From rising star to fallen hero: When coaching derails leaders

Manu is a great listener who was always respected by his peers and had been selected for every talent program for four years running. However, not this time and he was very distressed about it.

To make the situation more unsettling for Manu, he had a new manager who couldn’t see the potential that was reflected by his previous leaders and key stakeholders.  

Something had changed and Manu couldn’t figure out what it was. There was nothing affecting him on a personal level; he was happy in all aspects of his personal life. Everyone in the office loved Manu, they thought he was a great person. The sort of person that you could go to anytime you needed to talk to someone. However, there were seeds of discontent amongst the team.

Manu called me to ask if coaching could help him — he was a huge fan of coaching having invested in a coach training program the previous year. The day Manu called he had just found out that he hadn’t been successful in his application for a promotion to a more senior leadership role. He was devastated, feeling like his ‘luck was running out’ and maybe it was time to move on from this role. He was angry and pointed blame towards his new manager who he felt wasn’t supporting him.

As part of the coaching process we arranged a three-way conversation with his manager, plus a 360 feedback survey with his peers and stakeholders. Within a month, Manu was back on track.

Here’s what we uncovered

In his enthusiasm to incorporate coaching into his leadership style, Manu became one dimensional in his approach to every situation. Each time a team member or stakeholder came to him with a challenge he coached them. It was not always a coaching moment. Decisions were needed. Direction and leadership were needed. Mentoring was needed, or a blend of approaches.

His internal clients wanted consultation, direction and Manu’s expertise. They were increasingly frustrated with the questions that didn’t incorporate the balance of direction and problem solving that they needed from Manu. He was the organisations subject matter expert.

This was incredibly insightful for Manu and easy to turnaround. We worked on the different leadership approaches for the situation. I shared the Situational Leadership model by Ken Blanchard and his book Leadership and the One Minute Manager to help guide him to identify which leadership style to use as a resource.

Overusing a coaching approach in his leadership — always answering questions with questions — took Manu from a respected leader who was loved to a leader who created frustration, and created a loss of confidence from his team and stakeholders, damaging his leadership and reputation.

Coaching is a very effective methodology and approach to have in your leadership toolkit. The problems occur when it becomes the only or default approach. Utilising coaching when another approach is required can create lazy leadership, resulting in a lack of decision making, poor direction, abdication of responsibility and accountability, and a fertile ground for blaming others.

Coaching is one of the many approaches that leaders can effectively utilise to develop and empower their people, however it’s not a one size fits all solution.

Take some time to assess your default leadership and ask, is it time for a overhaul?

NOW READ: Unpredictable leadership is dangerous, not disruptive

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