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Monday, November 30, 2009

Why Every Leader Needs a Coach

In the world of sports there is a natural tendency to respect those who have succeeded on their own. These are the Olympians who have climbed to the summit by sheer strength of will, and raw talent. They have shown us all how to win. They have made it look easy. These are the heroes of the press, and the public. We look at a Sir Chris Hoy or a Rebecca Adlington and marvel at their success.

But, what makes Sir Chris Hoy or Rebecca Adlington so good?

Each has extraordinary talent. Each has tenacity, focus, and perseverance. Even if they did nothing more, each would be considered good athletes in their respective sport. However, each has taken an additional step, a step that has helped them achieve their well earned reputation. Each has a coach.

Why would someone as talented as these players use a coach?

The answer is actually relatively simple. In the heat of the event, neither can be an unbiased judge of how he or she is performing.

The same is true in business and government. In the heat of the boardroom, when the future is clouded by the fog of war, sagging economies, and a need to change the organisation, leaders are not always the best critics of their own performance, or the best judge of how their behaviour is affecting the organisation. A coach who can view the play from the sidelines can be an invaluable ally.

The role of coaching in the business and government world has changed over time. According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR):

'Ten years ago, most companies engaged a coach to help fix toxic behaviour at the top. Today, most coaching is about developing the capabilities of high-potential performers.' (Harvard Business Review, January 2009, "What Coaches Can Do for You", Diane Coutu and Carol Kauffman)

In the business and government world, about half of the coaches employed today are focused on the positive side of coaching, developing high-potential talent to assure top corporate performance. Another quarter of all coaches are focusing on strategic issues and organisational dynamics.

For the potential leader or manager seeking to improve and grow, a coach can provide insight into how behaviours are affecting the organisation, an independent assessment of the extent to which change efforts are achieving the desired results, or insight into which new behaviours are or are not working.

However, as the HBR pointed out in an article in 2007, learning and growing takes a significant amount of effort:

'The development of genuine expertise requires struggle, sacrifice, and honest, often painful self-assessment. There are no shortcuts. It will take you at least a decade to achieve expertise, and you will need to invest that time wisely, by engaging in “deliberate” practice—practice that focuses on tasks beyond your current level of competence and comfort. You will need a well-informed coach not only to guide you through deliberate practice but also to help you learn how to coach yourself.' (Harvard Business Review, July-August 2007, "The Making of an Expert", K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely)

(Much of Ericsson's research is based on the world of athletic and artistic high performance - see for example, this 1994 New York Times article - http://www.nytimes.com/1994/10/11/science/peak-performance-why-records-fall.html?pagewanted=all ).

Don't expect instant success, and at the same time, expect constant progress. True mastery of of any trade or profession takes time.

Finally, you might find the following very short video of Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, interesting. If Eric Schmidt can benefit from having a coach, so can you.

For further information on the business coaching and mentoring services provided by Positive Leadership, please contact Gavin Hastings (gavin.hastings@positiveleadership.co.uk ).

Why Connectors are the New Influencers

Here is some fascinating insight from Havard Professor, Rosabeth Moss Kanter on how social networking is changing the concept of leadership influence in the 21st century:

'In the world according to Twitter, giving away access to information rewards the giver by building followers. The more followers, the more information comes to the giver to distribute, which in turn builds more followers. The process cannot be commanded or controlled; followers opt in and out as they choose. The results are transparent and purely quantitative; network size is all that matters. Networks of this sort are self-organizing and democratic but without any collective interaction.

The significance of Twitter is yet to be determined; it is a simple, impersonal, and transient application of technology. But very real network effects are a new source of power in and around organizations.

America in the 20th century was called a "society of organizations." Formal hierarchies with clear reporting relationships gave people their position and their power. In the 21st century, America is rapidly becoming a society of networks, even within organizations. Maintenance of organizations as structures is less important than assembling resources to get results, even if the assemblage itself is loose and perishable.

Today, people with power and influence derive their power from their centrality within self-organizing networks that might or might not correspond to any plan on the part of designated leaders. Organization structure in vanguard companies involves multi-directional responsibilities, with an increasing emphasis on horizontal relationships rather than vertical reporting as the center of action that shapes daily tasks and one's portfolio of projects, in order to focus on serving customers and society. Circles of influence replace chains of command, as in the councils and boards at Cisco which draw from many levels to drive new strategies.

Distributed leadership — consisting of many ears to the ground in many places — is more effective than centralized or concentrated leadership.

Fewer people act as power-holders monopolizing information or decision-making, and more people serve as integrators using relationships and persuasion to get things done.

This changes the nature of career success. It is not enough to be technically adept or even to be interpersonally pleasant. Power goes to the "connectors": those people who actively seek relationships and then serve as bridges between and among groups. Their personal contacts are often as important as their formal assignment. In essence, "She who has the best network wins."

Connectors have always been more promotable, even in traditional hierarchies. In my early research in a rigid industrial conglomerate (that has since gone out of business), I saw that women tended to be excluded from top ranks because there were so few women already in top ranks, and being part of peer groups mattered for career advancement. Wherever teamwork across positions is desirable, natural connectors who instinctively reach across divides to form relationships get the plum jobs, on small sports teams as well as in large companies. For example, on the North Carolina women's soccer team, a perennial winner among college teams, Jordan Walker was a team leader because she was a connector who helped other players work together, even though Coach Anson Dorrance called her one of the least athletic players he had ever seen. As for big business, during the Seagate turnaround, Joan Motsinger was asked to head a technical area even though she wasn't a technical expert, because of her business card collection, which made her a network star.

Network stars have social capital — a stockpile of personal relationships with many people whom they regularly connect to one another. Though technology tools are increasingly common to help people find connections, from LinkedIn to Facebook, I find that even the most technology-savvy leaders rely on their own personal networks to find the best resources quickly. The technology is so democratic that the information is considered less reliable. The human networks are what count. In SuperCorp companies with far-flung global operations, personal networks of people that managers have met or worked with are often better sources for key assignments than data bases of resumes. One manager in a high-tech company called this "the old-fashioned way, the knowing people type thing: I know a person who might know a person..."

To be known is to be in the know. This is why connectors with big networks have so much power. They don't need to be the formal boss if they have the connections. Nick Donofrio, former IBM executive vice president, encouraged 90,000 technical people to think of themselves as working for him, even though they did not work directly for him in any formal or official way. He answered hundreds of daily emails personally, counting on this as a major bottom-up source of information about issues and opportunities.

Social capital is often, but not entirely, correlated with length of organizational experience. The other factor is whether the nature of the job encourages getting to know large numbers of people — that is, whether the job involves mobility, a portfolio of varied projects, and participation in initiatives that call for communication across groups.

In short, giving people work that spans boundaries is a way to grow the potential for more connectors, in a nice multiplier effect. But ultimately the power of connectors lies in themselves, not in the stars. It comes from their own willingness to continue making relationships, passing on information, and introducing people to one another.'