Shifting ideas of leadership

Last week at the CIPD L&D Show I – not surprisingly – was drawn to a number of sessions that were talking about coaching cultures and developing leaders as coaches.  After day 1 Simon Heath posted his reflections from what he’d heard – and then drawn – and which I shared with this thought…..


I was recently facilitating a session with a team.  I knew the context they were operating in and how the team were feeling.  I asked them to frame their challenges for the session as specific questions.  This helped them and me be clear on the particular angle that was important which helped me gather a few potential models or theories that could be useful to get into conversation.  I considered how we could start the session to help everyone feel safe and able to share.  I thought about how we’d end the session to help people leave with what they needed and that anything else had a plan for follow up.  In between that I had a broad idea of how the day could flow but knew that things would most probably deviate from that to meet their needs.

When I got there I adjusted the room layout to make it more conducive to collaboration, looked at the available wallspace for any flipcharting or post-it noting, checked where people could go if we did breakout work.

And the session went great!  The team spoke with honesty and developed greater understanding of each other and their differing and similar challenges.  They told me there was a good balance of input and discussion, and that they had the space to make connections to other leadership development they’ve had.  Even better, since the day, there’s been practical application of their key learnings!

And this is my job.  Whether it’s one-to-one coaching, team coaching, leadership development….my job is to use my expertise to give consideration to creating an environment for people to share, to challenge and be challenged, and to learn.  Around that there might be some bits of me telling people things from my experience or knowledge, but fundamentally it’s about creating the environment.  And a big part of that is about me being emotionally intelligent enough to be aware of what’s going on for me and able to address this before stepping into the room with a client.  It’s also about me holding my coaching beliefs about their ability to think and imagine and create for themselves.  And it’s about me giving this level of care and thought to everyone in the room to enable a good experience (“good” meaning their thoughts have been stimulated & ideas generated, not that it’s been “a lovely chat & the food was good”).

So after the L&D show and the post from Simon I keep coming back to a question > to be a great leader do you need to be a great coach and facilitator?  If as a leader you can create an environment for people to think, share, discuss and learn well together then you’ll have a team who are able to cooperate and collaborate, who tell you more honestly about what’s going on and getting in the way, to which you can provide a broader perspective or new information that may support solution-finding.  This then enables you to do your other core job as a leader > to address the process or people barriers outside your team that your more senior position gives you access to.

I’m delighted that last week there are now real organisations standing on stages talking about these very things that I believe in : Emotional Intelligence, The Psychology of Coaching, Developing Leaders as Coaches, Creating Coaching Cultures, Creating Brain-Friendly Learning Environments – including the physical environment.  They’re taking bold steps, they’re making long-term commitments to leadership development – knowing that you can’t do something for a year and expect the world to change, they’re sticking with it through the challenges and learning opportunities – adjusting as they go.

And I see a core challenge to this leadership model still at play because when people become managers they’ve most often come from a place of doing the job, or a similar one, and it’s doing that job well that’s got them to here.  It’s by being an expert in their field, getting on with the work and delivering results that they’ve been recognised, promoted and paid more money.

Even for managers who are more inclined towards people development it’s still really hard to let go of that expertise that made you a success.  But it is exactly the letting go of some of that need to be the all-knowing-and-doing-expert which will enable greatness in your team.  And then there are the managers who aren’t natural people leaders but they’re great technically and this promotion to management is the only way to show our appreciation for that (I wrote more about that here).

So how much does your organisation tell people that as they shift to being a leader the expectation of them have changed?

How clear are your leaders that they’ll now be recognised for developing a fantastic team rather than doing the job?

What’s the split of their role to create space for this to be their primary focus?

And what kind of development do they get.  Julie Drybrough’s just written a great piece about the kind of leadership development that creates lasting impact.  How much of this happens where you work?


If we really want to see a shift in the economy and the wellbeing of people at work, it’s giving thought to these opportunities with your leadership culture that will make the biggest difference.  We can’t afford for this people stuff to keep being an inconvenient add-on in a busy leader’s life.

We’ve got to start being bold!  Do different things to get different results.


If you’d like to join a conversation about this, come to Learn > Connect > Do on 8th June in Leicester.  Tickets here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *