Thinking why? Mastering 6 areas in leadership thinking
In my work with senior and middle managers, I find that with today's pressures of workload, complexity and forever pressing deadlines, the majority of my clients are struggling in some ways with their leadership role. With the pressure of daily demands, unless they hold their own clear picture of their bigger priorities, they can stay in reactive mode, and end up feeling stressed from pressure and feelings of underachievement.
My focus in this blog is sharing the areas and lines of questioning I find valuable to help my clients to get to a bigger perspective about their leadership priorities, and themselves as leaders. One of the outcomes I seek is the Client’s realisation that they already know a great deal. Apart from this being a factual truth, this awareness and affirmation is a boost to their confidence and accelerates their learning and growth as leaders. I find this particularly relevant for managers transitioning into more senior roles, where there can be a confidence crisis as they move into unknown territory – definite feelings of ‘conscious incompetence’. At this stage, managers have to learn to let go of some of the ‘doing’ capabilities that have got them to where they are today. This can be a scary step into the unknown.
The following key focus areas in Coaching and lines of questioning can help clients step up in their leadership thinking and contribution:
1. Organisational context – building a bigger picture of their role
- What’s the overall purpose of my role? How does that contribute to the overall Unit / Department / Organisational goals?
- Do I have an understanding of the priority goals for the levels above me / for the shareholders?
- If not, what sources of information can I tap into that are easily / publicly available? Who else could I speak to as a source of valuable perspectives?
- What are the wider market and environmental influences
- Do I know how the organisation is perceived externally?
- How do these additional perspectives inform my thinking about my priorities?
- What others do I now want to have conversations with to add to my perspectives?
2. Setting Direction
- What is my assessment of where my Department/ Unit / Organisation is right now? A classic but nonetheless very effective framework to use for this is SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) – assessing both internal and external factors
- What do I see as the priority objectives in my role?
- 2 years,
- 1 year,
- The next 6 months?
- What will success look like? What will be happening? What will people be saying?
The Client’s thinking on this will evolve as they progressively build their picture. The Coach’s role is to help stretch the clients thinking and imagination – what would be a bigger goal?
3. Key Relationships – mapping the territory and influencing priorities
In organisational cultures that are overtly ‘Task’ focussed it is easy to lose sight of the reality that Relationships are core to achieving any meaningful leadership objectives. Leadership is about getting things done through others. Key issues that the Client can be encouraged to explore:
- Identifying important stakeholders
- Prioritising relationships for attention
- Exploring the priorities and agendas of key others – do I understand the agendas and priorities of our most important relationships identified for achieving our objectives? Do I understand what others need from us? What are the skills, knowledge, expertise we have that others could benefit from? Are others fully aware of the strengths we have to bring? How can we help them help us?
Coaching with exploratory questioning can help extend the Client’s thinking and help them become more aware of the assumptions they are making, and question them. The resulting increased knowledge and awareness can prompt wider and deeper thinking. The right open relational approach leads to more productive and open conversations. This models the leadership behaviours that are needed in today’s organisations. For example exploring differences in assumptions, opening up knowledge, and identifying opportunities for collaboration and mutual benefits.
4. Self – the Leader as an instrument of change...
- What are my personal longer term career objectives? How can my current role contribute to this? What experience / skills will this role help me develop?
- What difference do I want to make?
- What do I stand for? What is my personal leadership approach, and my core values? By making this more explicit to myself this will bring greater confidence in how I communicate and add to my personal presence
- What are my strengths
5. Leveraging Impact – involving others in building the bigger picture
- How am I passing on my awareness and knowledge of the wider context for our work to the team?
- Do I set a clear direction for my people? How do I help them connect this direction to how they set their priorities and help them think about how they best share the bigger picture they’re building with their people?
- How am I encouraging my people to take a bigger perspective on their work, encouraging them to make their own judgement calls, stepping into their own leadership and authority?
- Am I giving the right level of individual attention to my people,
- How do I treat mistakes? Do I treat them as opportunities for learning – what are the points we’re taking forward from this, rather than get drawn into the defensive ‘blame game’?
- Am I creating the space for us as a team to have the bigger conversations about our overall strategies, and exchange the real learning, information and experience, relevant to our collective purpose? Do we have a shared Team Agenda rather than simply operating in our individual silos?
- How can we ensure our Team Meetings are focussed on the bigger issues rather than the day-to-day minutiae that can be better handled elsewhere?
- Am I supporting my team, or getting in their way?
6. The Strategies to accomplish Bigger Objectives
- What would it take to accomplish our goals?
- How are we going to work in our team and with key stakeholders – see 3) above
This is really the point at which the team should do most of the work in the context of a framework of agreed goals. The focus has shifted from the manager to the manager and their team. At this stage the focus of coaching is often around helping the manager enable and help individuals in the team on their priorities and issues. In addition there may be particular issues involved in managing upwards and outward facing key relationships. In all of this, managing themselves of course which they bring into coaching as, if done well, it can be very personally demanding!
Many of the above lines of thinking can readily be incorporated by an enlightened manager into collective thinking and ways of working with their team. Thinking more deeply and wide is not just the domain of the senior management team, but is increasingly required at all levels of the organisation.
Coaching, as an approach, both with individual and the Team, can be a key enabler. It provides the right stimulus and ‘space’ for thinking and working more strategically. It’s a place where managers can evolve, test out and refine their thinking and approach in a safe space. The Coach models the kinds of behaviours required from managers to create the environment that will enable their people to think more widely, deeply and the longer term.
I welcome hearing from other Coaches’ their favourite approaches to help their clients bring a ‘Bigger picture’ perspective to their leadership approach.
To contact Sue Young for more details: