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Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks


Graham Lee author of Leadership Coaching: From Personal Insight to Business Performance looks how coaching can overcome managers' unconscious resistance to change and bring about real business benefits.

‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ the old adage goes.

I have often heard this said by HR professionals concerned by the capability gaps in some of their senior and high potential managers.

I argue that ‘stuck’ behaviour usually results from unconscious resistance.

Consequently, if coaching is to evoke significant and sustainable change then it will need to work with unconscious resistance, as well as engage with the business benefits of making changes.

The business importance of addressing unconscious resistance should not be underestimated.

A key issue for all organisations is that managers’ blindspots - their lack of self-awareness - represents a significant business risk.

Without awareness and insight managers’ leadership styles are unconsciously defensive, and their impact on others is uninspiring or even downright demoralising.

Thus, managers who have succeeded in the past through intellect or sheer determination can find themselves floundering when their success is dependent on engaging the motivation and creativity of others.

They lack the managerial capability necessary to bring out the best in others, and this shortcoming threatens the potential for an organisation to achieve its business goals.

Basic competencies needed by coaches

Coaches need to be competent to deal with unconscious issues

Human resource professionals and line managers need to question whether coaches have the qualifications and experience necessary to address unconscious resistance and so evoke the changes that will make a significant and positive difference.

Coaches must possess a blend of three core competencies:

1. Psychological-mindedness: the self-awareness and awareness of others that enables the coach to construct meaningful hypotheses about the ‘why’ of behaviour. This competence will involve a training in psychology, counselling or psychotherapy, extensive personal development, and experience of developing individual through 1-1 work.

2. Business-mindedness: an insider’s understanding of how business works, combined with a business-like approach to running a coaching assignment. This includes the experience of coaching managers at senior levels.

3. Developing a coaching relationship: the capacity to manage the stages of relationship development, from managing expectations and building rapport, through working with beliefs and emotions, to realising change.

Evoking Authentic Leadership

These three competencies provide the basis for coaching that evokes authentic leadership; that is, leadership that is based on being ‘true to oneself’ and ‘true to the organisation’.

To be ‘true to oneself’ a manager must have a depth of personal insight that enables understanding of his or her strengths and potential blindspots.

To be ‘true to the organisation’ a manager must be attuned to the needs of colleagues, customers, and the strategic context in which the organisation operates.

It is the conscious marrying of a manager’s natural talents and personal convictions to the goals and values of the organisation that gives rise to authentic leadership.

Such authenticity is most effectively achieved through leadership coaching that combines psychological depth and business relevance, and which therefore provides managers with the reflective space necessary to understand the impact, personal, interpersonal and business, of unconscious resistance.

* Graham Lee can be contacted at mailto:[email protected], or visit the OCG website.


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