Stop, Change, Start - The Transition To Successful Leadership

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 23 April 2014
Ella Nilakanthi Ford
KFV Consulting
Issues covered:

NilaKanthi Ford writes:
Some years ago “coaching”, “mentoring”, “reflection” or “mindfulness” were neither words nor concepts raised in the Boardroom.  Now they are discussed and employed but how deep is the process?  If it is only superficial, it will neither lead to a more evolved leadership style or higher performance.  In your firm or business, how many CEO, Board level or management behaviours are reinforcing “more of the same”?  Inevitably, ‘more of the same’ will lead to a default future – more of the same.
Whilst coaching and mentoring are now discussed in the workplace, I would suggest many of today’s leaders use a type of coaching that is more like counselling.  This type of coaching will be only partially successful in developing high performance.  It will amount to little more than sharing experience.  Without robust challenge and in-depth reflection, coaching- counselling will simply improve personal tactics- never broaden your leadership team.
For successful coaching interventions, organisations need to want higher performance and leadership alignment.  Leaders need be encouraged to grow and understand themselves as well as their interactions with others – how to transition smoothly between different people and teams.

First, let me declare my own personal hobby horse.  Most CEOs claim to be able to easily take on other’s points of view.  In reality, most leaders are poor at “unattached” listening.  This leads to limited strategic discussions and a lack of enrolment within “the team”.  Whilst leaders may have an awareness and understanding of others (Emotional Intelligence -EI), their acquired skills become a mere charm tactic.  Top teams develop an illusion of control.  Generating deep and genuine support will come from powerful listening and reflection – being truly mindful; of self and others.

Another behaviour I see quite often is of many leaders going into boardroom discussions with a firm view of what the outcomes will be.  Important issues are discussed in advance and allegiances formed.  All this leaves little room for genuine discussion, challenge and review!  More?  If this is the behaviour from the senior team, imagine just how much it will be amplified throughout their organisations?

So, what is the alternative approach?  Combining leadership styles, empowering others, considering alternative points of view will all build trust among teams.  Decisions will feel balanced and considered, yet with a strong sense of momentum.  Such an approach will help to enrol others, make them feel safe in following and offering commitment.

If success is so simple, why don’t leaders adopt this approach?  I would suggest it is the fear of being “found out”, the fear of failure.  Most leaders can be overwhelmed with inner challenges- “Can I reproduce success?” “What if the market shifts?” “What if my formula fails?” “What if what if?”

Real coaching skill combined with personal reflection will pull all this data together and get leaders to identify what are their self-limiting beliefs.  “Is this limiting me? Will it limit people around me?” Once these questions have been explored, it will be then easier to move beyond the present and create a new possible future for their organisation, for themselves and for the people around them.

In reality, few leaders exhibit real flexibility and choice in their selection of leadership approach.  Their behavioural patterns tend to result from reflex responses established over a long period of time.  Most leaders will have tendency towards either logical or emotive approaches, hard or soft power.  Intellectually, some leaders recognise the difference between these approaches.  Few leaders have the self-awareness to choose between approaches or combine them.

Of greater concern, as long as overall personal and business performance is good, there can remain a culture that props up the status quo.  Traditional psychometric assessment and behavioural models contribute to this - true, valid but linear.

What, can be done to produce high-performance leadership and better all round leaders?  A key capability involves the capacity to shift between two modes of thinking – from automatic and intuitive processing to analytical and conscious methods of engagement.  Leaders need to be able to sense when a switch to another mode would be more appropriate.

The key for most leaders is deciding what style they want to operate but understanding how to flex between styles.  It’s like being right and left handed in equal measure.  Combining opposite styles in this way will eventually produce leaders capable of getting the best out of everyone.

The key will always be for leaders to spot when they need to stop, change gears and start again.  This might be triggered by external factors or an assessment of organisational capability.  Linear measures such as a Culture survey or a 360 degree assessment will also assist. Consider how coaching relationships are structured in your organisation.  Are they kept confidential at CEO level for “reasons of confidentiality”?  Do the Human Resources team structure and monitor middle management or any coaching programmes?  Even these processes would benefit from re-consideration.

In conclusion, having the self-awareness to choose leadership approach and response (flex styles) is a discipline that requires practice.  An effective coach will be a mirror to leaders.  She or he will encourage leaders to take risks and broaden their range.  Where leaders achieve this, they will be powerful and have a strong following in their organisations.  In turn, their organisations will develop a culture that mirrors the best of all worlds.

This article is correct at 07/10/2015

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Ella Nilakanthi Ford
KFV Consulting

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