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Leaders need to learn, adapt, and change, particularly if they want their organizations to follow suit. Enlisting professional mentors may not always be possible; therefore leaders must be coached on how to coach.
The article delves into the way different companies empower leaders to become teachers and coaches who are able to listen, clarify, encourage, and embolden other aspiring leaders, so that when learning opportunities emerge they can be put to use immediately.
Download the book chapter or purchase the book: Experience-Driven Leader Development: Models, Tools, Best Practices, and Advice for On-the-Job Development.
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The article focuses on the practices of two companies in particular—India’s Tata Group and UK-based utility National Grid—that have trained leaders as coaches as a core part of a process of experience-based leader development.
The three concepts central to the approach deployed in Tata Group and National Grid are:
Crucibles: When people learn their most enduring lessons about leadership through experiences that test them in fundamental ways (Bennis and Thomas, 2001)
Coaches: People who help others by sharing their own experience, asking productive questions, assisting them in clarifying their situations and their aspirations
Community: It takes a network of people with shared goals, training, and vocabulary to build staying power into the process of leader development. Coaches need a community because they need to learn technique from one another. Without a community of learners, it’s impossible to accomplish sustained behavioral change.
With the aim of creating a robust leadership pipeline, the Tata Group’s approach was to engage current leaders more in growing next-generation leaders. The challenge being how to engage people with already busy schedules to participate in training and mentoring programs.
The solution? Create a tailored approach, include measurable results, and create a community of coaches who support each other in learning through practice.
Similarly, when a struggling National Grid, one of the largest investor-owned global energy companies and second largest utility in the United States needed to dramatically improve performance safety, customer service, reliability, and efficiency, a dramatic solution was found.
A training program was developed to tackle company-specific challenges and unlike any ordinary classroom-based leadership “training” program, the approach was steeped in both reflection and action.
The first wave of transformation was aimed at helping incumbent leaders become coaches who would, in turn, help executives and managers change the rest of the company and change themselves in the process.
Companies like Tata Group and National Grid demonstrate the value added by coaches to experience-based leader development. Far from being an add-on, coaching can transform the way leaders think about their roles on a daily basis. When equipped with the right skills and the confidence to exercise them, leaders can be coaches in a way that accelerates the growth of more leaders—a vital prerequisite for survival in an era of turbulence and change.
Book Chapter authors:
Robert J. Thomas is managing director of the Accenture Institute for High Performance and is based in Boston. He writes, teaches and consults about leadership and transformational change.
Claudy Jules is a senior manager at Accenture and a fellow with the Accenture Institute for High Performance.
Joshua B. Bellin is a research fellow with the Accenture Institute for High Performance.
Nandani Lynton is a researcher with the Accenture Institute for High Performance.
February 17, 2014
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