One often overlooked aspect of leadership development is the necessity to coach not just your up-and-coming leaders but also your current ones. This applies to all levels of leadership, because every leader should be viewed, to some degree, as a work in progress. Everyone should have a focus to continue to improve.
While many companies dedicate resources to the identification and development of the next generation of leaders, the wisest ones also put a great deal of emphasis on the current one. After all, they are calling the shots. Coaching experienced leaders is also in many respects much more challenging than working with their greener counterparts. Veterans are more likely to be set in their ways, to reject new methods or to show more hubris because of a track record of success.
Here are three ways to coach the coaches:
1. Allow time for more individual coaching.
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When coaching newer leaders, it often makes sense to offer instruction in a group setting. By definition, new or potential future leaders are at the start of their leadership journey, so it's easier to teach them from the same syllabus. However, the higher up a leader, the more nuanced the coaching will likely need to be. They are past the "general" playbook phase and will probably require more customized training.
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More experienced leaders typically are already in charge of larger teams, or are responsible for heftier revenue streams than their emerging counterparts. The significance of their role itself demands a healthy dose of one-on-one coaching. And the sheer number and complexity of moving pieces they oversee also dictates a more methodical approach to tutoring.
2. Clearly define your company values and culture.
Assuming that your current leaders see eye to eye with you on core values and what your culture stands for could prove to be a costly mistake. Consider this: Bosses often directly or indirectly teach values and culture to their direct reports. The relationship between a boss and his or her team therefore may be the most important one in business. There's no room for assumption here.
Conversely, a leader who knows with clarity what their company stands for is already equipped with the knowledge to handle the majority of situations that arise. The company's values and culture serve as a compass that points the team in the right direction when all else fails.
3. Help them make the right decisions.
As a senior leader, it's not uncommon that most dilemmas your team brings you are ones you've dealt with before in your career. Perhaps you've handled them poorly or brilliantly in different situations. To save time and prevent team leaders from making the same mistakes, you willingly and quickly provide them with the guidance you believe they need to handle the situation. What you're not doing in this case is allowing them to experience the breadth of decision-making. Instead, you're gifting them with a convenient shortcut. So, while helping them temporarily by supplying the solution, in the long term, you've taught them to come to you for answers.
Your job as a mentor isn't to give your leaders the shortcuts. Rather, your role is to coach them on how to make decisions, not what decisions to make. There's a world of difference between the two. It's the quintessential example of the old adage: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
Leadership is complex, and the higher the leadership level you're coaching, the more complicated the task. Most of the battle in working with new leaders comes from dedicating the time to pour into them. One-on-one time, getting on the same page in terms of values, and applying the appropriate decision-making process, will not only greatly impact your leaders today, but for generations to come.