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Coaching is the New Leadership

Executive or leadership coaching is now an every-day activity in the life of many leaders, helping them grow and develop beyond what they can do without an expert facilitator of change. The now-common experience of coaching impact on leaders is igniting interest in learning coaching skills, pioneered in the book Leader as Coach twenty years ago by Hicks and Peterson, and more recently popularized by the new book The Coaching Habit (Bungay Stanier). Wider dissemination of coaching skills and development of a coaching culture is emerging in recent years. A coaching culture is particularly relevant to the healthcare industry where workforce health and population health depends on everyone making sustainable change - fully engaged in self-care and healthy lifestyles. Healthcare leaders are called to navigate, even better create, disruptive change which often needs to start with self-disruption.

None too late in our age of accelerations when external change is changing, and faster than humans can change. It’s time for everyone, not just leaders, to grow faster to avoid burnout and keep up, even get ahead of external forces of change. That means living and thriving on the growth edge, like what happens in a good coaching session.

Harvard psychologists Bob Kegan, Lisa Lahey and colleagues recently published a book titled “An Everyone Culture” on becoming a deliberately developmental organization. One of the book’s lessons is that a coaching culture is one where there is an investment in balancing ...

performing at a high level to produce strong results, and growing to develop the capacity for even better results in the future

It’s hard to welcome growing as equal to performing. Growing takes time to cultivate. It is sometimes awkward and clumsy as people experiment with new mindsets and behavior. As a nonlinear process, growing is unpredictable - even the best coaches can’t predict the timing of transformational insights or shifts and the conditions that might generate small and large shifts.

My work life has placed me at the interface of coaching (as a coach and trainer) and leading (three organizations and a larger field). Distinct from my pre-coaching career in biotechnology, I’m now using coaching skills as a leader. But first I went through many clumsy, awkward phases, shifting from:

the expert/boss who is directing and advocating to a cultivator of others’ self-determination the driver’s seat to the passenger seat attached to the expert/boss identity to serving others first being in charge to pulling back to observe and reflect seeing what’s wrong to appreciating what’s strong critiquing and judging to accepting (I mean really accepting)

Like other leaders who have become coaches, I’ve grown to a higher level of consciousness, resonating with the emerging movement of conscious leadership or capitalism:

  1. Quickly embracing missteps and turmoil as opportunities to grow, instead of getting down on what everyone did including me to produce the turmoil

  2. Getting excited about messy chaos as a signpost to pursue change, instead of wishing for more control or certainty

  3. Loosening the grip on any wishes, goals or agenda to allow the unpredictable, nonlinear growth process to unfold

  4. Being calm and detached when assumptions and syntheses are overthrown by events and I don’t know what to do

  5. Entering a state of wisdom and grace when the inner and outside worlds are not wise or graceful

This has all led me to teach a refresh of the longstanding model of transformational leadership (Bernard Bass) to include self-transforming leadership as well as coaching and self-coaching competencies. A quick map of the coach approach to the four “I’s” of transformational leadership looks like this:

Idealized influence - modeling self-transformation Inspirational motivation – inspiring others to be visionaries Individual consideration – coaching everyone to grow Intellectual stimulation – open, accepting, risk-taking, creative, evolving mind

Coaching is the new leadership. Sometimes you lead. Sometimes you coach.

The growth edges? Know how to do both and when to do what.

Coach Meg

More on habits of transformational leaders:


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