I was recently delivering a coaching programme. We got to talking about how to really embed coaching within an organisation. What makes it really become effective, how to get the best from the style. The conversation turned to the role of senior leaders, and the extent to which their involvement is needed, or otherwise, in order to make a step change in approach.
Whether it is embedding something like coaching, managing organisational change, introducing social culture – take your pick of the people stuff – the role of leaders is often talked about. Take social media. The CIPD research ‘Putting Social Media to Work’ confirmed its importance in legitimising the use of enterprise social networks within organisations.
When it comes to embedding new stuff the role of senior leaders is important, and fulfils several roles. It gives permission that something is acceptable at your place, or a good use of work time. It sets an example, acts as a role model for behaviour. It can help move things forward more quickly than they otherwise might. It can provide heightened visibility or perceived value.
But for all the benefits of senior leader involvement, it is just as important that its absence does not become an excuse not to do something. The role of senior leaders is embedding new stuff is important. But it is not essential.
Take another example. The much maligned performance review. Whilst it is often criticised in its traditional format, we can’t deny that employees need feedback. They need development discussions, they need conversations, they need to talk about what is expected of them. It does work well when objectives are fully aligned across an organisation or to shared goals and visions. It works very well when objectives and plans flow down through an organisation. Senior leaders absolutely should lead by example by holding reviews with their own team, and holding them to account to make sure that they do the same. And onwards. But I have heard too many managers in too many organisations tell me that the reason that they haven’t taken the time to sit down with their team to review and discuss and feedback and set objectives is because they haven’t had their own review. That their manager hasn’t set them any objectives. Like this is some sort of acceptable justification.
Just the same, I’ve heard plenty of people trot out the ‘it won’t work unless the senior managers do it’ line too many times. And here’s the thing. Senior leaders are busy folks. And sometimes they might just not do that thing that you hope that they might.
Back to the coaching example for the moment. Coaching as a style is optimal when it is fully embedded within an organisation. When it becomes part of the everyday interaction between individuals. Part of the culture, top to bottom. That is the ideal state, but like with much people stuff, much organisational stuff, the ideal isn’t often the everyday reality. Or even close to achievable. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done.
During the discussion I said this. If you knew your manager was never going to adopt a coaching style, if you knew you were never going to be coached yourself, would that stop you? Should that stop you?
If you knew that your team would benefit from coaching. If you knew that by coaching rather than telling you could help a person develop. Think well. Learn. Why wouldn’t you just do it anyway? Why would you wait for permission from someone higher up in the chain?
Whatever it is you are trying to change. Whatever the people stuff you are trying to introduce. You can choose.
Lead from the top.
Lead from the bottom.
Lead by example.
Lead from anywhere. As long as you just lead.