Coaching as a leadership style – what all the hype?

Thinking around leadership and management evolves. With the passage of time, greater research and understanding of human psychology is gained alongside what is good and effective leadership and how can we get the best out of our staff, teams and self?

Not so long back, good managers were thought to be those who had been there and done it and directed and instructed those following them on the processes and systems to follow to get the job done the way it always had been. Proving yourself in your role meant that you moved up the ladder and moved up into the management ranks. Knowing the role you left meant you could instruct the new post holder to do the same as you always did and that would lead to successes once again. However, in a changing world, where our working environment, tools, and global picture is rapidly and constantly changing simply doing what I say as it worked before…may no longer be sufficient.

To cope, adapt and survive thinking around management has had to adapt too. Management styles from a directive, Authoritarian style have had to give way to something quite different.

It is now recognised widely that a collaborative and coaching style of leadership, one where a manager gives support, provokes thought and empowers teams to experiment, grow and learn together to meet the ever-changing demands thrown at them is one which is needed for business to thrive.

But adapting to this new style can often be disconcerting and frightening. Enabling a situation where one encourages teams to think and challenge can mean that they can challenge both you and your authority right? Having a conversation about the work and debating thoughts and ideas and how people feel about the different options can feel soft, woolly and a bit “touchy-feely” when we simply need to “crack on with the job”. However, research shows that a coaching style of leadership can have some pretty impressive results.

When Satya Nadella took over from Steve Ballmer as the CEO of Microsoft in 2014 he found a company which under Ballmer had tripled its revenue and where profits had more than doubled. However, shortly before Nadella took up the post the company had started to flounder, had lost its way and had lost momentum. What had worked before was now no longer working.

Nadella found a culture of top–down command management. A culture of inspection, direction and judgement. A culture where managers told and staff did. What he found was that this was stifling innovation and the ability of Microsoft to adapt swiftly to a changing environment and by the time the managers had embraced and accepted that technology had changed had upskilled themselves on the new technologies to enable them to impart this to their teams, technologies had once again moved on.

And so he realised a culture transformation was needed to survive. He identified that instead of the fixed mindset he saw in the senior leaders he needed to develop a growth mindset where everyone in the organisation was open to constant learning and development – moving away from the belief that managers had all of the answers. Nadella himself embodied this style of leadership. He asked questions, genuinely listened, encouraged openness and transparency, acceptance of mistakes as a learning opportunity.

He led by example and others were empowered and given the virtual permission to do the same–it must be ok as the leader was doing it! In 2016, Nadella was joined by a new lead for global sales, marketing and operations who too believed that transforming the culture from command and control to one of coaching was essential to stay ahead in a fast-paced, ever-changing technology landscape – he knew that to transform the organisation he needed to “reboot” all of Microsoft’s people managers. The result for Microsoft? A culture transformed along with their performance. A coaching style of leadership embraced at the top and cascaded and embedded throughout saw a revival in Microsoft’s fate.

Janine has almost 25 years senior management experience and offers workplace mediation alongside leadership and management development sessions and individual and team coaching.

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