Pick up any business publication these days, and you'll find an article on Coaching, whether it be working with individuals to find more balance or meaning in their lives, to helping others identify a new career they are more passionate about. While these are certainly positive objectives of coaching, we at Incite Strategies have spent over 10 years working specifically with leaders in organizations to help them be more effective within their organization.
Some of our work centers around more traditional executive coaching - that is, individuals coming to work with us on specific issues that have already been highlighted in the organization, and which are thought best to be addressed by an external coach, either because the internal coaching has not had the desired impact or because the internal resources do not have the time or skills required. The majority of our work, however, is more akin to proactive leadership and organizational coaching. We often work with leaders in conjunction with their teams (individuals often identified as direct reports, peers, or business partners). These individuals are typically identified as part of a certain group -- whether as members of a senior leadership team, mid-level leaders identified through succession planning, or emerging high potential leaders. In other words, we are coaching people who have a proven track record of performance become that much better vs. focusing on a previously identified development need. This ‘proactive' assessment, development and coaching provides a road map not only to the business, but also to the individual leader, as to how to best leverage strengths, work on development needs and ensure the current trajectory and proven track record continues.
Having assessed and coached hundreds of global leaders, we're often asked "what does it take" to be a successful leader. Below are our observations that we hope you find helpful and can perhaps use as a roadmap for your own development. Ours is not a "cookie cutter" approach, but one that you can achieve by stretching, but still being true to yourself.
These are what we refer to as "the ticket to entry" in any discussion of leadership and the potential to assume larger roles in an organization.
Accountable - Doing what you say you're going to do...having a high "say-do" ratio...being dependable....delivering results...meeting or exceeding performance objectives
Credible - Believable...being seen as doing the right thing vs. having any hidden agendas...having built a solid foundation of experience that you are speaking from a base of knowledge
Decisive - Having courage in your convictions...Being able to make a decision without all the data...Knowing when to stop getting more input and "make the call"
Driven - Having the desire to stretch outside of your comfort zone...highly self-motivated....always seeking to "over deliver" and exceed expectations...always doing more than asked
Adaptable - Having the flexibility to adapt to internal changes in the organization or external fluctuations in the marketplace...seeing change as a positive, as unearthing new possibilities vs. being resistant
"Quick Study" - Not necessarily having the highest IQ, but having the resourcefulness and know-how to figure out how to get up to speed quickly in any new situation, whether it be through self study or leveraging the knowledge of others
The Stand Outs
These are attributes that we don't see very frequently, so when we do, they stand out as unique.
Ability to Influence - This goes well beyond interpersonal skills and encompasses organizational knowledge - knowing who the key stakeholders are and being able to flex your communication style to see things from their perspective to get buy-in
Genuinely Cares - Unfortunately all too often we work with leaders who see people as a "means to an end"...this characteristic stems from really caring about the people who work for and with you, and getting to know them and value them for the individual they are
Risk Taker - We're not referring to hair-brained ideas here, but thoughtful, creative, prudent risk taking...thinking outside of the box...challenging the sacred cows of an organization...never being satisfied with the status quo
Mature - This has nothing to do with age or experience, but with being self aware...knowing what your strengths and development needs are...being a life-long learner...being comfortable in your own skin, confident in the person you are and the style you have
Passion for the Customer - Many think this would be in the "Basics" category, but we find many leaders becoming too internally focused and not being conscious of needing to stay close to the customer, and to continually drive the customer-centric view down to their teams
Innovative - This could be creating something from scratch, inventing something new, or simply doing things differently...Or, if you're not particularly creative, surrounding yourself with those people and creating the environment that allows new ideas to bloom
The Missing Pieces
As you would expect, there are areas where even the most successful leaders continually struggle and aspire to reach.
Strategic Thinking - Although well intended, many leaders get bogged down with daily firefighting or the transactional nature of their businesses and don't consciously carve out time to think long term and set a vision for where they want their organization to go.
Leadership Flexibility - Staying true to who you are doesn't mean only having one style of leadership...it's easy to lead a team of people like you, but much more difficult (and much more effective ) to lead a diverse team of individuals...and, their job is not to adjust to your style, but for you to understand how best to influence and motivate them as individuals and as a total team
Communication Savviness - Most leaders communicate well in specific scenarios, but many still focus on trying to be equally effective on all fronts: with individuals, small - large groups, across all levels of an organization, in formal presentations or informal networking events
Presence - Like it or not, the way in which you present yourself goes a long way in people's impression of you as a leader, whether it be how you dress, how you speak, or the impression you leave...many people we coach want to prove they can be successful without this, but they end up being overlooked or misperceived because they're not "memorable"
Ability to Build a Following - This goes beyond positional power, or people doing what you ask them to do because they work for you...you know when you've developed followers when people say " I don't care what the job is, I just want to work for them again"
Proactive Career Planning - Surprisingly, the majority of the leaders we have assessed have never sat down and thought about where they wanted to go from a career perspective, and the gaps they needed to fill to get there...Most have had a sponsor who has called them and told them what job to go to next...While having sponsors is certainly important, what happens if the sponsor leaves the company? Or falls out of favor? Many realize too late that they haven't built a broad network or have pigeon-holed themselves unintentionally by having a passive approach to their own development
Working with a group of individuals accomplishes many things for the organization. It not only serves as a retention tool for those individuals, but also provides a common framework and process against which they can be assessed. Using the existing corporate values (or helping define those if they don't already exist), we gather data from the individual and others that work closely with them (like a verbal 360) which results in strengths and areas for development for each individual. We then pull together the themes which emerge from the population so that organizations can ensure that their on-going development programs and company culture reinforce these behaviors...in other words, coaching the organization!