Research Paper By Taaka Awori
(Leadership Coach, GHANA)
This research paper has been prepared in fulfillment of the graduation requirements of the International Coach Academy’s (ICA) Advanced Programme. It argues that having an effective personal or organizational leadership brand is critical for leadership effectiveness. It then posits that coaching, which has increasingly played a key role in leadership development, can be an important tool for organizations and individuals as they craft an effective leadership brand. In this respect, it demonstrates how coaching can:
- Increase a leader’s self- awareness
- Enable a leader to assess their context and what type of leadership is required for that situation
- Enable a leader to assess the impact of one’s leadership style on others
- Support a leader to identify blind spots.
- Support a leader to align their actions and behaviours.
A new model of leadership has emerged to respond to an increasingly complex world: “Leadership is influence.” In the past, influence was often seen as being about force and the exertion of power over another. In many parts of the world this is still the case, particularly with respect to political leadership. However, in today’s complex information- centered world, where innovation, creativity and knowledge determine which organizations, companies and countries thrive, a different model of leadership is required. In this model of leadership, “leaders must earn the ability to influence what people think about, what they value, and how they express those values in the decisions they make from day to day.”
The growing importance of having the right leadership brand: It is in this context that the idea of a leadership brand is gaining in popularity and is becoming a critical means by which managers are defining the leadership style and approach they want to be associated with. A leadership brand can be thought of at two levels: at the individual level and at the organizational level. At the individual level, it has been defined as something that conveys your identity and distinctiveness as a leader. At the institutional level, a leadership brand is a reflection of an organisation’s ability to turn out strong leaders and become a “leader feeder” firm. These are companies who have focused not just on developing individual leaders but growing the organization’s overall leadership capability.
Leadership development has evolved significantly in the past 20 years. In the past, leadership development was centered on classroom learning with a strong focus on concepts and theories. Today it is more experiential and directed on addressing practical challenges that a leader is facing in the work place. Indeed, the current approach to leadership development has been described as being more about:
- “cognition and affection;
- experiential and embodied;
- addressing real challenges that matter;
- collectively learning with colleagues so that the relationship develops as well as the individuals;
- cycles of action learning"
Coaching has become a central part of leadership development. Coaching has gained prominence in leadership development as the latter has become more experiential. This is because the individualized approach of coaching has enabled managers to focus on the immediate leadership challenges they are facing and their unique learning needs. Additionally, coaching has enabled leaders to gain deeper self-awareness and develop specific skills. For these reasons, this paper describes how coaching can be used not just broadly for leadership development but for development of a personal and organizational leadership brand in particular.
Developing a Personal Leadership Brand
Defining what a personal leadership brand is. A personal leadership brand conveys a person’s identity as a leader and the value they have to offer. It captures the impact that a leader has on his or her followers and the emotional experience that comes from working with them. In this respect, a leadership brand enables a manager to focus their time and energy on what they want to be known for and what they have to offer. Not surprisingly, therefore, it has been argued that having a leadership brand is critical to becoming a better leader and having more impact.
The key steps to developing an effective personal leadership brand. Everyone has personal leadership brand, however, the big question is whether it is the right one. Smallwood and his co-author David Ulrich came up with five steps to develop a personal leadership brand. They are:
- Define what results you would like to achieve in terms of the expectations of customer, investors, employees and the organization;
- Define what you wish to be known for;
- Define your identity in terms of the leader you are and the leader you are becoming;
- Construct your leadership brand statement and then test it;
- Make your brand identity real by living it.
In a similar manner, Price Water House Coopers (PWC) trains it women leaders to develop their leadership brand by:
- Defining what they want to known for as leader;
- Ensuring that they are communicating their brand effectively; and
- Aligning their actions with their brand.
Both the approach of Smallwood and Ulrich and that of PWC include a process of a leader defining what they want to be known for as a leader and ultimately aligning their behavior to this brand. This paper will show how coaching can support a manager to go through this process as they develop the right leadership brand.
Developing Organisational Leadership Brands
Defining what an organizational leadership brand is. As noted before, a leadership brand can be thought of at two levels: the individual level and at the organizational level. At the organizational level, a leadership brand is the ability of an organization to generate high quality leaders. They are able to do this because rather than focusing on developing individual leaders, these organizations focus on developing overall “leadership capability.” As stated: “A focus on leaders emphasizes the personal qualities of the individual; a focus on leadership emphasizes the methods that secure the ongoing good of the firm, and in the process also builds future leaders.”
The key steps to developing an organizational leadership brand. According to Ulrich and Smallwood, companies that have developed a strong leadership brand have followed five principles, which include:
- They set strategy and groom talent: This means they have a clear vision for the future of the company, they are able to establish systems and achieve results to achieve that vision and they are able to motivate and engage staff.
- They ensure leaders internalize the high expectations that external stakeholders have of the company: This means that the firm has a good understanding of its customers’ expectations and ensures that leaders fully comprehend these standards and know how to put it into practice.
- They evaluate leaders according to these external perspectives: Rather than assessing the performance of leaders according to what the company produces, they assess managers based on what the customers experience and their feedback.
- They provide broad based leadership development to strengthen managers capacity to meet these external expectations: This includes opportunities to work closely with customers to better understand their needs or including customers as part of leadership development training.
- They track their success at developing a leadership brand over the long term: This means that they identify the appropriate indicators to track their leadership brand investments. For some it may be that when the senior most leader leaves, the stock value of the company does not go down. For others, for example, those in the not-for-profit sector, it might be about the ability to attract funding to achieve the organization’s mission. What is important, ultimately, is that the organization is able to monitor and assess the effectiveness of its leadership brand.
Coaching as a Tool in Developing Personal and Organizational Leadership Brands
Defining coaching. Coaching has been described in many different ways. The International Coaching Federation describes coaching as:
an ongoing partnership designed to help clients produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives. Coaches help people improve their performance and enhance the quality of their lives.”
Coaching has also been described as: a methodology that allows us to work with change, on a personal level, on an organizational level, on a relationship level.
The different ways coaching can be used to develop a person. The following sets out the different ways in which coaching can support a leader seeking to develop their personal leadership brand.
- Coaching can increase a leader’s self- awareness. When developing a leadership brand, a key starting point is determining the results you want to achieve and what you want to be known for as a leader. The foundation for successfully answering these questions is a self -awareness. Through active listening and powerful questioning a coach is able to increase awareness within a client about their underlying beliefs, their thoughts about a particular situation, their feelings and their patterns of behavior. Some coaches use psychometric tests such as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator to help clients better understand their personalities. Determining what you want to be known as a leader is intimately tied to your values and what you stand for. A coach can help a leader discover and become more conscious of this. A good coach can also help a leader understand their strengths and limitations, which are critical in developing one’s personal leadership brand.
- Coaching can enable a leader to assess their context and what type of leadership is required for that situation. An effective leadership brand must be responsive to the organizational context in which the leadership is exercised. For example, a personal leadership brand, which reflects a bold and risk-taking approach, may be ineffective in an organization that desires and thrives on a more cautious and conservative leadership approach. Thus, developing a personal leadership brand is about understanding the organizational context, assessing what leadership is needed and matching that to the style of leadership you want to offer. A coach can act as a sounding board for a leader as he or she thinks through the leadership style the organization is looking for and the extent to the brand they are seeking to develop resonates with this.
- Coaching can enable a leader to assess the impact of one’s leadership style on others. Feedback is critical in developing a personal leadership brand. A coach can provide constructive feedback based on what they observe of the leader. Equally important, a coach can support a leader to elicit constructive feedback from their “followers” so that they know what impact their leadership is having on others. These feedback mechanisms may range from more structured processes such as 360- degree questionnaires to more informal conversations with targeted followers. A coach can also work with a manager to get better at receiving feedback so they get it more often and consistently. They would do this by listening actively as the feedback is provided, not arguing but thanking the giver and then evaluating the feedback to draw out what is most useful.
- Coaching can support a leader to identify blind spots. A blind spot is an aspect of one’s personality or behavior that a person is unaware of. The coaching conversation is a safe space and supportive environment where a leader can explore potential blind spots. As noted previously, a coach can support a leader to develop mechanisms for feedback to identify these blind spots. In addition a coach can support a leader to process the feedback and to take concrete action to address any issues arising.
- Coaching can support a leader to align their actions and behaviours. For a leadership brand to be effective, a leader needs to ensure that the way they behave is aligned with the type of leadership they want to be known for. The familiar adage that “actions speak louder than words” comes to mind here. A coach can support a leader to assess their current behavior and determine which actions and ways of being reinforce what the leader wants to be known for. In some instances, a leader may have to adopt new behaviours and actions, which may involve risk taking or fear of failure. In these instances, coaching could be useful in supporting the leader to shift perspective and adopt more empowering thoughts that support the new behavior.
The different ways coaching can be used to develop an organizational leadership brand. Developing an organizational leadership brand is a much more complex and long- term process than creating a personal leadership brand. This is because it involves getting an entire organization or company aligned with a particular level of leadership effectiveness. In the same way coaching can be valuable to a manager to develop their individual leadership brand, coaching can be useful to an individual leader or team of leaders to develop and instill their organizational leadership brand. While the same core competencies would be required of the coach, the focus of the coaching in this case is much more on organizational impact. A few examples are provided below of how coaching could support a leader in this respect.
- A coach can help a leader to get all employees on board in developing the organizational leadership brand. It has been said that creating an organizational leadership brand requires communities of commitment and team collaboration. This is because while the leader plays a critical role in articulating the leadership brand required, it is the employees at all levels who demonstrate the behavior of this brand on a day to day basis when they are engaging with clients. A leader, therefore, needs to get everyone behind his or her vision of the leadership brand. To do this, they must develop their vision and communicate it in a manner that is engaging and brings everyone on board. Coaching can provide a safe space for a leader to craft and try out this vision to ensure it is clear and compelling. A coach can also work with the leader to develop a strategy for engaging employees in the long- term to build the organization’s leadership brand.
- Leading and managing and change process. As stated: “Coaches help leaders reflect on their organizational lives, help them be more articulate about their situations, and help them make more conscious choices about how to lead.” Developing an organizational leadership brand involves a process of organizational change where a leader seeks to align the institution’s systems, polices, rewards and incentives with the desired leadership brand. Research conducted on the impact of executive coaching in the context of organizational change revealed that it led to increased goal attainment, enhanced solution-focused thinking, greater ability to deal with change and increased leadership self-efficacy and resilience. This demonstrates that by exercising all the key coaching competencies such as active listening, powerful questions, and acknowledgement, a coach can support a leader to successful navigate the change required to build their organization’s leadership brand.
The Limitations of Coaching in Developing a Leadership Brand.
While this paper has sought to demonstrate that coaching can be a valuable tool for leaders to develop either a personal or organizational leadership brand, there are limitations. Not every leader is coachable and not everything about a leader is coachable. For example, it has been argued by one author that a leader’s cognitive skills, drive, ambition, integrity, conscientiousness and tolerance of ambiguity are not coachable. Marshall Goldsmith, the renowned leadership writer and teacher states that there are four indicators to know that someone is not coachable:
- She/ He doesn't think she has a problem;
- He/ She is pursuing the wrong strategy for the organization;
- They're in the wrong job;
- They think everyone else is the problem;
Some coaches use tools such as the coachability index, which is a simple tool to determine if a person is ready for coaching. The tool examines:
- Learnability: A measure of the willingness to learn, unlearn and relearn.
- Changeability: A measure of the willingness to change mindset and habits.
- Believability: A measure of how much one believes in himself and his coach.
- Abortability: A measure of how much one is willing to give up solutions that do not work and replace with them alternatives.
Regardless of what criteria or tool one uses, what is important is to recognize that coaching may not appropriate or effective in all instances when building a personal or organizational leadership brand. It works best when certain conditions are in place. These include factors such as the leader’s receptiveness and desire for change, the chemistry and connection between the coach and leader, the competencies of the coach and an effective structure and process for the coaching.
In conclusion, developing a leadership brand has become a critical part of strengthening leadership effectiveness at both an individual and organizational level. At an individual level, leaders are recognizing the value of determining the type of leadership they want to be associated with and then aligning their behavior to that leadership. At the organizational level, organisations have learned to go beyond investing in individual leaders to investing in leadership capability more broadly. In all of this, coaching can play a critical role as it supports leaders with their self- awareness, enables them to gather feedback on their leadership effectiveness and supports them to drive organizational change.
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