Research Paper By Beatriz Peña
(Diversity and Inclusion Coach, Leadership Coach, MEXICO)
You can learn a lot about the culture of people and their businesses through coaching conversations. Recurrent themes, conversation patterns, joy, and pain points, can be unique to the person. However, in many cases, they are also a consequence of the organizational culture.
As a coach, I guide my life and professional work largely by the quality of my conversations. There is a conversation that has caught my attention in the last few years, and I have decided to call it “The Leadership Gap”.
Every time more often, I listen to this conversation in start-ups that have grown at an accelerated pace, in technology or telecommunications companies, in consulting companies, and in any organization where things move at an incredible pace and where leaders are increasingly younger.
I find it very energizing to work with all these young leaders. It keeps me updated, dynamic, and flexible. I admire their passion for learning and growing. But I also observe a certain degree of immaturity in their leadership skills, which sometimes does not allow them to cope with frustration, to show up as leaders when things get tricky, and sometimes to quit before giving themselves the chance to learn from a challenging situation.
In many cases, choices are guided by emotions and reactions. This “immaturity” affects their ability to make strategic decisions, it affects their teams and generates a high degree of stress themselves and within the organization.
Nowadays, organizations demand and stretch out their leaders in a very dramatic way to get the required results, sometimes ignoring the support they need to grow as people managers. More and more I see young leaders jumping into a new position without having a clue of what being a leader looks like. Because as Simon Sinek says, leadership is not a position it’s an attitude.
Today, more than ever in history, we have such a young workforce. These young leaders have grown at the speed of the business and know it well, but it does not mean that they have developed the ability to manage themselves in the storms of the corporate world. In many cases, these leaders are smart, skillful, and passionate but don’t have the experience that comes with time, exposure to failure, and maturity.
Many companies are growing exponentially in sales, in the number of customers, employees, and complexity. Their leaders, however, have not necessarily grown at the same speed. This gap between the growing needs of the business and the ability of their leaders to manage themselves and their teams is what I call “The Leadership Gap”.
In some instances, this leadership gap shows an inversely proportional relationship. The more successful the business, the less developed its leadership is. It may look like a paradox, but if not addressed in time, it will hurt in the long run.
Effective leadership relies on three dimensions: The individual (ME), the team (US), and the business (IT). The ME is the ability of self-awareness, which allows the leader to manage his or her emotions and reactions. The US is the ability to recognize the impact that everyone´s actions have on others and on the team, as well as, emotional intelligence and the skills to develop others. And finally, IT has to do with the results, establishing key performance indicators to run the business.
Business growing at an exponential rate and their millennial leaders tend to over-focus on IT (the business side), undermining the other dimensions that effective leadership requires. In every case I have seen, this comes at a high cost to the organization and its culture.
This fast-moving culture not only requires leaders to develop in a “fast track” mode but also demands from them a different leadership style. The skills expected from a leader today, are not the same anymore. Leaders must be able to approach different situations with “different hats”, combining the expert, mentor, and a coaching style.
HBR points out that before, “as a manager, you knew what needed to be done, you taught others how to do it, and you evaluated their performance. Command and control were the names of the game, and your goal was to direct and develop employees who understood how the business worked and was able to reproduce its previous successes”.
Not today. Twenty-first-century managers simply don’t (and can’t!) have all the right answers. Today we are living in a knowledge economy, are the ideas that people bring to work that will help to solve problems and create an ecosystem of learning and innovation. To cope with this new reality, companies are moving away from traditional command-and-control practices and toward something very different: a model in which managers give support and guidance rather than instructions, and employees learn how to adapt to constantly changing environments in ways that unleash fresh energy, innovation, and commitment”. This is showing the power to train leaders with coaching skills.
I support leaders by developing coaching skills as part of their leadership skillset. The report and increased the ability to unleash people’s potential, better listening skills, more open and forward conversations, people feel more empowered and the relationship with team members improves.
Trends that we have observed in the past, now are here to stay, what we will see in the future will include: agile culture, virtual work, remote leadership, and demand for a more “human leadership” and work-life balance.
This will demand the development of a more flexible mindset from leaders, a different leadership style, and flexibility to change and adapt. A new mindset, that if not embraced, will not allow them to adapt to a fast-changing world and will increase “The Leadership Gap”
So, if a culture of young leaders, capable to embrace technology, agility, and change is here to stay, how can we support them to “mind the gap”?
Coaching them and teaching them coaching skills, can become a powerful solution for the leadership gap.
How can coaching reduce the leadership gap?
There is no doubt that companies must focus on results and invest in the development of hard skills. However, in the context of a knowledge-based global economy, driven by accelerated technology innovations, success is ever more often associated with a comprehensive view of leadership and the development of socio-emotional skills.
Soft skills are the new hard skills, highly demanded but increasingly scarce.
Companies experiencing a leadership gap most prepare their leaders to know how to create a psychologically safe environment for their teams to grow, increase their emotional intelligence skills, develop a more empathetic leadership style, learn how to mentor and coach others, create a healthy feedback culture and build a sustainable work-life balance. Today, companies must make sure that their leaders have a positive impact on the ME, US, and IT dimensions.
Coaching can support leaders to thrive at the same time on the hard and soft skills these roles require.
Today’s companies have discovered the power of coaching to achieve the changes they want at the speed they need them. In the past, coaches worked just with CEOs or top-performing leaders. Today, the coaching practice has become one of the most effective interventions to accelerate the development of leaders, hi potentials, and individual contributors.
The Coaching and Leadership practice that I lead at Swedish Consulting firm BTS, was founded and developed by Jerry Connor. During his career, he and his colleagues gathered records of more than 100,000 coaching conversations to uncover the kind of guidance young employees need the most. They studied conversations focused on the issues that employees struggle with most, and discovered four knowledge gaps that arise time and again:
- How to build resilience: the ability to bounce back from setbacks, such as an early project gone wrong or a bombed presentation
- How to influence others: the ability to win others’ trust and respect to more effectively execute a role
- How to job craft: the ability to determine what constitutes a meaningful job and engineer a career for greater fulfillment
- How to break out of a mental rut: the ability to challenge personal patterns of thinking to identify and solve problems through a different lens
In his book 4 Great Coaching Conversations, Connor says that “Career coaching is crucial for recent college graduates and young people entering the workforce. Though many have scant experience, they’re making choices that will affect their lives long into the future. Research has shown that first jobs are an optimal time for workers to gain transferable skills that follow them through their careers. This confirms the importance of coaching not just for senior leaders, but as a powerful intervention when this young leader is growing and can tackle The Leadership Gap.
Lisa Bloom on his Linkedlnarticle, mentions a study published by Paul Bernard & Associates, in 2019, that found that the Return on Investment for anyone who participates in coaching can be as high as 50 to 1. The rate of return to companies that invest in coaching practices for their workers is on average 10 to 1. There are not only benefits in ROI, but employees who are trained in coaching are also more likely to stay with the company rather than looking for new opportunities outside. Also, a recent survey conducted by the International Coach Federation showed that coaching also helped employees to improve their lives at a personal level
Behind all the numbers is a simple truth: anyone who works with a coach is more likely to reach, and even exceed their goals.
Coaching is a fast, effective, and personalized intervention that allows leaders to have the right space to talk openly about their challenges and struggles they face to reach their goals. It is a great tool to improve one’s self-awareness, manage stress, develop emotional intelligence, and build high-performance teams.
Coaching can help reduce the leadership gap by teaching leadership skills in all three dimensions: ME, US, and IT. Through coaching, leaders can set the right mindsets not only for themselves but in their team members to get the most out of them, take advantage of each member’s strengths, and face the challenges posed by the global economy more successfully.
As Sir John Whitmore, a leading figure in the field defined it, skilled coaching involves “unlocking people’s potential to maximize their performance.”
Coaching can not only help bridge The LeadershipGap by offering leaders and accelerated and personalized approach to their development, but it can also be learned as part of a leader toolset. More and more a“leader as coach” approach is becoming part of many companies.
This aims to develop the kind of leader that embraces humility, curiosity, and openness. This style of leadership ignites a culture of psychological safety where people can learn from mistakes, have open and honest conversations, and support the kind of environment that innovation and constant change requires.
“An effective manager-as-coach asks questions instead of providing answers, supports employees instead of judging them, and facilitates their development instead of dictating what has to be done”. (Herminia Ibarra, 2019).
- In conclusion, we are experiencing a fastmoving corporate culture with a younger workforce and leadership.
- These new leaders need to find a fast, flexible, and personalized approach to mind “The Leadership Gap”.
- Coaching can be a powerful, adaptable, and virtual solution to reduce the gap.
- Embracing coaching not just as a developmental approach but as a leadership style can be one powerful and compelling solution for a fast-changing world that demands a more humanized, empathetic, and effective kind of leadership. Mind the gap!
Bloom, Lisa (2019) Demand for coaching has never been so high.. and yet.. at LinkedIn
Ibarra, Herminia (2019) The leader as coach. At Harvard Business Review
Protsko, Math(2020) Trends emerging from COVID 19, and their lasting impact on leadership at LinkedIn
Connor, J, and Hirani, K (2019) The four greatest coaching conversations, John Murray Press