One of the interesting things I’ve experienced over the past year since I started my Leadership Coaching practice is answering that question everyone loves to ask: what do you do? It usually happens at the proverbial cocktail party, but since I’m not on the high society cocktail party circuit these days, it happens more over a beer at the neighborhood BBQ. I love to tell people “I’m a Leadership Coach!” and watch for their reaction. Some people get it right away because they have experience with Executive Coaching, but for many people it’s a new concept. “So what does that mean exactly?” is the typical reaction. Here’s how our exchange might progress…
Curious Neighbor: Leadership Coach, huh… So what does that mean exactly?
Coach Mike: I help business executives become better leaders. Most have gotten to where they are because they are highly effective managers, but strong leaders are far more difficult to come by.
CN: So you teach them Leadership?
Mike: Not exactly. Leadership is not something than can be easily taught. I can’t transfer some knowledge to you and you become a better leader. However, it is something that can be learned and I facilitate that learning. The learning comes from experience– not just work experience but life experience. There’s no such thing as a “natural born leader,” but our life experiences, or more specifically how we think and feel, and what we believe about our experiences, determines how effective we are as a leader. Some people have grown up in a way that they learned to be a very effective leader, some have farther to go, but I wholeheartedly believe anyone can continue to grow and develop as a leader.
CN: So you’re like a therapist?
Mike: Nah. Therapists come from a perspective of healing the sick. I come with a perspective that you have what it takes to be a great leader, and my job is to liberate that great leader from within you. It is true that I partner with my clients to focus our attention on their inner experience… how they think and feel about themselves, about the world around them, and the beliefs they hold as a result. And it’s their thinking, their emotions, and their beliefs that drive their behavior.
CN: So you tell people how to behave like a leader?
Mike: Not usually. When it comes to Leadership, here’s the important point: People see right through behavior and conclude for themselves what you think, feel, and believe. What they conclude makes all the difference in the world about whether they choose to follow you or not. Make no mistake, it is their choice. You can compel people to comply with your orders, you can manipulate them into doing what you want, and you can even convince people it’s in their best interest to follow you. But that’s not Leadership, and it fails to engage the full potential of the people you seek to lead. People follow you because of who you are, not because of what you do. Only by first addressing how you lead yourself can you even begin to improve the way you lead others. This is what I call leading with authenticity.
CN: I still don’t know what the hell you actually do…
Mike: I get really curious about what my client thinks, feels, and believes and I enlist my client to get just as curious about himself (or herself). We form a partnership to explore what’s working for them, and what’s working against them in their thinking and emotional patterns.I mostly ask questions and I use skills and techniques designed to help my client become more self-aware. Most people live their lives without really being conscious of how their thoughts and emotions control them. Sounds deep, I know, but by raising Awareness, I liberate my client’s power of Choice to adopt a more effective way of thinking and feeling about what they experience. More importantly, this power to choose extends to new ways of behaving… i.e., new courses of Action. By taking new and different action, I facilitate my client’s Learning about how to be a more effective leader, and the cycle continues with more awareness. Throughout this cycle of Awareness, Choice, Action, and Learning, I bring my many years of experience and education in the field of Leadership Development, as well as the organization’s expectations of their leaders (i.e., competency models, etc.), to guide my client to becoming the best leader they can be.
Curious Neighbor: Um, can you pass the chips and get me another beer?
Coach Mike: Would you like to be my client?