Hands up who likes being told what to do?
Yes, that’s normally the response I get when I ask that question! Isn’t it ironic (a little bit, toooo, ironic – sorry, big Alanis Morrisette fan!) then, that telling seems to be the default style of most leaders...and especially senior leaders! The more senior leaders get, the more they seem to tell.
Being told what to do is certainly one of the things that irks me the most. Isn’t that ironic for someone who did 10 years as an Officer in the British Royal Air Force!
However, my rebellious ‘hate being told what to do’ streak (which is actually less of a ‘streak’ more of an all-weather undercoat!) does explain why I was almost constantly in trouble for at least 6 of those 10 years in the RAF!
Strangely, it also explains why, for the other 4 of those 10 years, I was (mostly!) NOT in trouble.
So why was that?
Well, for those 4 or so years (by luck initially, later by design) I had a leader called Brian Gregson as my boss, or boss one removed, giving me Top Cover*.
What made Brian such an extraordinary leader? What made him the leader I so trusted, respected and admired so deeply (as I think did everyone who worked for him)?
There were quite a few things, but by far the most important thing was that he was a Coaching Leader. And a Coaching Leader extraordinaire in what was a vast ocean of telling.
What does that mean? Well lots of things, but the most important thing he did was:
- He asked me what I thought.
Then the 2nd most important thing he did was:
- He listened.
And the 3rd most important thing was:
- He took action. And if he couldn’t do it, he shared his thinking around that and told me why (and often asked me for alternative options).
He would explain the situation then ask me for my thinking.
He asked me what solution I thought would work.
He asked me what other options & ideas might work.
He completely empowered me.
And as a result, when he did have to tell me what to do I did it. Without hesitation.
But because he rarely did tell me what to do, when he did, I knew damned well that he’d never tell me do to something without an extremely good reason. So even I did it (that’s a real result, trust me!).
Of course, there were times, as there always are in every job, in every industry, that leaders have to tell. However, we recommend a Coaching Leadership style 65-70% of the time, saving telling for when it’s really appropriate.
Brian did lots of other things right too of course, which are all part of being a Coaching Leader and which will be the subjects of other articles. These included:
Being human; sticking his neck out for his people and believing in us; giving and asking for good and critical feedback; being open & honest (managing it even within the hierarchical military ‘need to know’ and security framework); acting with constant integrity, doing what he said he would; calling good and bad behaviour.
However, the most important things he did as a Coaching Leader were to 1. ask what I thought 2. listen and 3. explain his thinking to me and ‘the why’.
Try it yourself. When your team ask you about something, try asking them the question:
“What’s your thinking about that?”
Then shut up and listen! Properly. You’ll be surprised what you might hear.
Once you’ve actually tried it, please leave your feedback in the comments below. I’m interested to hear what happens.
Please, only comment when you’ve tried it. As far as I’m concerned, you lose your right to diss something unless you’ve at least given it a good go!
*”Top Cover”: the shield from a more powerfully positioned person who will back you up & stop someone else (who generally does not agree with your modus operandi) interfering & giving you cr@p because the person giving ‘Top Cover’ will give them more cr@p than they’re willing to take :-)
Side note: ‘Top Cover’ probably originates from the WWII era when bomber aircraft would often have ‘Top Cover’ from a fighter escort above them, designed to ideally deter enemy fighters from marauding the bombers or at least minimise losses.
To have a no cost, no obligation conversation over a coffee (or a wine/beer!) to pick Simon’s brains, or get more information on our in-house Coaching Leadership/ Coaching Culture training and development programs, please contact the team at Southern Cross Coaching & Development on:
Tel: +61 (0)2 7901 5618