Many leaders have forgotten that leadership is a process, not a position. Coaching them at the right time will help re-establish their sense of balance.

Leadership is a behavioural outcome of the interaction between a leader and followers in the context of a situation. Just having a title or position does not make us leaders. There is a great deal of learning that has to happen for leaders to execute the appropriate behaviours needed to ensure they have followers and make the most of a given situation.

Teaching leaders new behaviours particularly after they have had success is a challenge because in most instances they have a lot of unlearning to do. The very attributes that have given them success and brought them into leadership positions can begin to work against them. I have seen this particularly in those organizations that have concentrated hard on developing the technical competencies of their executives and eventually pick the one who has had the most success in putting those skills to work. Even those companies that have invested in developing a more broad based leadership developmental program cannot really prepare their executives well enough to face an ever changing, complex, and competitive world. Training is not quite the best way to address the gaps that can derail the best laid plans of ensuring the success of leadership. What we are looking for is behavioural change which requires a great deal of reflection and self awareness. Typically leaders have spent a lot of time in single loop learning where they establish their beliefs based on the environment they operate in and more often than not stay in their comfort zones where there is never any attempt to challenge or revalidate their established belief systems. I had a client recently who was very good at achieving his desired goals, but never really felt the need to validate or challenge his goals or goal setting process.

This kind of self confrontation requires double loop learning which is really nothing but learning how best to learn. It requires leaders to work through their blind spots, question assumptions, challenge perspectives and reframe their thoughts. This is why old dogs need the help of a coach. To show them the link between their actions and the outcomes, but more importantly to build the link between the outcomes, actions, and their link to behaviours which originate from their thinking process.

You cannot change people, you can only change their behaviour. A coach is a catalyst for change. Change starts with self awareness. The coach helps the leader understand him\herself better – strengths and weakness, what works well and what does not in the current role. This is a huge step forward in the journey towards success.

Once the awareness is achieved, it shapes perception and changes the leaders’ attitude towards him\herself, colleagues, and the business itself. Once an attitudinal shift happens, it invariably results in changes in behaviour that makes it then possible to commit to action. Only individuals who are open and willing to accept new ways of thinking can develop into good leaders or stay as leaders. The longer people have been in a leadership position, the more rigid they become, the more set in their ways, thereby losing their ability to learn. Hence the ability to learn then becomes the single most critical ability that a leader needs to possess.

Old dogs lose this ability to learn and the best way to bring it back is either to provide them with a coach who is able to facilitate the learning process in a non judgemental way or send them back to school. Most Universities provide executive education through short term courses or even long term MBAs that help leaders recalibrate their thinking. The greatest benefit comes from the interaction with their peers who are able to share their own experiences – what worked and what did not. This has a huge impact on the learning process as most leaders are willing to learn from those with whom they share similarities, common values, and interests.

When they go back to their workplace, they are able to put the new ideas into practice and if they get stuck at some stage, have built up the relationships to go back to either the professors or the peers who can help them overcome their challenges. The learning process is continuous and those who stop do so at their own peril. In the words of T.S.Eliot “we shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time”.

Pratap Nambiar is the Executive in Residence at the National University of Singapore Business School. He is the founder and Chief Executive of Thought Perfect Pte Ltd an organization that helps CEOs and Business Leaders maximize their potential.

This article was published in the June issue of Human Resources, Singapore’s leading publication for HR professionals.

Leave a reply