Coaching is a leadership style based on exciting workers, teaching them, and encouraging them to personal and team (work-community) excellence. Coaching involves leaders in five activities or roles. The paragraphs following apply these roles to effective inner leadership.
For inner leaders, educating the members of their work community includes drilling followers in the basics of their work. Both coaching and leading are about letting individuals know that they belong and that they can contribute. Coach-leaders educate their stakeholders to feel a part of the work community, to take ownership of the collective work methods and sought-after results, and otherwise to commit fully to its work. Full access to information about how things are going in the work community and with each individual member is an essential part of this education process. Coach-leaders make their assignments and expectations clear, simple, and concrete and communicate them broadly and often.
Coaching asks inner leaders to provide needed skills and knowledge to individual followers and make opportunities for them to exercise them. Feedback on progress is a part of this education process. It provides information that is at the follower’s level of understanding. Many times it is quantifiable, outcome oriented, and operational (observable). Coach-leaders give feedback that is clear, timely, accurate, and about significant behaviors, nor irrelevancies. Coach-leaders voice their work community’s values, consistently communicate them, and reflect them in both oral and written contacts with all stakeholders. This is also a part of a process of feeding back to followers data about their progress toward full acceptance of community standards and values. Good inner leaders give feedback—good feedback. Good coach-leaders accept the fact that members will make mistakes along the way. They make use of these “learning moments” as they present themselves to reenforce group values and behaviors.
Just as much teaching comes from example, so too do inner leaders model desired follower behavior. As leader-coaches reflect group values in their actions, individual members see those actions and learn appropriate attitudes and behavior and come to accept them and behave accordingly.
Also part of this educating coach-leader component is experimentation. In many respects interesting, inspiring work is often a perception in the imagination, not an intrinsic characteristic of the work itself. As inner leaders get followers to bring to their work an inquiring mind, a readiness to experiment in applying vision-centered principles, and an openness to inspiration and to the ideas of followers, they find their followers will accept the challenge and grow and mature both as coworkers and as coleaders of the joint enterprise.
Wise inner leaders learn that followers cannot rely on others for their strength. To do so is to build weakness. People can receive help from others while learning new skills. But when they rely too much on someone else for expertise, information, or vision, they subordinate their development to convenience and as a result suffer loss of strength. Inner leaders create situations within which followers can test their budding knowledge and skill in controlled (by the leader) situations until they gain the confidence to practice their new knowledge and skill in routine work-community tasks.
Inner leaders sponsor work-community members as they experiment with taking charge of their work lives and of the tasks of maturing and developing their skills and acquiring useful bases of information about their work situations. In this role, leaders become advocates of their followers, supporting them in relationships with other leaders and sponsoring them for increasingly important work assignments and positions. Coach-leaders act as advocates for individual followers as their maturing competence prepares them for increased responsibilities and more varied and comprehensive work assignments.
Sponsoring followers includes granting them guided autonomy as they grow in their work skills. It also places responsibility on the leader for the actions of each member. Sponsoring a follower has an element of risk attached. When leaders champion their followers’ skills, knowledge, and abilities and recommend them for advancement, they place their own reputations on the line. Subsequent follower success redounds to the leader’s benefit. By the same token, follower failure hurts the sponsoring leader’s reputation.
Counseling is the vital, but delicate, role of providing feedback about progress and contribution. People have a right to know where they stand. Timely, complete, compassionate explanation and evaluation of their conduct and contribution to the success of the work community is constructive. It lets people discover where they are helping most. It also helps them understand where they can contribute further (or differently) in the future. Counseling also involves meeting with coworkers who are behaving in ways that do not help. Confronting low performance is difficult. The alternative—ignoring the situation—is worse. Unaddressed low performance can destroy an otherwise effective community.
In their one-on-one counseling contacts with followers is the opportunity to be of specific service to them to aid in their personal change. Change is accomplished only by the individual. Inner leaders act as catalysts, not always decision makers, in this personal change process. The follower sets the pace. The individual follower is the only person who can surely change himself or herself. Externals (like leaders) cannot. They can only help followers to see a better way and counsel them to follow that way. Leaders function to facilitate change in their associates’ lives through application of principles of counseling liberally peppered with affection and sacrifice.
The purpose of counseling is to have the counseled person experience a change of attitude and action. Counseling sessions should result in the change, development, and progress of the person counseled. Inner leaders facilitate this change. Indeed, this is a prime purpose of any counseling session—to get the counseled person to change. Inner leaders must be willing to sacrifice—to forgo personal convenience and invest time—for their followers. They create an atmosphere of concern that is conducive to learning and sharing of confidences. Inner leaders are willing listeners. They actively listen to the thoughts and emotions as well as words of followers. And they need to share with them their own feelings about their personal, intimate selves, and about the place of the work community’s values and vision in their lives.
The counseling contact is personal, intimate, and open. Leaders express their true feelings. Finding the right words is essential; it is part of the art and creativity of inner leadership. The following precepts constitute some of the main principles supporting counseling.
Be committed to the message delivered.
Be patient, sincere, and temperate in demeanor.
Counseling followers makes it possible for the leader to know their followers as individuals and to understand their level of professional and other maturity, the extent of their commitment, and their personal and professional goals and values. This understanding is essential to the proper delegation of duties to the individual. Armed with this knowledge, the leader can select a set of responsibilities to fit the current and evolving needs of each follower and relate their amelioration to work needed by the work community.
Counseling gives inner leaders an unparalleled opportunity to develop closeness and unity with their followers. The counseling contact is a way for the leader and the follower to relate in mutually helpful ways. This closeness carries over into other aspects of their work and social relationship. More understanding of the goals of the work community and of individual motives followers strive for through their work in the organization is obtainable in these counseling contacts. Silence and distance do not bring safety or protection and peace. Forgoing counseling and the resultant opportunities for change is foolhardy.
Leadership is also a task of securing and maintaining a safe workplace, an important part of which includes insuring that the workplace is emotionally safe and comfortable. In addition to their roles as educator, sponsor and supporter, and counselor, inner leaders also accept the responsibility to console team members as they are overwhelmed by the pressures of the job. Leading others involves leaders in the intimate personal lives of their coworkers. As interpersonal relationships—or personal, family, or social issues—arise, inner leaders are often called on to assist in their resolution, to provide moral support, and to soothe emotions. As a general statement, leadership is a task of strengthening followers’ capacities to be successful in professional work tasks and related interpersonal relationships. As performance in either is less than desired, the leader’s job is to resolve the problem, which often involves sustaining and nurturing their coworkers. Similar interaction is appropriate when the worker’s performance is above the standard. Such people often need nurturing too to help them sustain their high performance over time.
Comforting followers is an inner-leadership task that depends on the leader’s capacity to authentically care for his or her followers. One of the principles of inner leadership has to do with how leaders associate with their followers. Inner leadership is based on love—love for the members served and love for those who serve with the leader in his or her leadership cluster of work community members. Leading through authentic caring—love—is the only approach to the conduct of the work community’s work today that will be fully successful. It is the only real basis of leadership that guarantees continued success. As leaders strive to grow and to comfort others in their quest for personal growth and professional maturation, they are guided by a need to be close enough to the psyches of their followers to know when and how to offer comfort and support.
Like coaching a sports team, leading the workers who inhabit the middle ranges of the corporation depends for success on a base of values including motivating team players, encouraging teamwork, inspiring cooperation, mentoring others, and shaping behavior. These are all-important skills for today’s inner leaders. Like coaches, inner leaders need to be able to inspire and empower others to develop goals and achieve their personal and group objectives as efficiently and effectively as possible. Outstanding leaders (coaches) also project a vision of the mission to be accomplished and elicit the commitment and dedication needed to achieve this vision (Lombardi, 2000). These, like the other elements of coaching, are power techniques: Their aim is to get others to do what the inner leader wants.
Leading in the middle regions of the corporation presents many challenges to the leader, perhaps more than leading from the top of the organization chart. Inner leaders work intimately with their colleagues—bosses, peers, subordinates, suppliers, and customers. This role asks them to intimately understand human nature. They learn to understand how people see the world, how they process information, and their preferred approach to problem solving (Badaracco and Ellsworth, 1989). For example, some followers see the world as black or white, right or wrong. For them, all knowledge is known, and right and wrong answers exist for everything. They see knowledge as merely a collection of information that they can learn. Typically, they look to the leader for needed knowledge. They see the leader as the authority and the source of truth. The follower’s role is to receive the knowledge and demonstrate having learned the right answers.
Others see the world in diametrically opposite terms. Nothing is known, and there are no right or wrong answers. Since there is no certainty, all individuals can “do their own thing.” Anyone’s opinion can be just as valid or invalid as all others. The inner leader’s role is to model the way they want their followers to think and to ascertain the mind-set of followers and to couch training and instruction in terms to suit the individual follower’s mind-set.
Given these considerations, understanding followers is a complex and difficult task. Fortunately, leaders have several simple tools that go a long way toward making their jobs doable. Prime among these tools is the uncomplicated task of getting out where the work is being done, seeing firsthand what is happening, and then forming adaptive strategies to improve what is going on. A method for doing this is called Management by Walking (or Wandering) Around (MBWA).
Presented formally to the world in the 1980s by Tom Peters and Nancy Austin (1985), MBWA puts leaders in touch with their people and the work community’s work, as well as customers and their concerns. It balances “book” knowledge with operational knowledge. Walking around is getting out of the office and seeing firsthand what the work of the work community and the problems of its workers are. It lets the leader collect firsthand data on operations, interests, problems, ideas, and frustrations of the workforce—indeed, of any stakeholder. The purpose is to tap often neglected information sources and understandings of what is going on, what is needed, and how to go about closing the gap. It is staying in regular, informal contact with coworkers and clients at their work stations, not just in formal meetings.
Besides keeping the leader informed and up to date, frequent on-site visits provides leaders the opportunity to transmit their values in a most effective way, via face-to-face contacts. This is a flexible technique that allows leaders to be where the action is and to be involved in the action. Practiced by many leaders, MBWA is fluid and adaptable. Being where the action is facilitates informal, open communications between leaders and their followers. It helps them learn the key actors and cultivate the right people in the stakeholder pool best suited to tap into developing needs, problems, and solutions, as well as opportunities for growth. It is getting and staying in regular contact with employees and customers. It is forming informal relationships with those closest to the work, not necessarily most senior in the hierarchy.
The heart of the coaching technique is mind-set (Lombardi, 2000). Its success is contingent upon how much the leader commits to the idea of hands-on interaction as a tool to distribute influence (power) throughout the work community. Leaders must constantly be on guard against the pitfall of thinking they have the answers and therefore forgetting to listen naively to their followers.