IBM’s global study of over 1,500 CEOs revealed that CEOs are acutely concerned with the pace of change in today’s world and figuring out how to run organizations ill prepared to deal with that change. As a leader, you can’t accurately predict the future, but you can increase the capacity of your organization to deal with an uncertain one. To do that, you’ll need to hone one skill to near super-power levels: coaching.
Whether you call it coaching or not, you’re probably used to helping the people under you to skill up. By intentionally applying good coaching techniques to your work with others, you can succeed in decreasing their reliance on you. With the right approach, you can coach employees to become more resilient, stay grounded in ambiguity and learn through failure. That way, together, you can do more than just weather uncertainty; you can succeed and thrive through it.
Here are four habits to coach your people on:
- Test, test, test. Harvard professors Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky created a concept called adaptive leadership, based on the evolutionary biology concept of adaptation. To the authors, adaptive leadership means leading through challenges where there are no known answers and situations are unprecedented. Their recommendation for succeeding in ambiguity is to test. Create conditions in which your teams can invest in a series of experiments to harvest learning. Allow them to try things you suspect will fail. Make the purpose of the experiments to provide information and course corrections. Then use that knowledge to identify a better path forward. For example, Vincent, the director of an online company, was about to charge ahead with significant changes to the company’s service. When Vincent’s vice president learned of the proposed changes, he took Vincent aside and helped him to see the possible downstream impact of his decisions on other teams. The VP coached Vincent to test his ideas first. Vincent decided to break up his initiative into a series of steps. After his team prototyped the first segment, they received valuable feedback from other groups. Based on the input, they tested out three more prototypes before moving on to the next step.
- Reframe failure. Moments of failure are what a coaching client of mine calls YAFGOs — yet another f—ing growth opportunity. While none of us wants to actively spend our day seeking failure, when someone on your team inevitably fails, you can coach him or her to look at failure as the opportunity to expand his/her definition of success . Sometimes, it’s best for the team to be persistent and try the very thing that failed again and again until they figure out how to succeed. Other times, you might need to coach your team member to stop and take a step back. Maybe it’s time to ask whether the current project or approach is the right one. What other opportunities would become available if they stopped working on this one? Coaching your people to have a wider field of view helps put the failure into perspective and can lead to unexpected leaps of insight. Momentous innovations often have their roots in failure.
- Teach coaching. As you coach your best leaders, encourage them to learn the skill and pass it on. Leaders who teach others to be great coaches will spread learning exponentially. One of my clients, a global consulting firm, has a nine-month leadership development program for a select group that’s designed specifically to help current leaders learn to coach the next generation of leaders. This firm has seen striking benefits from its investment. Employees report healthier relationships with their colleagues. They’re able to recognize the potential for misunderstandings and miscommunications before they take root and become dysfunctional. The staff is also proactive with time management and self-care, resulting in less stress. And they have better relationships with their customers: they anticipate customer and market issues by asking more powerful coaching questions of themselves and their teams.
- Meet the needs of millennials. Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. Their needs and skills are relevant to shaping the future of any business. They’ve already had an impact on leadership by asking for more transparency and collaboration from managers. And studies show that millennials would like even more feedback than they currently receive. You can improve your skill on how to structure and deliver feedback in a way that millennials understand and can receive. The more feedback they’re able to learn from now, the better equipped they’ll be to handle that future when they’re the boss. Moreover, by receiving feedback that’s structured well, they’ll also learn how to become coaches to others in the organization.