Better Leadership: Focus on a Coach Approach

Coaching is a leadership style that is growing in organizational cultures. It is shifting from an optional leadership skill to an expectation of the culture – especially for the retention of employees and leaders. How do you as a leader develop this skill? How do you keep growing and enhancing your coaching ability?

During the pandemic, many leaders found themselves interacting in new ways with their teams – because they had no choice. This was especially true if remote work was new to the organization. Employees were alone in their separate spaces, away from their leader and their peers. Leaders weren’t in close proximity so there were actually less direct statements and less telling. As a result, leaders found themselves asking more questions to check in, rather than walking by giving direction and regularly being present and accessible.

Let’s consider a real situation. I coach leaders, and many of our coaching conversations involve them trying out new ways to better engage with their people. One leader comes to mind. His goal was to learn and use a new skill to better engage his team of ten people. After six months of using more questions and staying curious longer during one-on-one conversations, he reported feeling less overwhelmed and more connected to what was really going on for his team. What did he do differently? He took a coach approach.

Coaching is an approach to facilitate individuals to draw on their own experiences and capabilities, to set and reach their own objectives. Make sense. Yet, many leaders find themselves holding back from adding a coach approach to their leadership style. According to Michael Bungay-Stanier, The Coaching Habit (2016), coaching helps leaders break away from three vicious cycles. Which one describes how you may be feeling?

  1. Creating overdependence: In this vicious cycle, you have trained people to be over reliant on you. You are a bottleneck. This may have developed unintentionally, yet here you are. If you take a coach approach, your team will be more self-sufficient, and have an increased level of engagement and autonomy, which could lead to their own mastery of skills.
  2. Getting overwhelmed: In this vicious cycle, you are so overwhelmed with the never-ending quantity of work, that your quality is hard to focus on. You continue to lose focus. If you take a coach approach, you can direct your own work efforts. Your team can focus on what has real impact, and grow to solve their own challenges.
  3. Becoming disconnected: In this vicious cycle, you have become disconnected from the work that matters. If you take a coach approach, you will reconnect with your team and the truly impactful and meaningful work. Coaching can fuel your courage to step out of your comfort zone and increase the potential of your team.

I poll the participants in our Coaching Skills program, and the number one reason is creating overdependence, followed by getting overwhelmed. I will add three more reasons that holds leaders back from adding a coach approach to their leadership:

  • The lack of training, or a poor experience with training whereby they didn’t walk away with implementable tools.
  • Not having been the recipient of a coaching style themselves. If you have never been coached properly, you may not know what a coaching conversation looks and feels like.
  • And finally, an organizational culture that fosters a solely a directive leadership style.

Let’s conclude with celebrating a real situation where a participant embraced her desire to become more connected to the reality of her employees. This leader came into the Coaching Skills program wanting to get ideas how to move forward with a decision to release or keep a struggling employee. At the end of the Coaching Skills program, she realized that there was one approach she hadn’t tried yet – a coach approach. Why? She didn’t know what process to follow or what her role was, however after the program, she had both, including confidence that her employee deserved the better version of herself as a leader.

Think about what holds you back from using a coach approach and taking a coach approach more often. Leadership is like a muscle that we need to exercise, stretch and challenge to do more. See you in the Coaching Skills program!

About the Author

Linda Allen-Hardisty

 

 

 

 

 

Linda Allen-Hardisty is an organizational development professional (Queens IRC OD Certificate), an executive coach (ICF MCC professional designation), a team coach (EMCC Global Accreditation), and a Forbes Coaches Council contributing member. She’s built a reputation as a vibrant, contemporary voice in the business world by blending her grounding in OD with a practical approach to addressing organizational challenges and opportunities. With a Masters of Education from the University of Regina, Linda’s uniqueness is that, prior to private practice, she fulfilled corporate leadership roles including the Director of Organizational Development in a company listed on the Hewitt Top 50 Employers in Canada and became the first Manager of Strategy and Performance for a municipal government undertaking cultural transformation. Over her 20-year OD career, she has helped many leaders – from corporate executives to entrepreneurs – improve their personal and professional success. She is a sought-after facilitator, coach and advisor for executive development, strategy and change, team effectiveness, and emotional intelligence.

 Linda is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Coaching Skills program, as well as Building Trust and Performance Management.

 

The Gift of Workplace Coaching

Many employers of choice offer coaching to their new generation of leaders because it’s a tool with transformative powers. Given the ever-changing business landscape—including the transition back to the office after COVID-19—smart employers provide their employees with the tools they need to succeed—from day one. For new leaders, that includes coaching.

In this article, I will talk about what coaching is, the transformative power of coaching, what new leaders can expect from employer-sponsored coaching and how to get the most out of the gift of coaching.

Attitudes About Coaching: Then and Now

Some time ago, I was a young mother working my way up the corporate ladder. Shortly after I secured a management job, I was called into my boss’s office. She told me, “We see your potential and we’d like to support your transition from employee to manager. You’re a young employee with a bright future and it’s important for us to invest in you.” She then announced that they had secured six sessions over the next few months—all confidential—with Susan, a retired HR professor from a Toronto university, who consulted as an executive coach.

Sounds amazing, right? I didn’t think so. Back then, coaching wasn’t popular or common, so I didn’t know how to handle this information. The only time I had heard about a third party being called in was to assist employees getting back on track before they went down the termination road. Prior to having this conversation, no one had ever mentioned coaching in the management transition process. I ran home and said to my husband, “Oh, my God, I don’t understand what’s going on. They just gave me this job, I thought I started off well and now they want me to talk to someone.” My mind raced with questions like, “Was I not communicating properly? Was I not handling myself during meetings? Did I do something wrong? Do they want to get rid of me already?”

After a brief panic, I reflected on what my boss really had said, which was nothing like my initial interpretation. Why was I doubting myself? I had worked so hard to get here. I deserved to be at the table. I decided to trust myself and the process and I called Susan the next day. To my wonderful surprise, getting coaching changed my life—I continued up the ladder and became one of the top female executives in the organization. I was ambitious and hard-working, so I probably would’ve got there anyway, but I’m positive my path was smoother because of the opportunity to work with Susan early on in my management transition.

Fortunately, times have changed; coaching is no longer a mystery or reserved for the executive suite and misbehaving employees. People at all levels—whether they’re in the office or on the shop floor—appreciate coaching for what it is: a gift that brings positive results for months, years and decades.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a developmental practice; coaches use their knowledge and skills to help their clients achieve specific personal or professional goals. Coaches create a learning environment and, as such, there shouldn’t be power struggles in a coaching relationship. Coaching is a two-way communication and feedback process between the employee and the coach with the intention to reinforce strengths and bring awareness of possibilities.

For those that are fortunate to participate in employer-sponsored coaching, it typically starts with six sessions lasting from 60 to 90 minutes each. Coaching often begins with discovering a bit about yourself, setting goals and making solid progress when dealing with issues that might arise in the future. Coaching is a tool that your employer purchases to put in your hand. For leaders—especially new leaders—coaching is essential, just as a measuring tape is essential for a master carpenter. Coaching is an opportunity to help people understand new concepts, learn about themselves and make positive change in their lives.

Coaching sessions are meant to be confidential; this means that what you and your coach talk about stays between you and your coach.[1] In the context of workplace coaching, coaches are accountable to the organization which means they provide attendance updates and perhaps a sentence or two about progress. If the sponsor has asked the coach to work on specific areas, this will be discussed briefly. However, progress reports are generally vague such as, “I met with Taylor, and we worked on some goals. Taylor is a pleasure to speak with and I can see why you consider Taylor leadership material.” The content and limits of the reports are discussed and reviewed during the first coaching session.

The Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

Coaching is different than mentoring though a coaching relationship can transition into a mentoring relationship. Coaching is goal-oriented and focused on gaining the skills required to navigate issues that come up at work. Mentoring is relationship-oriented; a mentor is a role model you can turn to for guidance and support. Some examples of mentors could be a school principal mentoring a vice-principal or a help desk team leader assigned to mentor an employee working in IT as a clerk, who would like to move to the help desk team to provide IT support.

The Transformative Power of Coaching

Coaching is ultimately about change. Coaching transforms professionals by helping them engage in different ways of thinking, become more effective working with people and increase their ability to handle challenging situations. At the core, coaching helps people learn about themselves and identify what they need to move forward in pursuit of a personal or professional goal.

When Susan and I sat down for my first coaching session, it was in a coffee shop. Despite my reservations, I immediately took to coaching with Susan and was grateful to have the skills and expertise of a female HR executive at my disposal. It was great to have someone to talk to. With Susan, I didn’t have to be “on” all the time; I could be myself while learning about myself. She taught me a different way of looking at things and helped me work through issues and goals so I could go to work and perform.

After our sessions, Susan became a friend and mentor who I spoke to for many years before she passed away. As my career progressed, I became a mentor to other young leaders; one of those women recently sent me a note about how I helped her and her colleague when they reported to me years ago. She said, “You are a huge part of our confidence, giving us a chance. It didn’t matter what we asked, you always had another question for us to answer, and made us walk out of your office feeling like we could conquer the world.” I trace their success back to my time with Susan; this multi-decade legacy perfectly illustrates the transformative power of coaching. It becomes natural to pass on the power of coaching when you’ve been coached.

How New Leaders Can Get the Most Out of Employer-Sponsored Coaching

I’m known for saying every manager needs five superpowers and I believe coaching makes it easier and faster to develop and harness these superpowers, especially when you engage with the process. The more accountability and responsibility you take, the more you’ll get out of your coaching sessions.

Here are my five recommendations for getting the most out of coaching:

  1. Commit to the process – Your coach is there to help you grow, navigate challenges and achieve your goals and this only works if you go all in. Coaching isn’t about going with the flow; it’s about being an active participant in your own journey.
  2. Prepare for each session – Be on time, take notes and be ready to revisit unfinished business from previous sessions. If you have a pressing concern—such as an emerging power-struggle with an employee or colleague—bring it to your session and be ready to think differently about how to approach it.
  3. Be willing to give and receive feedback – Your coach doesn’t tell you what to do; instead, a coach asks questions to help you come up with solutions. These conversations aren’t always easy, so a successful coaching relationship involves two-way feedback. Listen to your coach’s observations with an open mind and tell your coach what’s working and not working for you. Both parties should try not to take feedback personally.
  4. Choose the right meeting place – Coaching can bring up emotions, so it’s important that you feel comfortable in your meeting place, whether it’s a private office, busy coffee shop or virtual.
  5. Speak up if there’s truly not a great fit – With employer-sponsored coaching, you don’t get to pick your coach and, most of the time, it works out well. However, if there’s truly a bad fit, talk to your director of HR or the person in charge of the coaching program. Keep in mind that having a coach who asks tough questions isn’t the same as a bad fit!

What New Leaders Can Expect to Get Out of Coaching

Transitioning from individual contributor to a leadership role is hard, especially without a formal system of support. When new leaders get coaching, they can expect to increase their on-the-job effectiveness, due to gaining new skills and setting their mindset right. With coaching, new leaders learn about themselves, become comfortable enough to be themselves at work and develop the confidence to address issues and create an effective working environment that facilitates success. The coaching process provides space and structure for the reflection necessary for learning and growth and, in many cases, helps people reconnect with what they love about life and work.

In my years as an executive in the HR, financial and operational fields, I’ve seen countless coaching success stories, including my own. Most people go into coaching expecting it to be somewhat helpful and are shocked at how transformative the process really is.

Supporting the First 90 Days: Why Employers of Choice Hire Coaches for New Leaders

“There is a pervasive lack of leadership management training happening when people are moving into management.”

  • Scott Miller, Executive Vice President of Thought Leadership, FranklinCovey

In many organizations, new leaders commit to a plan for their first 90 days on the job. The transition from employee to leader—sometimes described as drinking from the fire hose—is incredibly stressful, challenging and, at times, discouraging. Top employers provide coaching support when their employees move into leadership roles (and often when they welcome new leaders to the company). Employers of choice believe there’s no need for anyone to fail within the first 90 days; coaching mitigates this risk and gives new leaders a strong start.

And, in the era of the great resignation, employees want to work for organizations that care about their people and align to their values. Companies that offer coaching demonstrate their commitment to leadership development, succession planning and helping employees fit into their roles. They know that coaching helps employees feel a sense of belonging, find meaning in their work, and achieve greater happiness, productivity and performance. One great leader creates many others; that’s why top employers are thrilled to provide coaching to their leadership team at all levels.

If you’re a new leader and your employer offers you an opportunity to meet with a coach, take it! It can change your life and the lives of others, now and far into the future. So, what are you waiting for?

Further Reading

I highly recommend these two books to help you understand the transformational benefits of coaching:

  • Developing Leaders by Executive Coaching by Andromachi Athanasopoulou.
  • The First 90 Days, Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter by Michael D. Watkins.

About the Author

Filomena Lofranco

Filomena Lofranco is a management consultant and executive coach with more than 25 years of human resource, finance, and leadership experience. Filomena strives to share her knowledge and expertise with professionals looking to grow and succeed in the workplace. She understood that there was a profound need for up-and-coming professionals to have the proper training and foundation from the start. Filomena works to identify areas within organizations that require attention and improvement, evaluating potential options and providing practical solutions that are cost effective. For Filomena, fostering relationships at every level of an organization is key when building a strong and prosperous business. She believes these relationships hold great value for an organization and can help mitigate problems when challenges arise. She has been instrumental in staff development, staff empowerment and in driving successful results across a wide range of cross functional teams. She is passionate about promoting and inspiring workplace culture that supports physical, psychological and emotional well-being for all.

 

[1] Limits to coaching confidentiality are much like limits for counselling. For example, if a client discloses threats of harm to oneself or others, a coach is obligated to alert the proper authorities to make sure the client gets the help they need.

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

Five Superpowers Every Manager Needs

Do you remember the day you became a manager? You were told, “Congratulations, you’re a manager, you start next week! Let us know what you need, and your assistant will have your keys and access card waiting for you.”

Did that amount of support turn you into a respected and effective manager overnight? Probably not. The sad reality is that many new managers do not receive the training, coaching and support they require to excel in their role as people leaders. Learning the ropes for measuring metrics, updating the team schedule, and filing reports on time is administratively important but only part of the managerial picture. Real success comes from mastering the five management superpowers, which are all about navigating human relationships. It does not matter what company you work for, how long you have been a manager, nor what your title is.  These management skills are required to build healthier relationships and increase productivity.

In this article, I will illuminate the five managerial superpowers, why they are important and provide tips for implementing each one.

Think of them as slices of a pie. You wouldn’t bring a housewarming pie that is missing a slice or two, would you? Nor would you want to be a manager who is a few slices short of a superpower pie.

Manager Superpower #1: Know the WAY

Who Are You? Before you can do anything well—communicate, solve problems or be a mentor—you must know who you are. Self-awareness is the first part of being an effective and respected manager. By knowing who you are and your default position for approaching situations, you can work through your limitations and double down on effective strategies.

People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.
  – John Maxwell

To know the WAY, ask yourself these questions (and answer them):

  • What’s my communication style when I’m calm?
  • What’s my communication style when I’m feeling stressed?
  • What’s my understanding of emotional intelligence?
  • How do my emotions influence others? And in what way?
  • What’s my leadership style and does it work? For example, are you an open-door policy person? Do you sit around the table with your team or stand at the front of the table? Do you yell at people in front of others or address individual concerns in private? These are difficult questions to face but answering them shows you the WAY.

Communication skills support all five managerial superpowers so use these communication best practices often:

  • Be brief but specific.
  • Communicate in a positive manner.
  • Express yourself calmly.
  • Engage in active listening.
  • Acknowledge what the other person says without disagreeing.

Manager Superpower #2: Manage Transitions Effectively

Businessman Robert C. Gallagher once said, “Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.” So true! In a workplace context, managers are expected to manage change and transitions even when (and especially when) team members are resistant to the change. Even good change is stressful, and your team will remember how you supported them through change, for better or for worse.

Tips for managing transitions effectively:

  • Understand your own reactions to change. For example, are you overwhelmed by change? Or does it hardly faze you? How flexible and adaptable are you?
  • Communicate clearly and often with employees affected by the change.
  • Listen to employee concerns about the change.
  • Help your team understand why the change is happening and what’s expected of them before, during and after the change.
  • Be strategic, anticipate issues and create a plan for handling them.
  • Manage your own change-related stress so you don’t inadvertently transfer your stress to your team.

As a manager, the first transition to manage is always your own transition into a new role and team. When you become a manager, there are so many unknowns, especially if you’re new to the organization. What happened with the other manager? How were the relationships with the team? Good? Bad? It is important to remember that you and your new team are making the transition together and you are not all starting at the same place. Some people will be thrilled you are there while others will be unhappy about their previous manager’s departure. It can also be difficult to transition from a team member to the team leader. Using the tips above can help you manage these types of transitions.

Manager Superpower #3: Take Ownership

Employees crave leadership so take ownership of your role and your responsibilities as a leader right away. Employees take cues from you, including your emotions and attitudes, which sets the stage for the team culture. How do you want to influence your team? With positivity, enthusiasm and integrity? Or some other way?

Simple ways to take ownership as a manager:

  • Be passionate about your job and enjoy it (or get a new one).
  • Learn about your company’s strategic initiatives and share that information with your team. Too many managers avoid sharing relevant information with their team. This is a wasted opportunity as sharing knowledge builds trust which creates strong relationships.
  • Set standards for team performance and behaviours and help people achieve them.
  • Be or become an effective communicator.
  • Balance the needs of your organization with the needs of your team and make this tightrope act visible to your team (within reason).
  • Be proactive about your own personal and professional development by working with a coach and/or mentor.

If you don’t take ownership of your role, who will?

Manager Superpower #4: Managing Conflict

Self-aware managers know how they deal with conflict and are open to exploring the results they get. Managing conflict is often difficult because most people don’t like it. But it’s the managerial superpower that makes the difference between a good day and developing an ulcer. How do you deal with conflict and what are your typical results? Does your approach generally help or hinder conflict situations? These questions are essential for managers to consider.

There are five styles of conflict management. While it is tempting to label them as the proverbial good or bad, they can all be right—or wrong—depending on the situation.

The five styles of conflict management:

  • Accommodating – You put the other person’s needs before your own.
  • Avoiding – You evade the conflict and hope it goes away on its own.
  • Compromising – You attempt to find a solution that partially pleases everyone involved.
  • Collaborating – You attempt to find a solution that meets everyone’s needs.
  • Competing – You stand firm and don’t consider anyone else’s perspective.

Though some of these styles sound harsh and unproductive, an effective manager knows when to use each of them. For example, a competing conflict management style is appropriate when deciding on workplace safety or compliance protocols. There is no room for compromise when it comes to staying on the right side of the law and avoiding a harassment or worker’s compensation lawsuit.

Employees seem to hate the avoidance style of conflict resolution the most because it assaults people’s ingrained idea of fairness. When someone observes you seeing, hearing and saying nothing about something that’s obvious to everyone else, it kills the team spirit. Of course, sometimes, you must resolve things in a way that looks unfair, such as providing accommodations for one team member. This is yet another reason to develop strong communication skills: they help you navigate tricky situations as logically and transparently as possible.

If you’re uncomfortable with conflict, your conflict resolution skills probably need improvement. That’s okay but you must get help as soon as possible because this is such an important (and common) part of management. Always know, your employees are always watching you. Having poor conflict resolution skills is possibly the fastest way to lose the respect of your team.

Remember the responsibility for developing skills ultimately rests on your shoulders. To increase your conflict management skills, find and use all the resources available to you, including books, internal courses and mentors, or outside professional development. I promise that you will have many opportunities to use the conflict management skills you learn!

Manager Superpower #5: Managing People and Personalities

The first four managerial superpowers are about managing yourself and potentially difficult situations. Now it’s time to talk about the final managerial superpower that brings everything together: managing people effectively. If you don’t have this superpower, your other superpowers won’t be as effective as they could be. (Going back to the pie analogy, you need all the slices to make a whole pie.)

Here are my five tips for managing people effectively:

  1. Know your people – Go beyond names and get to know your team member’s strengths, challenges and career aspirations. When you know your team, you can add value by making connections and helping your people go where they want to go.
  2. Be a supportive coach – Create opportunities for the team to see you as a sounding board and someone who can facilitate career growth and transitions. Coaching allows you to use your listening and observational skills to help your employees optimize their performance and reach their goals.
  3. Provide training and development – Develop a team culture that values training and development opportunities by staying positive about continuous learning. Never frame training as a punishment or your team will quickly devalue any training you provide. Work with the Human Resources team to bring relevant opportunities to your team (and if the budget is tight, consider train-the-trainer sessions).
  4. Be kind – In a world of increased uncertainty, it’s extra important to be kind. When we are stressed or in a hurry, it is easy to forget the niceties that make human interaction meaningful. Kindness also means checking in on people. Is anyone struggling? Are people getting what they need? Skilled managers are kind even when firmness is required.
  5. Look after yourself – Being a manager is rewarding but nobody ever said it was easy! Self-care is rejuvenating and we can only tend to others if we tend to ourselves. Put your hobbies in your calendar and enjoy them. Disconnect from work regularly. Go for a long walk. Create your own professional development plan and work towards it. Taking care of your mental, physical and spiritual needs enhances your life and helps you be a more effective manager.

Leaders reveal themselves through their behaviour. You do not have to be a manager to be a leader, but to be a respected and effective manager, you must be a great leader. By learning and mastering the five managerial superpowers, you will be the best manager you can be.

To learn these managerial superpowers, consider looking into courses such as Building Trust and Managing Unionized Environments.

 

About the Author

Filomena Lofranco

Filomena Lofranco is an energetic senior executive with more than 20 years of human resource, finance, and leadership experience in the public sector. Through her countless leadership roles, she has steered the planning and execution of various specialized programs and projects. She has been instrumental in staff development and in driving successful results across a wide range of cross functional teams. Filomena has a proven track record for being passionate about promoting and inspiring a workplace culture that supports physical, psychological, and emotional well-being for all staff and stakeholders.

 

Further Reading

I highly recommend these two books to increase your managerial superpowers:

Reference List

Amaresan, S. (2021, June 9). 5 Conflict Management Styles for Every Personality Type. HubSpot Blog. https://blog.hubspot.com/service/conflict-management-styles 

Bridges, W., & Bridges, S. (2017). Managing transitions: making the most of change (4th ed.). Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Furlong, G. T., & Harrison, J. (2018). BrainFishing: a practice guide to questioning skills. FriesenPress.

Goodreads. (n.d.). Robert C. Gallagher Quotes (Author of The Express). Goodreads. https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/180697.Robert_C_Gallagher

How to Strengthen Our WFH Reality: Flex Your Trust Muscle

The pandemic forced change in the way leaders interact with their employees, forcing many to adapt their approach in how they built trust and relationships with employees throughout the transition into working from home (WFH) practices. For many, this challenging year has actually provided them with a rare opportunity to lead stronger, with a new vision for their teams.

On the one-year anniversary of WFH, this is an ideal time for strong leaders to assess how they are at building trust, and to identify what needs to be strengthened next, as the “new normal” and time of unknowns is still being shaped.

Like a fitness plan full of workouts (like weightlifting repetitions, cardio activities, and daily walking), strengthening your trust muscle requires use Every. Single. Day. Some muscles aren’t used enough unless you intentionally aim to use them. It’s not always easy, and you often feel a bit sore after a good workout; however, because you care about your health, you follow your fitness plan again tomorrow. This is the same for building, rebuilding and strengthening trust with your team of employees. Let’s explore how each of these current WFH realities can be addressed by flexing your trust muscle.

WFH Reality #1 – How Do I Know?

It’s shocking how much information is available on this question for leaders: “how do I know my employees are actually working?” I believe the first question to ask yourself is “how did I know before the pandemic?”

You may still be using some of your past practices, however it is likely that you have had to create new practices for your employee interactions. WFH is felt heavily within organizations that didn’t have a robust culture of providing regular employee feedback on their work. Leaders now find themselves implementing totally new practices for employees to follow. In some cases, monitoring technology has been introduced, which is eroding trust and exhausting everyone involved.

Flex your Trust Muscle:

  • Pull on your empathy emotional intelligence: Put yourself in your employees’ shoes. Think about how you want to be asked to share what you accomplished today, and how you want your manager to interact with you about challenges and successes. This can put you in an effective mindset to seek input from each employee about what is working well for them and what is not as they perform their job duties.
  • Monitor with conversation not technology: If you find that you are not seeing the results from an employee that you did pre-pandemic, then use the same process you did before like goalsetting, feedback and consulting your HR advisor. Employees still want to know what the expectations are of them during WFH. They want to know what is different and what is the same, and how you will handle an achievement or lack of performance on their part – one way is to seek to understand what might have contributed to the situation. WFH for some employees is “working from home with my kids beside me doing online learning, the FedEx delivery truck ringing the doorbell, the dog not staying in the kennel, and aging parents needing help.” You do need to get at the heart of the issue – is it WFH challenges or performance challenges? These might not be the same.

WFH Reality #2 – Team Vision Has Changed

Regardless of how much time you spent recreating the team vision or not, know that is has organically changed, whether you intended it to or not. It changed. What a great opportunity to make it official!

Flex your Trust Muscle:

  • Lead an update of the team vision (One-year anniversary edition): Yes, mark it and be intentional with your employees about carving out dedicated time to revisit your team vision or team charter. Ask questions of your employees about what to keep doing, stop doing, or start doing for key components of:
    • communication
    • goalsetting
    • relationship building
    • conflict handling
    • supporting each other

For example, for relationship building some leaders have made the first team meeting agenda item “Coffee Chat” before any agenda item comes up for business – in an effort to fill the gap of not seeing each other down the hall or in the lunchroom; while in-person experiences truly can’t be replaced, new actions can help fill parts of that gap. For now. To begin, start with this exercise:

Team Vision Chart

WFH Reality #3 – You as a Changing Leader

You are a different leader now. Yes, you are. First, congratulations on transitioning your team to WFH during this once-in-a-lifetime career event. Secondly, plan for your next piece of growth and improvement

Flex Your Trust Muscle:

  • Always ask “What is the learning here, Linda?” My mentor used to ask me this all the time. Take honest stock of what you did well this year and what you did not. What did you learn about yourself?
  • Train your trust muscle for the next transition: WFH is likely not going away completely. Many people believe we will evolve to another “new normal”, and things will not go back to the way it was for all organizations. So, get ready to build more trust with your employees because you will be leading them and collaborating with them into the next transition. In their book “Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You”[1] authors Frances Frei and Anne Morriss explain trust is the input that makes the leadership equation work: “If leadership is about empowering others, in your presence and your absence, then trust is the emotional framework that allows that service to be freely exchanged. I’m willing to be led by you because I trust you”. Reflect on how well you may be trusted by others, by using their trust triangle of authenticity, logic, and empathy. People tend to trust you when they think they are:
    • interacting with the real you (authenticity)
    • when they have faith in your judgement and competence (logic)
    • when they believe that you care about them and where they are coming from (empathy)

When trust is lost, you can almost always trace it back to a breakdown to one of these drivers. Ask yourself: You want others to trust you, right? Which one, if you had to pick, do you think you should strengthen? Pay more attention to it.

In summary, as leaders you can improve how you can trust that your employees are working at home by intentionally taking action on your own leadership fitness as outlined in these “Flex Your Trust Muscle” tips.

  • Pull on your empathy emotional intelligence
  • Monitor with conversation not technology
  • Lead an update of the team vision (One-year anniversary edition)
  • Always ask “What is the learning here?”
  • Train your trust muscle for the next transition

WFH is still challenging everyone to keep learning new ways on how to work – and trust – virtually and effectively.

About the Author

Linda Allen-Hardisty

Linda Allen-Hardisty is an ICF-certified executive coach, a senior OD professional, a chair at The Executive Committee (TEC) Canada, and a contributing member of Forbes Coaches Council. She’s built a reputation as a vibrant, contemporary voice in the business world by blending her grounding in organizational development with a practical approach to addressing business challenges. Over her 20-year OD career, she has helped many leaders – from corporate executives to entrepreneurs – improve their personal and professional success. She is a sought-after facilitator for executive development, organizational change and culture, team effectiveness, and emotional intelligence. With a Masters of Education from the University of Regina and a certificate in Organizational Development from Queen’s IRC, Linda’s uniqueness is that, prior to private practice, she fulfilled corporate leadership roles including the Director of Organizational Development in a company listed on the Hewitt Top 50 Employers in Canada, and became the first Manager of Strategy and Performance for a municipal government undertaking cultural transformation.

Linda is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Building Trust program.

 

[1] Frei, F. & Morriss, M. (2020). Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from  https://www.amazon.ca/Unleashed-Unapologetic-Leaders-Empowering-Everyone/dp/1633697045.

Canada’s Pandemic Response: Key Learnings for Building our Future

What if the entire population becomes vulnerable due a pandemic? COVID-19 took the world by surprise, then by storm, compelling us to adapt to new realities which considerably impact our individual, social and professional lives. The Canadian Federal Government, responsible for leading the pandemic crisis response, had to take effective and swift action in a rapidly shifting environment, driven by a new and mysterious threat. Implementing a multitude of effective responses across the country during COVID-19 posed a significant challenge for the Federal Government with regards to speed, agility and performance, and they proved up to the task, using an action learning, collaborative and iterative approach.

In this paper, Francoise Morissette explores Canada’s pandemic response, and how this fits into the Compassion Revolution Series. First, she looks at the pandemic response through the lens of the 4D action learning process – Define, Discover, Design and Do. Next, she explores how we are facing the storm in the present, how we have learned from experience and built capacity through past pandemics, and how a blueprint for the future is beginning to emerge. (Sections of this paper on the Past, Present and Future are also available on our website.)

The first article of the Compassion Revolution series explores a new trend: Why so many public and not for profit organizations are transforming their service delivery models to better meet the needs of vulnerable and at risk populations. These transformations require not only organizational and process redesign, but significant paradigm and culture shifts. While the organization featured in the first Compassion Revolution Series article (Peel Region), made a proactive and strategic decision to implement a new service delivery model (and could exercise more control over timing and actualization), this was not the case for the COVID-19 response. During a national emergency simultaneously impacting various sectors and population segments in different ways, multiple strategies are required, which must be implemented quickly and effectively.

Download PDF: Canada’s Pandemic Response: Key Learnings for Building our Future

Leveraging Pandemic Learnings (Part 3)

Building Capacity

A blueprint for the future is beginning to emerge: one that will involve greater use of interactive technology, system-wide collaboration, widespread innovation, improved systems thinking capacity, and stronger recognition and appreciation of the female leadership brand.

Interactive Technology

‘Necessity is the mother of invention’, declared Greek philosopher Plato, in Dialogue Republic, and COVID-19 proves him right. Inventive technology applications are emerging in droves. Here are examples from various sectors.

Download PDF: Leveraging Pandemic Learnings (Part 3) The Future: Blueprint for Sustainable Success

Leveraging Pandemic Learnings (Part 2)

This is not the first time Canada has faced pandemics. What have we learned from past experiences? How can we leverage these learnings, now and for the future?  How can we continue to evolve and improve? Here’s a summary of our experience so far.

Overview

Pandemics: Definition

A pandemic is an outbreak of an infectious disease that affects a large proportion of the population in multiple countries, or worldwide. Human populations have been affected by pandemics since ancient times. These include widespread outbreaks of plague, cholera, influenza, and, more recently, HIV/AIDS, SARS and COVID-19.[1]

Pandemics Response: Public Health

Initially, it was about defining Public Health, shaping a national vision for it, and putting in place infrastructures to deliver and manage services:

In order to slow or stop the spread of disease, governments implemented public health measures that include testing, isolation and quarantine. In Canada, public health agencies at the federal, provincial and municipal levels play an important role in monitoring disease, advising governments and communicating to the public.[2]

Download PDF: Leveraging Pandemic Learnings (Part 2) The Past: Learning from Experience and Building Capacity

 

 


[1] Bailey, P. (2008, May 7.) Updated Marshall, T. (2020, March). Pandemics in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved May 23, 2020, from  https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/pandemic

[2]  Ibid.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply. Learn more about the collection, use and disclosure of personal information at Queen’s University.