So here’s a question: do coaching skills enhance leadership skills, or does coaching take you to a different place, a whole new phase of ‘boss theory?’
There has been a great deal of debate over the years about the difference between management and leadership and I have seen quite a number of trite phrases and jokes on the subject. People are still chasing the dream of being a good manager or good leader, but maybe they should be trying something else.
When I worked in industry I spent many years with the word ‘Manager’ in my job title because I had people who reported to me. At first I used to strive to be a ‘good manager’ but after a time ‘management’ became outmoded and stodgy, so instead I started striving to be a ‘good leader.’ In practice this all amounted to pretty much the same thing because I always tended to do what I thought was right, following my intuition rather than instructions and popular theories.
When I started in my first management position I was told, in no uncertain terms, that the official policy currently prevailing in our department was that Management had all the answers and it was our role to tell the staff what to do, and their role was to obey us. As an employee of many years, I knew that was absolute rubbish and I never ever adhered to it. I came to realise that most of my fellow managers took the view that over the years they had been subjected to bullying and persecution, they had been forced to do menial and pointless tasks and now it was their turn to inflict that on others. It wasn’t really their fault, it was just the way things were. I decided… no, I didn’t decide, I just knew that now it was my turn I would make sure that nobody who worked for me ever had to put up with that rubbish.
Back in the 90’s this was a risky strategy; if there was an issue with the performance of a member of my team and I shouted at them and threatened them with the rule book and they didn’t improve, I could, hand on heart, say I had done everything I could but it hadn’t worked. However, I would sit down and have a cup of tea with them, find out their perspective on the issue and ask what I could do to help improve the situation. When that worked it was OK, but if it didn’t work I was perceived as being ‘weak.’ As it happens, it worked.
And that was always my philosophy on management, and then later it became my philosophy on leadership! Once I had discovered coaching, the skills just dovetailed right into my natural style and took it to a whole new level. Unfortunately by the 2010’s my coach approach to leadership was too much at variance with Network Rail’s performance management process and we parted company. Looking back, would I have done anything different? The answer to that is ‘No.’ I was always true to my own values, and when they became at variance with the company’s values, it was time to go.
So, returning to my original question: “Do coaching skills enhance leadership skills, or does coaching take you to a different place?” I believe that I had moved to a place where I didn’t lead my team, I engaged them, empowered them and supported them. And I think we were a damn good team. Leadership is dead, long live coaching!