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John Blakey

John Blakey Ltd

Challenging Coaching - Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS

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How can we help leaders adopt a systemic perspective?


We are delighted this week to feature a guest blogger, Mac Farquhar. If you would like to blog on a theme related to Challenging Coaching then please get in touch. Here is Mac’s valuable insight in the recent CIPD research report ‘Leadership – Easier said than done’:

You enjoy a challenge, don’t you? Well, how about helping me out with these two challenging questions? :-

  • What evidence do you have that leaders improve performance and productivity?
  • What evidence do you have that leadership development works?

I confronted myself with these questions whilst reading the latest research report, ‘Leadership – Easier said than done’, from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) into why leadership is not being as effective as it should be. In the report, the researchers claim that the significant attention and investment on leadership development is being focused too narrowly on improving individual leadership skills when it could be spent more wisely on optimising the system within which leadership operates.

Ah, the system! We challenging coaches know about that, don’t we?

Er, well, just in case we need a little help, the CIPD research gives us lots of clues about how to recognise and alleviate organisational blockages such as functional silos, lack of trust, blame cultures, short term focus, and poor people management. Furthermore, the report also alerts us to critical trends in the external environment such as the frequency and pace of change, greater transparency and global consumer choice, collaborative working and workforce diversity.

CIPD leadership easier said than done

Oh well, just when I thought I had sussed how to be a great leadership development coach with Richard Boyatzis (‘Resonant Leadership’), Beverly Alimo- Metcalfe (‘Engaging Transformational Leadership’) and Ronald Heifetz / Marty Linsky (‘Adaptive Leadership’) as my professional guides, I’m confronted by the report to go a step further by finding out about the work of Dr William Tate and ‘Systemic Leadership’. Only then can I equip myself as a great coach to take better account of the context within which leadership and its development takes place.

To be fair, it all makes sense, and it reinforces the point made by John and Ian in the ‘Challenging Coaching’ book that executive coaches need to have a business and organisational background. It’s also a reminder that context is everything, and that no matter how good we are at developing individual leaders with their individual skills and their individual effectiveness, it’s to little avail if we are not also able to coach them in their awareness of the system within which they are applying those skills.

The bottom line is that this report brings fresh impetus to the challenge for coaches (and clients!) to raise their game by becoming systems thinkers.  The easy part is to understand the theory. The hard part is to practice and master it in the real world.

And that’s where you come in. It’s my hunch that there’s plenty in this CIPD report on systemic leadership for you to comment on, and a lot of scope for you to share with our LinkedIn group what you do as a systems thinking coach, from relative beginner, like myself, to Zen Master! Please read this provocative and challenging report and let me know your own thoughts, reactions and experiences. I’d love to hear them.

Post your thoughts on the Challenging Coaching LinkedIn Group.

Mac Farquhar is an Edinburgh-based certified management consultant and qualified emotional intelligence coach who specialises in executive leadership and team development.  You can contact Mac via

Author Profile Picture
John Blakey

Challenging Coaching - Going beyond traditional coaching to face the FACTS

Read more from John Blakey

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