief among the findings were the following:

  • The recognition that there is always a balance between Task and Relationship in any work setting warranted increased and active attention. The wellbeing of the team and its members extended to not only having the tools and support necessary for the tasks assigned, but also to the whole question of safety and security as teams looked to leaders for assurances and ongoing clarity. (In her book entitled Teaming, Professor Amy Edmundson refers to this important area as “psychological safety”);[1]
  • Leaders became much more aware of the need to bring elements of emotional intelligence into their active support of teams and team members; this included empathy and appropriate ‘blends’ of compassion and communication as their colleagues coped with balancing personal responsibilities in addition to work expectations, all in a virtual world. Moreover, the longstanding concept of ‘shared leadership’ assumed heightened importance in a transparent virtual environment;
  • Collaboration and Communication are not new concepts as essential elements in support of team effectiveness. What has become much clearer however, is the need for both leaders and teams to actively pay ongoing attention to both in order to have a finger on the ‘pulse’ of the individuals who are engaged in furthering organization goals. Moreover, the notion of collaboration  increasingly links to shared leadership in such aspects as greater participation in decision-making and joint problem-solving; and
  • Throughout the responses, often implicit, was the theme of how critical ongoing learning was as we ‘navigated’ the uncertainties of a COVID-19 world.

Looking forward, we can probably expect the mutually-supportive relationship between leaders and teams to continue in a more active way.  Expectations of continuing shared participation are now more the norm and reverting to an earlier way of working is unlikely.

Further, the research emphasized the importance of dealing with relevant questions, many of which are at an exploratory stage, but all of which will impact both teams and leaders in the weeks and months ahead.  Among these are:

  • As we move to the new reality in which virtual work will be a preference for some organizations and employees, with others preferring the surroundings of a safe office environment, how will the organization ensure that it mitigates any risk of the emergence of an ‘A’ Team and a ‘B’ Team?;
  • Performance Management in all of its dimensions will of course remain a critical aspect of organization life.  The question, however, is how it will be managed and how it will be measured.  For instance, feedback for developmental purposes has already changed and may continue to do so.  As we move forward, what will be the critical areas in which active attention will determine how successful feedback conversations will be?;
  • As one recent book –‘Virtually Speaking’ from Changemakers Books (2020)[2] – highlights, we will cease speaking of ‘virtual communication’ and simply refer to ‘communication’.  That said, with the ongoing imperative to continue to explore the integration of digital technologies in enabling strong two-way communication— often in close to ‘real time’ conditions—- what will the new models look like and how will we measure their effectiveness?;
  • What will become central to ensuring that there is continuous and shared learning across the organization, both within and between teams but also at and among other levels of the organization?; and
  • What models of ‘shared leadership’ will emerge to recognize the speed of change, the multi-faceted issues which challenge organizations and the heightened expectations of positive outcomes in a ‘less-than-certain’ environment?

Finally, as leaders and teams continue to grow and adapt to changing realities, a number of topics will probably be central to the organization effectiveness  conversation. Such subjects as the following may become part of their ‘standing agenda’:

  • Building and fostering solid trust relationships;
  • Continuing to pay attention to the evolving and changing needs of teams
  • Making ‘resilience’ and emotional intelligence key organization priorities
  • Adapting a range of technologies to facilitate effective communications
  • Re-visiting the roles of leaders in areas of shared leadership, problem-solving and decision-making
  • Examining new approaches to managing change
  • Adapting organization design to be fully responsive to the need for collaboration and agile responses to current and emergent challenges

 

About the Author

Ross Roxburgh

Ross Roxburgh is a leadership coach and organization consultant with several decades of experience with a wide range of clients, both domestic and international across the private, public and para-public sectors. He has a strong interest in the effectiveness of individuals and teams in complex organization environments; in many cases he brings both coaching and consulting experience to client engagements.

Ross positions his client work in a deliberate way.  He works with his clients as opposed to adopting a prescriptive approach.  Initially he focuses on understanding where the organization is positioned today and what the key challenges are in realizing the preferred future.  Respectful challenge is central to his approach and he is committed to developing solutions with the client which meet current priorities and also position the organization for future challenges. He is a facilitator with Queen’s IRC on a range of programs related to Board effectiveness, Committee evolution and Performance Management. 

Ross holds the designation of Certified Management Consultant (CMC) as well as that of Master Corporate Executive Coach (MCEC).  He has been certified in the use of the EQ-I 2.0 instrument as well as the LEA 360. He has continued to deepen his learning through the globally-recognized graduate program in Organization and Systems Development developed by the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland as well as a number of related programs through the International Gestalt Centre in Wellfleet and the National Training Laboratories (NTL) offerings. Prior to his coaching and consulting career, Ross completed an interdisciplinary Masters Degree in Canadian Studies as well as an Honours BA, both from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

The full report can be downloaded at: https://irc.queensu.ca/team-effectiveness-from-pandemic-to-promise-in-the-learning-organization-research-report/ 

 


[1] Edmondson, A. C. (2012). Teaming: How organizations learn, innovate, and compete in the knowledge economy. Kbh.: Nota.

[2] Erickson, T & Ward, T. (2020). Resilience: Virtually Speaking. John Hunt Publishing.

Team Effectiveness: From Pandemic to Promise in the Learning Organization (Research Report)

As we move from the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic into the next phase of organization life, learnings from the first few months of the pandemic will serve to highlight behaviours and approaches which will serve us well as we continue to build effective teams. In addition, the experience of a virtual world, one which is here to stay, will also point to areas where we will need to develop new habits, modify earlier ways of working, and examine approaches that served us well in the pre-pandemic reality, but now no longer support us as effectively in light of the new reality.
This research captures how organizations are re-thinking the role of teams, the work they do and how they approach and carry out that work. This report is based on a survey of team leaders, organization consultants and leadership coaches, as well as research in the field.
The survey on the effectiveness of teams was conducted in the fall of 2020 with a goal to examine the following:

  1. What we have learned at the team level of the organization from the experience and challenges of moving through a pandemic?
  2. What has taken on greater clarity for leaders, managers and supervisors in terms of priority areas as teams strive for sustained effectiveness over the next period of uncertainty?

Download PDF: Team Effectiveness: From Pandemic to Promise in the Learning Organization (Research Report)

A Humble Mindset: A Coaching Differentiator

As a leadership coach, I regularly reflect on the approaches which support the essential relationship between the client and coach. Something that allows these approaches to work more effectively is an overarching mindset of humility, a mindset that applies to both the client as well as the coach.

I do want to be clear that ‘humility’ for me does not imply weakness, nor is it the opposite of a tough-minded approach to supporting a client in his or her developmental goals. Rather, it implies a respectful environment that recognizes that the most appropriate coaching relationship is one in which client and coach work on strategies, plans and actions that will result in positive impact. Further, a mindset that comes from a humble stance can strengthen the essential base of trust which the most successful coaching partnerships require.

My understanding of humility within coaching and organization work is anchored in the thinking of Edgar Schein (who has more recently been joined by his son, Peter), who have explored a humble approach in support of learning and behavioral change through a series of books.

In this article, I will share some examples of the application of a humble mindset in coaching work from two different perspectives:

  1. The decision by a client to work with a coach and the coach’s decision to work with a client combined with honouring of the client’s expertise, experience and accomplishment throughout the coaching relationship; and
  2. The commitment to working with the reality of where the organization is today, rather than where client and/or coach would like it to be.

Download PDF: A Humble Mindset: A Coaching Differentiator

Active Curiosity in the Coaching Process

Coaching skills are enhanced and potentially of greater value to the client if informed by an actively curious mindset. In turn, a curious client can increase self-awareness, discover areas in which they can be even more effective and try new approaches and behaviours which will align intention more closely with desired outcomes. Conversations between two curious individuals, client and coach, can raise discussions to becoming part of an exciting and valuable ‘learning community’.

A further positive outcome of an actively-curious approach is the opportunity it provides to both client and coach to see connections that might not otherwise be surfaced.  Clients will invariably know whether the connections are relevant and how they might inform their development and/or provide important insights where they are focused on better alignment between intention and actual impact.

Real examples of both the coach being curious and the client being actively curious are a key part of this piece along with some observations of when over-reliance on curiosity may be less-helpful to both client and coach.

Download PDF: Active Curiosity in the Coaching Process

Courage and Coaching

Background and Context

For some time I have been curious about ‘courage’ and its relationship to leadership. I am specifically interested in the part that courage plays in a leader’s decision to work with a coach, but also in the courage it takes for a coach to help their clients become as effective as possible in their leadership roles.

Courage is not a new topic in serious conversations on leadership. It has been considered a significant attribute of the most effective leaders for many years. And it endures as revealed in many of the current discussions of leadership, including research and writing of such influential writers as Brene Brown, Kim Scott, Robert Kegan and Kim Lahey.

Today and for the past nearly two decades, I have been privileged to coach a range of individuals, in both private and public sectors and at various levels of the organization from senior to mid-level roles. As well, I have engaged two business coaches over the years, each of whom brought a personal style different from my own and each of whom supported and challenged me as I worked on specific developmental points, which would make me more valuable to clients.

From the experience of being ‘on both sides of the desk’, I have learned that being courageous almost always has some risk attached, some willingness to leave a more comfortable situation and some need to test ourselves and the values we espouse. And when we choose to take a courageous step or action, it almost always results in the learning and satisfaction that come from stretching ourselves and being willing to live our values and principles.

I now want to talk about courage from two perspectives: that of the person who decides to work with a coach and the coach who is engaged to support that individual in his or her growth, learning and development.

For purposes of clarity, the coaching work that I am referring to is with clients who want to accelerate their growth and impact as leaders; my comments are focused on those who choose to engage with a business or leadership coach, not those whose organizations have directed them to work with a coach for remedial purposes. In my experience (and it is my very good fortune to be able to say this) the leaders I have the privilege to work with are already accomplished in their roles; their interest is in furthering and deepening their development, expanding their action options and having even greater positive impact on those they lead and their organizations.

Download PDF: Courage and Coaching

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