Executive coaching should prepare senior leaders to manage in the future. It is a matter of helping leaders find their true selves.
— By Ingrid Johnson
Many struggling companies are trying to run a twenty-first century business with workplace leadership stuck in the twentieth-century. Effective leadership today requires adapting to a globalized and technology-based business environment. Though it may seem as if business articles are frequently focused on these two factors, their influence on determining the best methods for engaging employees is undeniable. Leadership that continues to rely on hierarchal management strategies in “siloed” organizational structures are out of touch with the changing marketplace and that eventually catches up with their ability to remain competitive. Turning to executive coaching can be one solution to guiding leadership towards better understanding of the competencies and skills needed to develop agile, sustainable, competitive organizations in a socially connected global environment. This is only possible if the coach understands the future leadership requirements, has the relevant coaching skills and knowledge, and can anticipate and respond to the future leadership trends and developmental needs as they unfold.
To Move the World…
One of the most famous Socrates quotes goes as follows: ‘If a man would move the world, he must first move himself.’ Today, he might well say “person,” but the word “coach” could also be substituted. The needs of leadership development have dramatically changed due to increasing globalization, social connectivity, and technology, and that means the coaching requirements have changed also. Numerous business surveys have found that innovation generation and talent management are two of the biggest challenges facing top leadership. Change needs to start at the top, so the skills and knowledge of the executive coach – those who focus on business behaviors – must change also.
There are many examples of the type of executive leadership needed to guide an organization that is more agile, flexible, global, and networked. The successful companies like KPMG, Cisco, Kraft Foods, L’Oreal, IBM, United Rentals, and many others, have leadership that supports a learning organization able to adapt to rapidly changing markets and fully engage the workforce. A Towers Watson survey found that key leadership competencies in an evolving marketplace include global and cultural acumen, accessibility, strategic flexibility, transparency, interpersonal agility, rapid decision making, and authenticity. (Towers Watson is a leading global professional services company that helps organizations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management.) Each one of these competencies is in direct contrast to the twentieth century leadership style that had C-Suite leaders issuing orders from top floor offices and having little interaction with the rank-and-file.
To move the leaders, the coach must first “move himself.” The coach needs to recognize the executive leadership competencies needed to steer organizations through complex and volatile economic marketplaces and develop the personal competencies to develop leadership capable of directing the twenty-first century organization. For example, coaching should address business behaviors in areas of collaboration, workforce engagement, networking that generates innovation, cultural sensitivity, and support of best-use technology that drives all of the preceding. In the past, executives met with senior leaders and issued directives to the organization. In agile companies that understand the importance of letting a technology savvy workforce have full input, executives are roaming the lunch rooms, holding online meetings with employee resource groups, and gathering input from dispersed workforces. There are no orders or directives; there is agreement.
Finding “Real Selves”
Executive coaching designed to develop the new competencies and capacities of future leaders needs to be strategic. The future of business success relies on being able to transform current challenges like technology changes, economic factors, and globalization into opportunities for innovation and the unleashing of talent potential. Executive coaching should focus on helping leadership develop the self-knowledge and behaviors that support the type of characteristics an organization must possess in order to succeed. Leaders need to understand how to steer organizational change, develop a culture of innovation, drive globalization, encourage social connectivity, and drive growth. Executives have to understand how to foster networking across business units and geographies. The end result of coaching should be leaders who have realized their potential to manage in the volatile business environment through greater understanding of their real selves rather than becoming textbook versions of managers.
At Western Union, the move to incorporate social responsibility into the corporate DNA was not an easy initiative because the focus had always been on profits. The Senior Vice President of Western Union Social Ventures and President of the Western Union Foundation, Luella Chavez D’Angelo, said the retooling to become a socially responsible company, which was focused on helping people get access to a financial system as a means of helping themselves and their communities, required leadership flowing from the top. The CEO is not afraid to talk about topics other companies avoid, like migration. As she describes it, “You have to be conscientious about being real.” This goes back to the need of executives to understand their real selves.
The implication of this approach is that coaches need the skills to help executives address their personal blockers to promoting organizational innovation and engagement. Building the right mindset is critical, and executive coaches with the right skills can be valuable assets to the effort. They can help their clients learn how to have more direct involvement and become models reflecting the attitudes, enthusiasm, collaborative spirit, and engagement desired throughout the organization. One thing that has never changed is this: The organization takes it cues from the top. John Strangfeld, Chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, brings his lunch to the cafeteria every day to talk to and engage with anyone he comes across. Each time he enters the room, he is sending a message about the importance of engagement and networking.
Not all people are comfortable with this leadership style, but it certainly fits an environment where success relies on connecting business strategies and people management. An effective executive coach helps people in the C-Suite find their “ground” as a starting point. Coaches can help senior managers develop the mental processes and skills that are required for effective leadership in an increasingly complex and connected world. To develop business leaders of the future, the coach needs the skills that help the C-Suite and senior managers empower themselves to create agile organizational cultures that are skilled at leveraging core competencies and capabilities. With empowerment, it is time to “move the world.”