“Yes, my boss fully supports the idea of my receiving executive coaching,” a prospective client answers. “And the company will pay for it – they see it as an investment!”
Those are great words to hear from a client as she or he begins the exciting journey of executive coaching. Such a message provides a sense of the support the client is receiving from the company and from the individual to whom they report – their boss.
As we set the stage for coaching engagements, the boss, who usually serves as the “sponsor” for the coaching, is a critical part of the process. Oftentimes, though, I sense that while the boss is a strong supporter of the idea, the role of sponsorship might be so new to him that he is not able to fulfill this critical role in a manner that will best facilitate the coaching for the client.
So what is the role of a sponsor in executive coaching? Essentially it is about building a platform for learning.
Among the many attributes a leader must possess, the most important is the ability to effortlessly transition from one leadership approach to another, in effect gliding between styles that best serve the developmental needs of those individuals they serve. Truly masterful leaders know how and when to bring those approaches to bear.
A leader can be a mentor some of the time, a coach on other occasions, and a teacher when it is useful. Think of the three attributes – Mentor, Coach and Teacher – as some of the most powerful tools in your leadership toolbox.
Each can serve the needs of others. And notice that I intentionally don’t use the word “subordinate,” because we often are serving the needs of colleagues or team members and even bosses that have a desire to grow. It’s an important distinction, especially considering that sometimes those we serve end up being in positions that might later have a higher “rank” in the chain of command. In effect, we take turns leading others, but if the habits are there to help others on their developmental journeys, does it really matter what position she or he holds? In that regard, I often use the famous Chaucer quote, “And gladly would he learn and gladly teach,” to remind myself and clients of that philosophy.
“Assume capability, not intent,” is part of a military maxim used in intelligence. While somewhat more arcane when employed in intelligence, its shortened form can serve as an effective and simple reminder of how to approach those with whom we interact in the business world.
Have you ever sat in a meeting and watched the people around the table and started writing your own narrative about them? Your thoughts range from:
“He doesn’t care,” you say about one person.
“She has an agenda she’s trying to push,” you smugly say to yourself about another.
And then there is the inevitable, “He’s lazy and doesn’t want to get the job done.”
What’s the common denominator of such narratives? They are all judgment based and blindly come to conclusions about the intent of each individual, based on nothing more than opinion and feelings. As such they do nothing to enhance our personal and professional relationships and thus materially contribute to distrust, making them detrimental to how a team operates.
Everyone has heard the term “servant leadership,” but how many leaders know what that means? Leadership is service – service to others – not service to oneself. I’ve served with two such leaders in my life – David Neeleman and Gordon Sullivan.
As an Army officer, I technically out-ranked any enlisted man. That included the first sergeant, the ranking non-commissioned officer in any company.
Technicalities aside, my WWII veteran father had educated me early that the first sergeant was really the guy in charge. The opportunity, my Dad told me, was to learn from the first sergeant. I’m glad I did.
Leaders serve in many roles. Yes, they must do the mundane but necessary chores of managing assets and balance sheets, but their most important work is to inspire others. And that involves the leader serving as a teacher, as a mentor, and as a coach.
Often we know how to teach others. And we routinely provide mentoring by setting an example and being available to nurture those around us. In my experience in industry, though, I have found the coaching piece to be the most difficult role for leaders to assume.
How can I communicate better with my team? How can I run a better meeting? How do I make sure my people are “present”?
Try saying “Amen” at the beginning of the meeting, not the end.
We’ve all been there. As people finally straggle into a meeting it inevitably begins to look like the beginning of some prayer session. Heads are bowed, the attendees looking down at their hands, reverently silent. At first, it looks like church – then we see the furrowed brows – and the telltale thumbs and fingers flying. Texts fly into cyberspace and pages on social media are frenetically swept aside.
Everyone is in the room, but many are not “present.”
My nephew attended Basic Training with the U.S. Army. The day he walked into the processing center, the drill instructors confiscated and safely secured his cell phone. They offered no Internet or email access. Sounds a bit anachronistic, doesn’t it?
In a word: No.
The U.S. Army still realizes the power of other forms of communication, including the hand-written letter or note. It might be time for the business world to remember what the Army has never forgotten.
Consider this. My nephew worked long and difficult hours, associating with other soldiers who just weeks previously had been strangers from diverse backgrounds around the United States. The goal of the Army is to instill discipline and knowledge to their new recruits, yes, but it is about something much more important. It is about creating a primary group of human beings who work to understand each other and grow as a community that is mutually supportive and ready to assist in even the most dangerous situations. If the business community was this focused on creation of a primary group, how different might things be?