Great leadership and Great Coaching – have a lot in common! by Jeremy Ridge

(c) lightwise ( - Two human heads frontal and side view shaped with gears

(c) lightwise ( - Two human heads frontal and side view shaped with gears

Leadership has always been something we know is important. And, we are still working at this idea of how coaching fits into the picture. I would like to put forward a view that we are discovering that there may be more in common between the two ideas. That Great Leadership and Great Coaching are both increasingly concerned with getting the best out of others, and have a lot in common.

What comes to mind when you think of leadership? Is it where the leader is visibly the leader! … climbing out of the trenches to lead the troop … or in front of the Press – making a statement about how something important is going to be handled … or on the sports field, taking charge and telling the team what to do …

I am fascinated by the gradually evolving image of ‘it’ that people have. I have seen the image go through important transitions in how leadership works, for

  • It is something you are either born with or not

  • It is something that depends on whether you have been born in the right social class or

  • It is something that depends on whether you have had the right class of education – been to the ‘right school or university’, or not

then in more recent times

  • It is something that is granted by appointment ( i.e. giving someone a title means automatically that whatever they do is leadership – whether they know what they are doing or not– just follow… )

  • There is only ever one leader. It doesn’t make sense to have more than one, after all.

  • Leadership is about being able to take something important away from people unless they comply. Leadership requires ‘power’.

The increasing challenges to these sorts of views, of the most effective forms of leadership,  seems to coincide with the sudden surge of interest in this idea of Coaching… which is about getting the best out of other people; and even the really challenging thought that people can actually ‘learn’ leadership ( though we still tend to refer to it as leadership ‘ development.’ ) It’s not mystical any longer!

The really exciting opportunity that seems to be emerging is the rather amazing idea that everyone can be a leader! This really does start to challenge some old thinking. Everyone can do something in their circumstances that can make something happen – to the benefit of all concerned.

There are real challenges for leaders, these days. Especially if their leadership is founded on these older principles. Just as Coaching seems to have coincided with a degree of confidence among the wider population about themselves, and their rights to their own point of view.

The onset of Education, in particular, spells a real death knell for some approaches to leadership. People have a growing ability to think for themselves. They no longer live in a small village – ignorant of the wider world. Leaders used to be able to bluff their way. Sound assertive and confident enough, and it should work – because your followers won’t know anything, and will just fall in line. No longer!

Then came the internet! … and social media … and even ‘ blogging!'

If you can’t take something from people, in order to ensure compliance, then the real challenge for leadership becomes how to get people to follow you. Even if you are right, unless you can get people to follow you, leadership doesn’t work. What does a would be leader do then?

The real challenge for great leadership is to enable people to follow of their own free will. To engage them as their own person. This can require the coach to set a good example – be a role model of getting the best out of themselves – just like leadership requires setting a good example, at times, for others to follow.

This starts to sound like what great Coaching is about! … getting people to fully engage with their own self, and to make as much as they want, and are able to make of it, in the circumstances.

Of course, sometimes, there is just not the time in the circumstances for this approach of enabling people to learn for themselves about what the leader suggests. People will recognise this and realise at times they have to place their bet that the leader does know the answer!

I also believe that being directive in Coaching can be appropriate in certain circumstances, too; such as dealing with someone of supreme and mature confidence, who wants to know what you really think about their situation, and will make up their own mind without falling into simple adoption of it.

Increasingly, the really great leaders realise they need time and opportunity to get people’s ‘ buy in ‘ to ideas. They will often go so far as to make sure the ‘ followers ‘ even are given the opportunity to believe, and lead, from their own understanding. Really great leadership can be completely invisible. The followers have the limelight as the leaders! Now how much more non-directive can you get!

One thing is certainly increasingly true for leadership – it requires a real quality of attention to getting people to understand and see the way for themselves. Sometimes the leaders themselves may then learn something important from this for themselves as well. They may even be great enough to accept they don’t have all the answers right from the start!

So next time you set out to make something happen – what will your approach be … which sort of leadership? … or would you take a great coaching approach?

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