Leadership can be a lonely place – the more senior we are, the more isolated we may become. The more complexity we have to deal with, the more disconnected we may feel. Faced with huge roles and responsibilities and far reaching mandates, leaders operate in an increasingly fast paced, changing and competitive world. I feel this is particularly pressing for those leaders who are serious about sustainability with its complexities and challenges.
Operating in this context, some leaders don’t know where to turn and are reluctant to ask for support. We may feel like we have to figure it out all by ourselves. We may just be reluctant to ask for fear of rejection, lack of time, or not wanting to ‘bother’ someone else.
We all grow incrementally, day by day we change. To use the caterpillar analogy, even bigger changes like shedding our skin will only take us so far. At some point, something more transformational needs to happen for us to evolve further. During these significant moments, it is a good idea to have particular people who can help us on our way. To help us go deeper into ourselves, to gain different perspectives, to further release our potential and gifts. Engaging with these people only needs to be short term. But they can be fundamental in giving us just the right impetus to spring forward.
Slowly, slowly there is recognition in the organisational world, that mentor and coaches can be those people. There are still the sceptics that view coaching as remedial, as opposed to the view as held by any sports person, that it is a necessity for high performance. Whilst some executives balk at the idea of being mentored, let alone coached, I predict with the growing interest in neurological science and conscious leadership, we will progressively see a willingness and openness to engage with, and talk about working with psychotherapists and psychologists, as leaders.
Yes, we are fully functioning whole human beings. But what support do we need and who will we engage to help? So those 3, in order of depth and possibility:
A mentor – often, but not always older and more experienced, or with a different knowledge or expertise within or outside the organisation. The role is focused on sharing what they know. They can be a useful ‘sparring partner’ to bounce ideas off, usually around what to do.
A leadership coach – not necessarily from the same business/sector/expertise but whose independence, neutrality and 3rd person view, helps us to stand back and reflect on how we operate as a leader. The role is focused on raising our levels of consciousness and helping us to find our own solutions, through challenging and supporting, questioning and feedback.
A psychotherapist/psychologist - usually independent and there to go deeper into the workings of our minds, to explore why we think and do what we do. The role is focused on helping us to uncover ingrained beliefs and patterns, often going back into our childhood experiences.
These 3 may overlap. There may be mentors who will use a coaching style. There may be coaches who offer specific advice. Coaches or mentors may be trained in psychology or/and psychotherapy. But essentially each will be clear as to what they can and cannot offer.
As an example, I have been working with a UN leader who is looking to be promoted, and is keen to develop his diplomacy skills. In our coaching discussion, we concentrated on exploring what diplomacy means to him, how he already demonstrates diplomacy in his professional and private life, what he struggles with and what he think he needs to work on. One of the questions I asked, was “who is a good role model for you?”;, “what could you do that he does?”. This lead to identifying a colleague in the organisation he would like to have an explicit mentor relationship with. And I know from our discussions, that there are patterns of his control behaviour that are so embedded, I can only help him so far. However for now, the support I can give him is enough from where he stands.
Leadership is an act of courage.
Part of that courage is to know how to seek support and to be prepared to take a deep dive into that ‘inner place’ from which we operate.
It sounds like a start of a joke.
3 people could walk into your office.
One will help you figure out what you need to do.
One will help you figure out how you think.
One will help you figure out why you think like you do.
Each unfolding will reveal greater understanding and solutions for you.
You just have to figure out who you will engage with, and when.
Notes: If you would like to engage a leadership coach, please feel free to contact me.
Photo Dennis Flood 2003 via google images