Lessons in leadership development — there’s no quick fix
Over the past 15 weeks, I’ve learned a lot about leadership theory and what it means to be a good leader. We often speak of leadership in idealistic terms for the purpose of class, but in reality, I have had many leaders that were good, but far from perfect. I also know several of these leaders have gone through various trainings to improve their leadership ability. While they might’ve been excited about these trainings in the moment (if for no other reason than to get some time off from the daily grind), change rarely stuck. I think this happens in many areas of life — we look for some big event to change the course of our lives, or at least our careers. Many of us try to make huge changes all at once declaring, “This time I’m going to change and things will be different!”. And then life happens… obstacles get in the way, and the change doesn’t last. I think this is because most of our lives consist of what we do on a daily basis. In other words, what matters is our habits, not some once in a blue moon big event. While we want that quick fix because it seems easy, real change is often incremental and slow.
Tiny habits done every day create great change over time. So, how do we apply this to leader development? I think that Michael Bungay Stanier provides an excellent framework for doing this in his book, The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, and Change the Way You Lead Forever. This book outlines how to make coaching a daily, informal act. While this book was written with leaders who are coaching their followers in mind, the seven questions Stanier proposes to coach with can also be used as a form of self-coaching. As we’ve learned about how context-dependent leadership is, the more I like that these questions are simple and can be applied to any situation. Questions like “and what else?”, “how can I help?”, “what are you saying yes to and what are you saying no to?” are relevant in a vast majority of situations and can help us come to solutions when the answers are already within us. I also think this helps get past a lot of the resistance to coaching when our egos get involved — asking questions like this empowers our followers and ourselves, as it implies that we know the answer, we just needed some probing to get there.
I also love how accessible these daily coaching questions are. While leader development programs often focus on employees who are at the top of an organization, this framework can be used by anyone. Many organizations have become increasingly dependent on specialized knowledge, and this often creates cultures in which leadership is shared even in situations where leaders are not specifically designated. Because of this, I think it’s important to focus on coaching interventions that are not as costly and are more accessible, such as the questions provided in The Coaching Habit.