I came across an article by Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan (link to the article at the end) on their study on leadership development and its benefits in companies. They reviewed the companies’ leadership programs and methods. All companies had the same overarching goals. That is to determine the desired behaviours for leaders in their organisations and to help leaders increase their effectiveness by better aligning actual practices with these desired behaviours. The companies used different methodologies to get there: offsite training vs onsite coaching, short duration vs long, internal coaches vs external and classroom-based training vs on-the-job interaction. The increased effectiveness was assessed by the co-workers and stakeholders.

Discussing to Positive Change in Leadership

The participants’ ongoing interaction and follow-up with colleagues was the variable that emerged over and over again as central to the achievement of positive long-term change. Regardless of the methodology, the leaders who had an ongoing discussion with their colleagues showed striking improvement in their leadership development. They discussed their own improvement priorities and followed up with their co-workers. Such leaders are seen as people who care. The same results have been received in studies in different countries and cultures such as in North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia. No culture anywhere appreciates being asked for feedback and then ignored!

”No culture anywhere appreciates being asked for feedback and then ignored!

The development should not be seen as taking place in an event created for it but as an ongoing engagement connected to work and with the help of co-workers. Leaders learn from those around them and need to execute the learning to doing. Executive coach can be seen in many ways as a personal trainer whose role is in many cases is to remind the client to do what he or she already knows should be done.  

I have seen the same in my career in executive teams and also as an executive coach. Leaders know in theory what they should do but do not quite see it or get to do it. The practice is therefore often different from the leadership principles and goals of the organisations. But with the support of coaching when the first simple question is asked from the team member or other co-worker and the dialogue is started, the knowledge on the situation is increased. After that the possible challenges that earlier seemed almost unbearable are solved by listening the others.

Coaching as an Inspiration for Follow-Up

The reason why coaching is so effective is seen in the article to be because it inspires the leaders to follow up with their co-workers. The studies show clear correlation between the follow up by the coach with its client and the number of times the client followed up with co-workers. I’ve seen the same. In between the coaching discussions, the dialogue is often continued at the work place with the co-workers, e.g. with the team members. The coach can be also from inside the company, e.g. at the HR unit. Compared to an external coach, this may have time, credibility and confidentiality issues.

The studies show very little difference with the effects of telephone and live coaching. The same applies to the follow up by the leader with the co-workers. Again, I’ve noticed the same. I’ve had clients that I’ve coached over the phone and some of them I have never met in person. These coaching sessions have been very intense and productive. Naturally just like with live coaching in the same room both (or with a group, all) need to be in a place where they are not disturbed. I’ve had coaching discussions also over Skype and Teams with a live video connection but I’d choose the best connection over seeing the other. Even though the expressions and other behaviour gives information, so does also the full focus on the voice and the silent parts in between.

Leadership Development Coaching vs. Training

The study showed that the effectiveness of coaching in leadership development did not require any connection to training. Perhaps the companies could consider having less costly group wide training programs and instead see to it that their people are encouraged and supported to listen and learn from their co-workers and to focus on their self-improvement.

I am available also for virtual one to one coaching and advising. So no matter where you are or where I am, we can have good discussion and results on how to develop your career or business to the next level. If you are interested in having coaching with me, please send me an email and describe what you wish to obtain with the coaching and I’ll get back to you soon.

You can read the whole article here.

The photo is from my visit to the Ugo Rondino exhibition at Taidehalli, Helsinki in August 2019, open until 17th of Nov 2019.