Leadership is a team effort | Fin24

Leadership is a team effort

Jul 04 2018 14:50
Amanda Visser

The “heroic leader” on his stallion – leading the herd from the front – is realising that the world has become far too complex for him to make it on his own.   

It has always been a lonely place, but with increased corporate pressure, a changing workforce and a far more complex world, it can become even lonelier.   

Some leaders are getting off their (high) horses to seek help and support, but there are far too many still holding on tightly to the reins.   

The coaching profession has seen rapid growth in recent years, mainly because of leaders seeking a trusted adviser relationship where they can unburden, ask advice and get the necessary tools to stay on track. 

Team approach

Barbara Walsh, systemic leadership team coach and partner at Metaco Coaching and Training, says her firm has seen a rise in “leadership teams”, and in the need for coaching of such teams. 

In a leadership team, the leader still makes the final decision, but there is a whole team standing beside him. Team members no longer operate in silos. 

If a particular person or section of the business is experiencing challenges, it becomes a team issue. Once a decision has been made, every member of the team supports it as an aligned entity. 

The team is almost like the leader’s own “wisdom circle”, says Kirstie McFarlane, who runs Greenleaf Consulting, an executive, team and group coaching practice. 

“They are not the yes-people. They will give you constructive feedback when you need it. They will tell you when you are doing well, and when you are not.” 

Typically, a coach or mentor will be part of this circle, says McFarlane. 

The coach will be equally challenging and supportive of the leader and their team.

“Leaders find themselves in this tsunami of constant change. Very few take time out to reflect and to think, because they are being reactive all the time. Coaching allows them to have thinking space.”  

McFarlane says besides issues of age and gender, socio-economic threats, changed expectations and increased individualism in consumer behaviour, leaders have to battle with dwindling profits and sluggish economic growth.

Dealing with pressure

The norm that leaders should come across as tough, not allowing their vulnerabilities to show, has been around for far too long, says Mark Smith, owner of Wildcats Coaching and Training Specialists. 

He has seen an increase in executive women using coaching to deal with pressure.

“Men and women are dealing differently with pressure. Women tend to be more collaborative, while men are more competitive. 

That is why men have to work a little harder at finding a wisdom circle and unburdening, whereas women are far more naturally inclined that way.”  

According to McFarlane, pain often forces change. When a leader gets feedback that they need to embody a different style of leadership, it can be painful. 

That’s when the “soft skills” become the “hard skills”. It is not easy to onboard these skills if a leader’s success has been based on their technical knowledge.  

“They find themselves in a transition phase where they have to learn how to listen and to really hear what is going on. The leader has to show genuine care for their team. That is difficult for people to whom these skills do not come naturally. They have to make a concerted effort to get the skills.”  

The leader eventually comes to a point where it is not about being “functionally operational”. They are at the point where they need to achieve results through other people, says Walsh. 

The things that used to work for these leaders are no longer taking them any further. “They then hit a roadblock.”

Building relational skills

Most universities, and even business schools, do not focus on relational skills, says Walsh. That is where individual coaching comes in. 

It helps the leader to overcome his limitations, and to connect better with people at all levels.

The coaching process can take anything between six to 10 months. According to Smith, the leader starts to unpack the obstacles that have led them to the point where they need a coach to grow or to step up to the next level. 

In many instances, leaders need to acknowledge where their “limiting beliefs” are. These beliefs are holding them back from an emotional, intellectual, physical or even spiritual perspective and cause rigidity in specific areas.

Smith uses the Enneagram test, which looks at nine different personality styles, and the Appreciative Inquiry, which is a change management approach that focuses on identifying what is working well, analysing why it is working well and then doing more with it.  

Finding your blind spots

Coaching assists in unlocking accountability of one’s approach, as well as the ability to self-analyse, says Smith. 

“The executive develops greater self-awareness of their personality styles and defensive patterns that lead them to that particular style.” 

These coaching tools also highlight the “shadow side” – the blind spots that prevent the leaders from seeing the entire picture.  

Most leaders are willing and open to embark on this new learning process, says Walsh. They realise that without it, the chance of veering off the track becomes a reality. 

Metaco has developed red and green card behaviours in the teams they work with. The teams decide on behaviours they want to promote in the team and behaviours that they do not find acceptable, says Walsh.  

It is a fun way of holding each other accountable to uphold the green card behaviours and to remind each other when they slip back into undesirable behaviours.  

McFarlane stresses the importance of “mindfulness” and “self-care” for leaders. 

“Get some exercise, drink more water than coffee and work consciously on relationships outside of work. Follow some leadership blogs and learn about your craft, because leadership is a craft.”  

Most achievers tend to think for other people; they are three steps ahead of everybody else, and tend to have a “tell approach”, says Smith.  

A rather steep learning curve is for leaders to adopt an “ask approach”; remain silent, listen more, and be insatiably curious. 

Ask the members of your wisdom circle all the possible questions before taking strategic decisions, says Smith.

This article originally appeared in the 5 July edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

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