Why Building a Coaching Culture Should be a Strategic Imperative—Now!




Coaching Culture Strategic Imperative_Diverse hands reaching into a pile of white puzzle pieces on a wooden table top

Is building a coaching culture for your enterprise a strategic priority for your organization in 2019, or does it fall further down the list in the “nice to do someday” category? If building a coaching culture isn’t at the top of your priority list, here’s why I think it should be:

I believe that many of the top priorities that Learning and Development professionals focus on are actually symptoms of using traditional “direct and correct” leadership approaches to try to manage our current multifaceted, ever-changing work environments.

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Here’s why I think that: When people lead by telling people what to do, and then correcting them when they think they are “wrong,” it teaches the people they are leading to:

  • Wait to be told what to do, which causes inertia, particularly when it comes to making any kind of change happen.
  • Avoid taking initiative because they may be sanctioned, sometimes in subtle but impactful ways, for choosing the “wrong” approach.
  • Only propose ideas that their manager will understand and grasp quickly because those are “safer,” resulting in lack-luster innovation.
  • Avoid being accountable for things they can’t control, which can become a pretty long list as the most pressing issues become increasingly complex.

Are any of these “symptoms” on your priority list of issues to address in 2019? If you want to address these persistent challenges in a more meaningful way, you may need to rethink what it means to be a leader in times of complex change. That’s where coaching cultures come in.

What is a Coaching Culture?

If you define “culture” as how things get done, then a coaching culture is one where the principles of coaching guide the day-to-day interactions of the people in your organization so that “in the moment” coaching becomes the predominant leadership style. That’s the essence of a coaching culture.

At Cylient, we define coaching as the translation of insight into meaningful action in order to realize potential. Let’s look at how coaching as a leadership style reorients what people—and the organization—believe leadership is, and how practicing coaching as a leadership style addresses the “symptoms” that traditional leadership styles tend to create when they are used to address complex change.

Pushing Information Versus Igniting Insight

Traditional approaches to leadership that are founded on viewing leaders as all-knowing experts become increasingly challenging and ineffective in a world that is flooded with divergent information, complex issues and many possible paths forward. It’s impossible for leaders—or anyone—to consistently know “the right answer,” in many cases because there no longer is a just one answer, and in some cases, because people are facing situations no one has ever seen before. Increasingly, we need multiple perspectives and a willingness to try things out and learn from our experiences in order to discover what works now.

That’s were insight comes in. Insight is the “aha” experience of learning something new by connecting dots in new ways. When people experience insights, they feel energized to take action. That’s because the neurotransmitters that are released when someone learns something makes the person feel motivated to try out their new idea. That’s what insight-based “in the moment” coaching does—it self-generates motivation.

When leaders view helping people to learn and make new connections as a core responsibility of leadership, a lot of things change:

  • Everyday challenges become an opportunity for people to learn from their experiences
  • People focus on creating shared insights by looking at situations from different perspectives to discover what’s possible, rather than arguing over who has the right answer.
  • Everyone—including leaders—feel empowered to explore possibilities rather than feeling vulnerable because they don’t have all of the answers.

Compliance Versus Meaningful Action

Think for a moment about the last time someone told you what to do. Were you inspired? Were you motivated? Did you learn anything from the experience? Probably not. This is true for everyone. When leaders tell people what to do, their highest hope is compliance. That’s a pretty low bar. One we collectively trip over again and again when we use traditional leadership approaches to try to control complex change.

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Turning complexity into opportunity requires a willingness to try things out, learn from what goes well—and what doesn’t—and try again. The insight that “in the moment” coaching ignites jumpstarts the engagement that fuels resilience. That process of iterative learning is the hallmark of a coaching culture. And that’s what is needed to metabolize complex change into strategic advantages.

Focusing on Numbers—or Potential?

The goal of traditional leadership is often expressed in terms of meeting numbers. Attaining outcomes is essential. Check, check. It’s how we motivate people to attain those outcomes that greatly impacts the true value and impact of the results.

When people are myopically focused on making their numbers, things like learning, innovating, and building a culture people actually want to live in can fall by the wayside. That’s like muscling through challenges by fueling yourself with caffeine and willpower over and over and over again. Eventually, a price is paid for the unhealthy lifestyles and cultures that result.

Leaders who embrace “in the moment” coaching as their leadership style focus on realizing the potential in everyone and everything. Imagine what your organization would look like if people’s actions were guided by the question: “How can this challenge be used to help people become better thinkers, innovators, collaborators, communicators, influencers, and better people?” Coaching cultures reorient people to look at challenges as gifts that are unwrapped by turning them into learning opportunities that engage people to learn and grow. That appreciative, action-oriented focus delivers more than just numbers. It delivers a culture of conversation and learning.

Rethinking Your Priorities

So, let’s go back to your priorities for 2019. Will the initiatives you are investing in focus more on “band-aiding” symptoms or addressing the underlying leadership misalignment that is keeping them alive? The long-term health, competitive strength and viability of your organization may depend upon how you answer that question.

Photo courtesy:  iStock / @fizkes

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