Leadership development, as a process, lasts through the life cycle of one’s career – it’s a true journey. True leaders are consistently engaged in a path of potential self-discovery, enrichment, and team empowerment, and as all great leaders would admit, the path is never linear nor predictable. Nonetheless, many leaders seek objective feedback to continue this growth trajectory. That objective voice frequently belongs to an executive coach. Coaches, as it turns out, can offer great value not only for current leaders—but for those waiting in the wings. Leaders, or those aspiring to be leaders, don’t improve without feedback. Executive coaches are skilled at providing this type of feedback.
Leadership development by the numbers
The success of teams does not rest upon the shoulders of one omnipotent leader. If that were the case, companies would collapse once those “Great Oz” figures departed. Successful executives keep a focus on shaping and planning for the next generation, and in a sense, their legacy, by filling the pipeline with high-potential leaders. While in this pipeline, these individuals are prepared in various ways to excel in leadership roles. But how?
One simple, but strategic percentage-based formula, is the 70-20-10 developmental approach. In this equation, 70 percent of the time devoted to leadership development occurs while on the job, 20 percent comes in the form of mentorship or coaching, and 10 percent occurs in a classroom or professional development training program.
As the above formula suggests, leadership skills are largely borne and built in the trenches. In the on-the job component of leadership development learning, a next-generation executive is learning functional aspects of the leadership role at a specific company, and honing knowledge about processes, work-flow, organizational structure, and corporate culture. These up-and-coming leaders can bear witness to current leaders in action and learn to craft their own leadership style and tone.
The next 20 percent of time devoted to leadership development involves being mentored or coached. This can take on many forms. Mentorship may come from an existing corporate leader—which often intersects with on-the-job learning—or from someone else externally whose leadership story deeply resonates. This mentoring guidance can be formal and planned, informal and spontaneous, or a combination of the modalities. No matter what form it takes, its power is unmistakable.
Coaches as change agents
The internal executive brings invaluable mentoring qualities to the leadership pipeline. Their unique lens, however, can become cloudy, and limited by those internal biases borne from years of intimate connection to the company or organization. Executives have the intense managerial tug that either whispers or screams, “But I know what works, so do as I do!”
New leaders will want to make their own mark and develop their own roadmap, but sometimes need help identifying the way forward. Objective guidance from a trained executive coach can serve as the compass in many ways. Coaches are experts at helping emerging leaders to self-diagnose what isn’t working. Rather than offer a prescriptive approach or a “should do” list in the way a consultant or mentor perhaps might, a coach puts the pen in the author’s hands, and empathically encourages the emerging leader to craft the script that follows. Intuition and new perspectives are uncovered. A truly gifted coach will coach himself or herself out of a job.
A must-have quality for any future leader to display in the coach-client relationship is a willingness to request and receive feedback and then embrace any change that is needed. Change is never easy, but a coach is trained to help clients recognize and reflect on their foundational values, and what behaviors may need to change to connect better to those values. When there is an identifiable values-related North Star, coaches can help clients more easily recognize and change those self-sabotaging behaviors that are holding them back. When this happens, clients very often feel more fulfilled.
Coaching to gain a competitive edge
Imagine that you are on a team where half of the members receive targeted developmental coaching, and the other half does not and that you’re on the team that does not receive this coaching. The half that receives coaching changes and thrives as time goes by and seems more confident and competent than ever — they don’t slow down when their business goes through hard times, they somehow seem to get more energized and focused on turning challenges into opportunities. Their gains are getting noticed in all the right ways and by all the right people. Meanwhile, you are stuck in a rut. Your problem-solving approaches have not changed, and you find yourself lacking connection to the rest of your team. In a corporate version of the television show “Survivor,” you are on the bottom of the tribe. What do you do?
You may consider a “backing-in” approach: deciding to react to a peer’s coaching success by seeking coaching for yourself. As it turns out, there is no right or wrong way to land in a coaching relationship, even if it stems from your own “FOMO”—or fear of missing out. Coaching is effective no matter where you are on the leadership journey, and when you start.
Leadership development in the classroom
The 70-20-10 formula speaks to 10 percent of leadership development time being spent learning about leadership in a classroom. Though this is the smallest chunk of time in the formula, classroom training does help shape leaders in various ways. From a delivery standpoint, this training may actually take place in a classroom in a specific location or may happen via virtual facilitation. In most any type of classroom forum, participants learn not only from the facilitator but also from each other.
Not long ago, the classroom was viewed as THE place where prospective leaders would go to learn what they needed to know about leading. In today’s world, leadership training in a classroom is still seen as an ingredient, but less so today than in the past.
Strong teams, strong legacy
When individual team members have a new surge of self-accountability, the entire team benefits. After all, the clock always runs more accurately when its individual gears are functioning fully. A coach can help individuals identify personality characteristics, and ways that these qualities can either mesh or clash with other team member personalities.
Imagine a team where each member has a grasp of strengths, weaknesses, and improvement strategies? Individuals who are in full possession of these tools of self-reflection and guidance, are then empowered to lead others.
One cannot stay at the top forever, but a strong leader can create and leave a legacy by preparing their successors to excel at leading. Coaching is among the most powerful tools in the corporate toolbox, and those who experience it often have an edge over those who do not. In today’s world, having someone there to help get you around roadblocks will propel you toward success. A coach can be that person. Companies with coached employees have an opportunity to experience more cohesive teams, a harmonious transition to new leadership, and as a result, a strong, robust future.