Coaching and leadership

I’ve recently started a coaching apprenticeship. It seemed like a slightly mad thing to do when I signed up – would I have the time?, I didn’t need any more “things” on my to do list, etc etc and then I got this new role. However, my instinct was that taking this on whilst in my interim role would actually be hugely helpful. I thought that following a programme would make me take some CPD time and give myself some time to think, which would ultimately help the rest of the “day job”. So far, this has been the case.

Thinking space at Brimham Rocks

Yes, it has caused some anxiety I have to admit in terms of keeping up with the workload during the first module, where there were a lot of webinars and reading. Not helped by the rather archaic virtual classroom software the provider uses – yikes – which is glitchy and slow. And spending two days at my coaching workshop following on from two weeks holiday did feel like a luxury but was really beneficial. I realised that if I did not have a schedule to follow and deadlines for CPD imposed by others, my CPD was at risk of being always in the “important but not urgent” box and knowing my personality, I would prioritise other’s needs over my own development. This is would not help me, so ultimately but taking on this programme I am able to prioritise my CPD which will in the longer term benefit others.

The programme is making me realise how important coaching is to leadership.Yes, I knew this instinctively and have tried to follow a coaching approach in my role, however, I often get carried away and witter on about myself, rather than listening. There are a number of techniques that the apprenticeship is reaffirming for me that are hugely helpful as I adapt to my new leadership role.

  • Listening listening listening! I know listening is important, but REALLY listening and taking time to stop and focus is integral to coaching. I have been trying to do this more as things are handed over to me in my new role. Listen to the things that aren’t being said and the assumptions. This is particularly important as we are going through a leadership and cultural change period.
  • Questioning. Another core part of coaching is asking questions. Sounds obvious but often the most obvious question is the critical one. I am trying to assume nothing in this new role and although I have been at my institution for a while, I realise that there is A LOT i do not know. I am asking “why?” frequently – whilst trying not to irritate colleagues but in order to understand why things are the way they are. And from that comes how we can change things and an understanding of our challenges.
  • Coaching is about communication, collaboration and building trust; leadership is about communication, collaboration and building trust. I’ve been struck as to how some of the key parts of building a coaching relationship – building rapport, creating a safe space, challenging constructively, supporting the coachee to find their solutions – are similar to my leadership practice. My mantra has been for a long time that in my leadership role “I create the conditions in which others can act”. This is active, not passive for me, and shares similar principles and approach to coaching. I believe as a leader that I am only as effective as those I work with – either those I manage or other members of SLT – so building a connection, communicating well and developing trust as critical to effective leadership for me.
  • Coaching is about providing the space and support for people to find their own answers to their problems and thrive. Leadership is also about supporting people to connect with a vision and work out how they can thrive within that. How to find their own path.
  • The two day coaching workshop that I undertook recently was actually transformative in my approach to coaching. It solidified the principle that coaching is all about the coachee not about you. Sounds obvious, however many of us trainee coaches, including myself, where conscious and concerned that we had to find the answer for our coachees or guide them in a particular way. Yet when I relaxed and let the conversation flow, I felt much more “in the zone”, able to properly listen and let go of any ego in terms of my role as coach. The outcome was therefore much more effective for the coachee as they owned the process. I was there to gently guide and shape the conversation, but they were the focus. There are parallels here, for me with parenting and also leadership. Dropping our egos as leaders and showing humility is a powerful and much underused leadership skill. I have worried many times that the fact I teach a module on leadership implies in some way that I am some “know it all” perfect leader (whatever that might be!), whereas now I facilitate it much more as leadership as a learning journey for all.
  • One of the most significant gains I have had from the module is reading Nancy Kline’s Time to Think. This will be the subject of another post but her approach and method for creating a thinking environment has been incredibly inspiring for me. And something I am keen to try in my own work. A further benefit of the programme is that it is literally giving me time out to think.
  • I’m also got an ambition to try out Lego Serious Play in coaching as I think this could be hugely transformational for coachees in terms of creating a personal narrative. One my new coachees has agreed to try this which is VERY exciting.
  • Lastly, the notion of trust has been reinforced for me. This has parallels with conversations happening around me in the new leadership team. I have found trust to be incredible empowering and inspiring. Trusting coachees to find their answers has as much liberating potential as the confidence they gain by you as a coach listening to them actively. As I said above, trust is integral to leadership for me. And another side of trust is trust the process. When I relaxed into my role as coach, set aside my ego and trusted the coaching process the results were so much more satisfactory for all.

This post has ended up much longer than I had thought, but it has brought home to me what a positive impact coaching is having on my leadership style and approach. So when I initially worried that taking the course might be indulgent, I now feel that it is an absolute necessity for my leadership role. And I am committed to using my learning from this to support others, hopefully through reading this blog you may be inspired to try some coaching techniques in your leadership or to just take some time to think. Or, relax, breathe and trust the process.

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