Redefining Coaching for the Modern LeaderNov 13, 2023
Many leaders today are hesitant to invest in coaching. Is it because traditional executive coaching seems a luxury, not worth the investment?
Or maybe it’s the belief that coaching is an admission of incompetence, a belief stemming from the idea that traditional coaching was mainly reserved for leaders with issues.
These conceptions of coaching are perhaps accurate, for traditional models of executive coaching. But they are out of date in terms of how the modern leader can benefit from a modern approach to coaching.
Modern leaders require modern coaching.
What is Modern Leadership Coaching?
Modern leadership coaching is an innovative approach to coaching designed for today’s leaders. It differs from the traditional approach by (1) prioritizing tangible organizational results over behavioral change alone and (2) increasing emotional intelligence. These two key differences of modern coaching ultimately allow for (3) more effectively selecting the habits and behaviors to cultivate that will most help achieve the leader’s goals.
1. Prioritizing Tangible Organizational Results
Effective coaching requires insights into the organization's goals. This is why I partner with the leaders I’m coaching to determine not only their personal career goals but also their most important organizational goal. Whether a leader leads a team, a function, or an entire company, they are expected to deliver measurable outcomes that contribute to their organization’s overall performance. Traditional coaching tends to neglect organizational results entirely and focus solely on the behaviors of the client to measure the success of the coaching. While changing behavior is a component, understanding how that behavior relates to organizational goals is the value add of modern coaching.
Examples of organizational goals include:
- Meeting growth Targets (Revenue, Users, etc.)
- Improving Customer Satisfaction
- Increasing Productivity & Engagement
- Attracting/Retaining Talent
In a recent HBR article on executive coaching, Ron Ashenkus argues that behavioral changes without real business results are likely insufficient to justify the cost of coaching. To remedy this, he recommends the modern approach. He writes, "Instead of focusing first on behaviors and hoping that they lead to results, start by trying to achieve some specific results, and see what behaviors are needed to get them."
Ashenkus’ article crystallizes the “org goals first” component of my coaching method. If we expect companies to pay for leadership coaching, then we are right to expect coaching to yield company results.
2. Assessing and Increasing Emotional Intelligence
While traditional coaching underestimates the significance of emotion in the workplace, modern coaching prioritizes boosting a leader’s emotional intelligence (EI). Over the last 30 years, study after study has shown that leaders with higher emotional intelligence outperform their counterparts with lower emotional intelligence. This includes financial performance, employee retention, decision-making, collaboration, and innovation.
Of all the leadership skills to be cultivated, emotional intelligence is the set of skills and competencies most correlated with success. Even though most leaders today understand the importance of EI, only a few of them are provided the opportunity to develop it.
I conduct a 360 assessment with the leader’s stakeholders at the start of our work together. Stakeholders generally include direct reports, managers, and important peers. When I’m coaching a CEO, they might include board members. When I’m coaching leaders in other roles, it’s important to include key teammates as stakeholders.
The 360 assessment has two parts:
- A Verbal Interview – which I personally conduct with the leader’s selected stakeholders, asking about the leader’s strengths and weaknesses.
- An Emotional Intelligence Survey – this is a scientifically valid and reliable assessment built by Genos to measure a leader’s emotional intelligence.
Cultivating high emotional intelligence in leaders is built on the foundation of awareness training. Mindfulness, narrowly construed, is one special type of awareness practice: non-reactive awareness of the present, including one’s experience, thoughts, and feelings. However, the mindfulness movement, more broadly construed, includes a wide range of awareness practices that enhance emotional intelligence.
Understanding the importance of awareness as a key aspect of emotional intelligence, I have developed a regimen of mindfulness and meditation practices that serve as the ultimate EI training for leaders. The training is customized for each leader based on their assessment results in order to maximally boost their EI and increase performance.
Needless to say, traditional coaches don’t teach mindfulness and meditation. A modern leadership coach, though, is a results-oriented coach who also serves as a personal mindfulness coach to boost the leader’s EI.
3. Cultivating Habits and Behaviors That Will Make the Most Impact Now
Understanding a leader’s organizational goals and their emotional intelligence enables me as a coach to make better recommendations about which leadership behaviors a leader should cultivate. During the coaching engagement, we prioritize those behaviors that will deliver measurable return on their investment. This formula is a key difference between the modern and traditional approach. Some examples of leadership behaviors include:
- Accountability Practices
- Effective Communication
- Acknowledging & Lifting
- Evangelizing Purpose
Let’s look at an example to illustrate how this works:
My client, Jesse’s most important organizational goal was improving team member engagement. Morale was low and productivity was down. Jesse’s team was consistently missing deadlines and it seemed nearly every member had gone into a quiet-quitting mode. There are many different leadership behaviors we might focus on to increase engagement: accountability, training, rapport building, conversational coaching, lifting, emphasizing mission, etc. Based on Jesse’s assessment results and my conversations with her, it was clear that she wasn’t connecting with her direct reports and there was a lack of trust. Further, Jesse didn’t set clear expectations. When we discussed it, Jesse told me she didn’t want to micromanage. Jesse had never learned healthy accountability practices. And she was also avoiding conflict. Thus, we agreed to focus on rapport building and accountability. Additionally, mindfulness practices were tailored for boosting EI, with special attention to how to better connect and communicate with her direct reports.
Ultimately, my coaching process is designed to help my clients with the leadership behaviors most needed for them to generate tangible organizational outcomes given the current situation they are facing.
Modern leadership coaching differs from the traditional approach by prioritizing:
- tangible organizational results,
- increasing emotional intelligence, and
- building leadership habits and behaviors to be successful now.
When leaders achieve their most important organizational goals, they find greater fulfillment and satisfaction, less stress and anxiety, and rediscover just how much fun work can be.