This is part of a blog series on 7 Levers that co-create a powerful space for coaches to really be impactful.
For all the levers, see the 7 Coaching Levers overview blog post.
This blog covers an introductory view of the lever. More is to follow as this unpacks and emerges
Which brings me to an unexpected 6th lever. When I originally did this as a talk the 5th lever (Activate the System) actually emerged in the talk itself. Since then the world has collapsed and we are all in lockdown which has created a new set of circumstances and in that, a new lever has started to emerge – the ability for coaches to stand in their leadership. Lever 6 is about Activating Leadership, not only in the coaches but in the teams we support.
Leadership is a big, big word and one that agilists and corporates spend a lot of time defining and growing. For me leadership is something inherently simple – it is about the place you are leading people to and whether or not that is a place that the people want to go and whether or not it is a place where they can be their best selves. Leaders are humble, the focus is on their team not themselves. The heroes are the team, not the leader.
We often confuse management and leadership simply because large corporates have a long history of stability and with stability comes the need to execute never changing processes consistently and that has led to the age of the Manager. Management is about keeping the status quo and about implementing instructions from above. There is little original thinking done by a manager. They don’t interpret the commands they are given nor do they adapt or adjust based on information on the ground. In fact for the most part managers aren’t that interested in what the people they are managing think – their focus is simply on executing the command and because they are the manager they obviously know better. There is a lovely set of mental models around this if you are interested. Roger Schwarz, The Skilled Facilitator describes the unilateral mindset and compares it against a model of mutual learning which is collaborative and speaks strongly to me of the agile mindset.
Leadership is something completely different. We no longer live in a stable world. We no longer have time to solve problems and we are now being asked to solve problems that have not been solved before. This is where leaders start to shine because leaders work with the collective genius of the people they are leading. Leaders co-create whilst holding the team to the True North.
Leadership is when the journey is balanced between the outcome and goal that is required and the people who are doing the doing. Leaders translate, interpret and adapt. They make decisions in the moment based on changing circumstances and they fundamentally know that to get tp there will take the collective intelligence of the whole team. They know it isn’t about them. It isn’t going to be their genius that gets the team to the other side. Their genius is in mobilizing the team. A leader’s genius is in helping people find their way, in keeping morale up, stepping in to avoid known hazards without disempowering or rescuing.
And here is the thing, every coach is a leader because leadership isn’t about doing or problem solving, it is about enabling the team and that is at the heart of what we do. The first guard rail was to stop doing and to stop solving problems for people and instead transfer agile to them, enable them to learn how to do this for themselves.
Even more importantly, leadership isn’t something that is awarded to you when you get a specific job title. It doesn’t require formal authority or permission to be granted. Which means that leadership is a choice everyone gets to make. I need to repeat this bit because I see so many people waiting to be given permission to lead. Leadership is a choice YOU get to make. Leadership is a choice about the impact you want to be having.
Where am I going with this ? When coaches find and use their leadership, teams start to become accountable and autonomous and are able to own the way they work. When coaches are living their leadership, they focus not on what is wrong right now, but on how we work with what we have and move forward in a way that empowers everyone.
Being a leader is a lonely place that is seldom recognized, understood or even rewarded in corporate. It doesn’t look like leadership because there are no commands, there is no ‘look at me being a leader’’. Leadership is humble and invisible which means this lever is probably one of the hardest for coaches to live. It is also perhaps the most rewarding.
The next lever is Activate Agile