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Accelerate Leadership Development With a Fresh Take on Coaching

February 24, 2022 Leadership
mary slaughter
By Mary Slaughter LinkedIn

A brave leader is someone who says I see you. I hear you. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m going to keep listening and asking questions.

— Brené Brown

There’s a lot packed into that quote. Orienting towards others, demonstrating empathy, being present, actively listening and seeking the perspectives of others. How might you feel being on the receiving end of that experience? For me, I suspect pretty darn good. It would make me feel like my voice was heard, that I was part of future plans and that I mattered as an individual.

The research about normative social influence in social psychology is pretty clear. Leaders have a strong — perhaps the strongest — influence over which behaviors are considered “acceptable” in organizations. When we combine that influence with the growing need for leaders and the huge disruptions in the labor market, it underscores the need to adapt and accelerate our leadership development efforts.

I’m fortunate to have been immersed in leadership development throughout my career: as a recipient, a strategist and a program designer. Typically, it’s not the operational execution that derails a leader, but their ability to deal with people. I think Josh Bersin beautifully distilled what I’ve learned below:

People skills have long been underestimated.

They shouldn’t be considered optional 'soft' skills when in fact they are essential 'power' skills.

— Josh Bersin

My favorite professional roles have been the ones that focused on bringing out the best in others. I have a personal passion for leadership development, in part because those whom I’ve led have taught me so much. Over the years, I’ve deployed many programs that were intended to make leaders better coaches, but sadly those programs rarely included the very thing we were pursuing — exceptional coaching.

For those of you who have worked in organizational or leadership development for a while, you will recall that coaching began as a tool for “fixing” troubled leaders. These were often individuals viewed as high-potential because they met their metrics, but sadly left a wake of misery behind them because they lacked emotional intelligence. Fast forward to the last five years, and there’s been a complete rethinking of the role (and sources) of leadership coaching. The “democratization of coaching” has swept over us like a breath of fresh air, bringing greater speed, flexibility and personalization to the pursuit of leadership development.

Today’s labor market is the most proactive I’ve seen in my career. I would argue that people are not leaving something behind as much as they are moving towards something. Our need to belong, to grow, to be treated fairly, to derive meaning and to have greater flexibility are all directly impacted by the behavior of leaders.

As you evaluate your current programs and support infrastructure for leadership development, I encourage you to define the coaching moments that have the greatest potential to enhance the development of your leaders, as well as the experiences of all your employees.

Here’s my "top 10" list for your consideration:

  1. Onboarding new hires.
  2. Providing performance feedback.
  3. Developing and evaluating career plans.
  4. Working across cultural differences.
  5. Healing a fractured relationship at work.
  6. Collaborating across organizational boundaries.
  7. Promoting individual health and well-being.
  8. Dealing with a personal or professional crisis.
  9. Exiting colleagues with care.
  10. Overall: Demonstrating empathy and creating psychological safety.

Two years ago, I became interested in the concept of democratizing coaching and connected with a growing Silicon Valley firm, Sounding Board, Inc. Led by two women founders, Christine Tao and Lori Mazan, they helped me appreciate the significant shift underway and the potential to accelerate leadership development, both individually and organizationally. In gratitude to them, I wanted to highlight their work and the strong coaching network they have available to us as practitioners.

Lori Mazan, Co-Founder, President & Chief Coaching Officer of Sounding Board
Lori Mazan is the co-founder, president and chief coaching officer of Sounding Board. She has spent the last 25 years coaching C-Suite executives to leadership excellence.

Early in my career coaching Fortune 100 executives, the developmental path to become a leader was 15-20 years, and even longer for an executive leader. People were often hired right after they graduated from college, and they stayed with the same employer until they retired. That gave plenty of time for a long leadership developmental cycle.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median number of years that workers remain with an employer today is roughly 4 years. The average tenure is somewhat longer in the leadership ranks, but it’s clear that organizations need a much faster way to develop leaders.

To accelerate that development, organizations must move beyond the traditional, one-size-fits-all approach. This model of incremental change over time may have been sufficient in the past, but no longer. To accelerate leadership development, organizations should embrace a more relevant, practical and personalized approach.

Leadership coaching should be considered a powerful developmental tool that enables rapid growth with immediate business impact. It can empower every leader with a personalized developmental plan, tailored to their unique challenges and opportunities. Effective coaching considers who leaders are as individuals, as well as where they’re positioned to lead within their company. It provides relevant opportunities to integrate new skills and knowledge with existing beliefs and values. This vertical alignment — connecting where someone is today with where they aspire to be in the future — is the key to unlocking potential and accelerating individualized leadership growth.

About the Author

Mary Slaughter is the Global Head of Employee Experience at Morningstar, an investment research and management firm headquartered in Chicago, IL. Prior to joining Morningstar, she served as a managing director, People Advisory Services at EY.

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