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The challenge of following

Leadership often a shifting dynamic

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Today, the most effective leadership style in a participative, teamwork environment is known to require the right combination of soft skills and technical expertise. As well, we also know this combination of skills is not easy to attain and requires substantial self-awareness, as well as the ability to motivate others to follow your lead. But what about those followers?

According to David Day, a psychology professor currently at the University of Western Australia, we have a preconceived notion leaders are always out in front of the band. In his view, each team has several leaders, so sometimes, leaders are also followers who engage in shared leadership in both formal and informal roles.

This notion of team leadership and follower-ship, in my view, suggests at any one time a leader could also take on the role of a follower, a mentor, a sponsor, a team adviser, a coach and/or someone who is being coached. As you can imagine, this is a much more complex dynamic for any leader to manage as they drive their team's success goals forward.

Another interesting element about this type of team dynamics surfaced recently with a study focused on followers and follower development through personal coaching. With coaching for both performance improvement and career development becoming increasingly popular, the study has a few points that should be noted.

The study collected data on leaders, followers and those who were comfortable in either a leader or follower role. Interestingly enough, the results demonstrated that compared to leaders and adapters, followers were the least capable of handling criticism and were the least comfortable admitting their faults and weaknesses. They were resistant to asking for help and the least open to learning and improvement. Lastly, it was identified that followers were also the least open to coaching services.

Since most of our workforce can be categorized as followers, these findings have significance for leaders as they work to motivate and mobilize their team members. But why would followers be so resistant to coaching when this service could only benefit them?

Dr. Jerabek of PsychTests AIM Inc., a personality & pre-employment testing expert and leadership and emotional intelligence coach, suggests followers often have an issue with self-confidence. This results in individuals feeling weak and incompetent when being offered coaching services. They may also feel insecure about their job and fearful of admitting a mistake.

It only stands to reason as well that if a good number of your employees have self-confidence issues, I would suggest this attitude will transfer over to the employer organization. I suspect we would then encounter issues with respect to employee engagement, job satisfaction, morale, teamwork and collaboration. All of these issues, in turn, will impact on employee productivity and, therefore, the organization's culture. And knowing that organization culture has a powerful influence on business performance, leaders recognize something must be done to turn these attitudes around. But what and how?

First of all, building a coaching culture must become a business initiative and not just a stand-alone strategy for developing leaders. Senior leaders must be committed to a long-term investment and sustained support. As well, coaching must be integrated throughout the entire organization at all levels.

Coaching must also be integrated into talent management. In other words, recruiters need to pay attention to selecting new leaders who already have a coaching mentality and investing in their continued development. This so-called seeding approach helps create role models for the new coaching culture.

At the same time, senior leaders should also receive training in how to direct and manage culture change. In addition, selecting and training your managers on a progressive basis on how to coach and manage change will quickly help cascade the coaching behaviours throughout the organization.

Employees need to have clear direction and a solid understanding of the purpose of the drive toward a coaching culture. Be sure to identify what you expect as results. This includes elements such as higher levels of trust, open communication and employee engagement and how this change will impact business performance and personal job satisfaction.

Yet creating a coaching culture is not without its challenges. First of all, this must be viewed as a long-term strategy with bumps in the road to be expected. Secondly, there is the challenge of making time for delivering and/or receiving coaching. If managers and team leaders don't see the commitment from the senior leaders, coaching will soon fall by the wayside.

Another challenge is the task of developing coaching capabilities among the management team and scaling this up as quickly as possible. Of course, there's always the issue of affordability. As well, many leaders find it difficult to measure performance and to demonstrate coaching has had a business impact. In order to gain any sense of credibility, coaching must be aligned to the business goals and measured in a similar manner to other business goals.

But what about those individual followers who may well have a lack of self-confidence as identified by Dr. Jerabek of PsychTests AIM Inc.?

In my view, the best approach is to complement your training and development-program offerings with courses and workshops that will serve to build up employee self-confidence.

One typical course is career management through which participants identify their personality and communication style and the impact these have on career choices. Another element of this program, examining personal motivators, is really quite profound and helps participants recognize what motivates them to do certain things and which work environments work best for them.

A second program, specifically focused on writing a resumé and engaging in a productive interview is very valuable for participants. I have found in many cases, individuals take themselves for granted and don't recognize what skills they really have. Upon finding out and identifying opportunities for using their skills within their own organization, individual self-esteem is increased, which in turn increases personal productivity and job satisfaction.

These specific programs, as well as others directed toward personal self-awareness, self-esteem, self-confidence and career management, will help to set the framework for individual coaching. When people feel good about themselves, they are more open to change, adapting to new things and learning.

With today's organizations engaging in participative and collaborative teamwork, leaders need to be strategic about building their coaching culture, and this means working with individuals from all levels of the organization.

-- Source: Hang-up of a Follower, Study Reveals Followers can be Difficult to Coach, Dr. I. Jeraek, PsychTests, April 2014, Creating Coaching cultures: What Business Leaders Expect and Strategies to Get There, Center for Creative Leadership.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP, M.Ed., is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2014 H1

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