Effective leadership techniques have evolved over the last decades, and continue to become more refined. Though the workplace hierarchy is still alive in most organizations, the way leaders relate to their reports has changed to keep up with the times and make employees more productive. Command-and-control style leadership has fallen out of fashion. “Your job is to do what I tell you,” is no longer sufficient in this age where knowledge and innovation is paramount to success.
Command and control vs. coaching
The command-and-control style of leadership was prevalent for so long that many people came to believe that is what leadership should be. Leaders specify the rules and expectations in this style, with little room for dialogue. It is the classic, “I’m the boss and what I say goes.” At the extreme, command-and-control can become dictatorial and opaque. While this may be an effective technique in times of extreme change or stress, we’ve reached a time where command-and-control leadership in the office should be used sparingly. It simply does not encourage creativity and innovation, both of which are prized commodities in today’s job market.
What is the alternative? The coaching style of leadership is just the antidote employees need to strive, experiment, and grow. Under this methodology, leaders engage reports in dialogue about their perspective and help them develop professionally as individuals. Final decisions fall to the manager of course, but the communication flow goes both ways.
Leaders who serve as coaches offer guidance to their reports, providing inspiration and encouragement when needed. They tease out lasting personal strengths and work to grow the next generation of leaders rather than stifling young talent to better their own career. They are aware of the priorities and goals of individuals on their teams; as a leader it is their job to align those with organizational goals.
These leaders also give people a chance to grow by supporting them through new challenges. They allow for a degree of risk-taking and embrace the kind of short-term experimentation which spurs rapid development. Though this sometimes results in short-term failure, the coaching style of leadership is focused on development for the long term. Even though it isn’t a quick way to pad the bottom line, it does yield results in a vital area: According to a Harvard Business Review study from 2000, the leadership style of managers accounted for up to 30% of bottom-line profitability.
With five generations of people present in the US workforce, leaders must adapt to working with them all. A strong leader needs to be aware of multigenerational tension, and prepared to wade into the middle of it. Good leadership doesn’t hinge on age or stereotypes. Regardless of generation, we all share the need for recognition, transparency, communication, and feedback. The coaching style of leadership can address these needs and inspire employees to move beyond the labels and explore their unique strengths.
Millennials are becoming a large segment of the workforce, and they take well to the coaching style of leadership. For the most part, they welcome frequent feedback and dialogue about their trajectory. Millennials are focused on learning and development, so they’re already primed to be successful under the coaching model of leadership. Senior leaders would do well to research and try to understand the latest trends to form a connection, but don’t have to act on them themselves. Coaches don’t need to update Instagram constantly to delve into the mindset of millennial workers, but simply become aware of it. If leaders actively listen to their team and try to understand their perspective, millennials will likely return the effort.
Just as with a new product or service, leaders would be wise to research the demographics of those they lead. By helping employees recognize and grow their individual skill sets, employees will begin to see those same skills in one another. This paves the way for establishing cross-generational mentoring under a coaching leadership style where mixed-age teams develop each other.
Guidelines for success
Coaching leadership works best when employees are prepared with a growth mindset. Perhaps they’ve recognized a weakness or fear they’d like to address, or maybe they want to develop new skills and advance in their career. It’s possible to test where employees stand through surveys and interviews, but they also may jump at the chance for dialogue if leaders get the ball rolling.
Leaders must also be prepared. It is critical that they be ready for the frequent communication and feedback required for effective coaching. In particular, they should have tools and understand how to give real-time feedback that drives change, without being harsh.
Company culture and environment matters as well. A few good signs include having clearly defined roles and managers who advocate on behalf of their teams’ needs, such as resources and development opportunities. If leaders are creating an environment in which their team has clarity and protection, it’s likely they’ve already given thought to their employees’ needs and can engage in more meaningful dialogue. Once leaders understand their reports’ trajectory, they can begin to even push into more fruitful, innovative directions.
Leaders who coach pave the way for a myriad of benefits from growth in technical skills to increased retention. At its core, a coaching style of leadership simply requires leaders let go of the old model of managing and build meaningful connections with colleagues to help them become more effective.