The Future of Leadership: 5 Principles

By Claudia Beck, CPA, PCC.

Many of us began our careers by developing expertise in a technical, functional, or professional domain. Doing our job well meant having the right answers and becoming an expert. We became attached to knowing. We climbed the ladder and eventually moved into people management. As managers, we shared our expertise, taught others what we knew and evaluated their performance. Command and control were the name of the game and our teams reproduced and/or built on previous successes.

Covid19 is a beautiful and ruthless interrupter. Disruptive change is now becoming the norm, and what worked in the past is no longer a guide for success in the future. We are moving away from the command-and-control practice. With working from home and hybrid models, the role of managers has shifted to giving support and guidance rather than instructions. The role of the manager, in short, has become the role of a coach. 

Empathy, inclusivity and resilience are the new superpowers. More and more companies are investing in training their leaders as coaches, and coaching is becoming integral to the fabric of the learning culture. 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 must be done.

The following 5 principles will help you achieve an optimal coaching mindset as a manager:

  1. Connect, then lead. Value the person more than the task. “I don’t care what you know until I know that you care.”
  2. Assume positive intent. Uncover the positive intent behind unproductive behaviors. Be curious in exploring what’s behind “negative” behavior. What wants to be protected?
  3. Emotional support vs. advising. Everybody is naturally creative, resourceful and whole. No one is broken. They don’t need fixing or advice, they just may need support to tap into their own resources.
  4. Be patient. People will grow and change when they are ready, when they experience psychological safety. Change is not a linear process. Love your people and witness that they become the best version of themselves. 
  5. Build vulnerability-based trust in your team. Admit to your own mistakes, lead by example. Patrick Lencioni defines vulnerability-based trust as “a place where leaders comfortably and quickly acknowledge, without provocation, their mistakes, weaknesses, failures, and need for help. 

Many leaders think that they are pretty good at coaching. The research says that most of them are not. In one study, 3,761 executives assessed their own coaching skills, and then their assessments were compared with those of people who worked with them. The results didn’t align well. Twenty-four percent of the executives significantly overestimated their abilities, rating themselves as above average while their colleagues ranked them in the bottom third of the group. That’s a telling mismatch. “If you think you’re a good coach but you actually aren’t,” the authors of the study wrote, “this data suggests you may be a good deal worse than you imagined.” Study by Jack Zenger, CEO of Zenger/Folkman and Joseph Folkman, President of Zenger/Folkman (Harvard Business Review Article).

If you want the people you work with to embrace coaching, you first need to embrace it yourself.

Conclusion:  The Future will be different. Command and Control worked well in a predictable world. Disruptive change is now becoming the norm in a more unpredictable world. Enjoy the change, enjoy the ride, value people more than tasks, support vs. advise, assume positive intent, be patient and vulnerable, admit to your short comings and mistakes. This makes you a great human being. Become the leader you wanted to have when you were climbing the ladder. 

For more about coaching and leadership — for yourself and your employees — in a disruptive world, schedule a consultation with Claudia.