Successful companies don’t have a few great leaders, but instead have large groups of leadership excellence in the skills that are important for the company. For example, research from McKinsey highlights the need for a critical mass of excellent leaders – companies who succeed in customer focus for example have more than 40% of their leaders who are exceptional at promoting customer focus. A few leaders at the top won’t do it – successful companies need deep benches of leadership excellence throughout the ranks.
But most companies have far fewer exceptional leaders than they need, and leadership shortages are the greatest “readiness gap” in most companies. Research shows that 50% – 80% of leaders in most companies are ineffective, in spite of the nearly $20 billion a year companies spend on leadership development. The unfortunate reality is that traditional leadership development for non-executive leaders simply does not work. These programs include multi-day workshop sessions, classroom programs, online education, mentoring and so on. And they do not make most leaders more effective.
But producing great leaders is possible – research shows that coaching is effective at producing great leaders. Given the power of coaching, it is not surprising that world class companies like Facebook and Google already provide coaches to all their managers. And those companies recognize they are just the leading edge in the transformation of non-executive leadership development. Google’s David Peterson, talking about the future of coaching (presentation slides), anticipates a world where coaching far more available to many more managers than it is today, along with new types of coaching companies that use technology to make coaching vastly more accessible.
But effective coaching for non-executives is not just a limited version of executive coaching. The needs of non-executive leaders are different, and the way they need to be coached is different, too. Below are seven ways that non-executive coaching differs from executive coaching.
More focus on skill gaps
Non-executive leaders have more skill gaps, and coaching programs need to be able to fill in these gaps. Non-executives are less experienced and have had less leadership development, and they are likely to have areas where they simply lack the knowledge or understanding of how to be a leader. Early career leaders also are likely moving from the basics of leadership (what do managers do) to more advanced leadership skills, such as how to maximize performance for different types of people. This movement requires a whole new set of skills, not simply refining the manager’s current skills. Non-executive coaching must have an effective plan for filling in these gaps without shifting the program to pure training.
Scalable and consistent experience
Coaching for non-executive leaders must be consistent across coaches. With many leaders receiving coaching, different leaders may develop different leadership styles or approaches. There also is a great opportunity to build a shared coaching culture, with shared terminology and approaches. Consistency provides both the broad growth that the company needs and the extra benefit of creating a more effective leadership culture.
Real world focus
Real world practice is more important for non-executive leaders, and there is more need to have the coaching contextualized in the day to day work. Translating leadership knowledge into behavior (skill development) and reading situations to understand the most effective approach are two of the main challenges for non-executive leaders, and both require practice. Understanding the nuances of how to respond to specific situations also requires that the situation be real, rather than scenarios or case studies. Coaching has the advantage of allowing the coach to be deeply enmeshed in the leader’s work, and to help the leader think through actual challenges with real people.
Coaching up and around
“360 coaching” is more important for non-executive leaders – non-executive leaders face challenges from being in the middle of the organization that are not experienced by senior leaders. Coaches for non-executive leaders focus more on managing up and horizontally, as non-executive leaders face challenges not only with their subordinates but often with people above them in the organization, and challenges involving peers or other teams.
Building leadership values
Non-executive leaders need more help in defining their personal leadership values and leadership style. Senior leaders usually have well-established ideas of who they are as leaders and what they view as important in leaders. But more junior leaders often are grappling with understanding how they will lead, how leadership fits into their personality and what kind of leader they will be. Many leaders who experience “one size fits all” leadership development often feel lost or disconnected, and conclude that they are not cut out for leadership. Coaching, by providing these leaders with tailored, personalized feedback, helps them understand how they can succeed as leaders, and what leadership from them will look like. Coaching focuses on how each unique individual can find leadership success within the framework of the company’s leadership values.
Emotions and support
Emotional support and accountability are more important for non-executive leaders – these leaders are less experienced and are often novices. In early stages of building new skills, people are more likely to become frustrated, upset or discouraged and are more likely to be sidetracked by emotions. These leaders don’t have a long history of success to fall back on and are more likely to give up on new efforts that are challenging. These leaders also naturally have less of a support network build up in the company and have fewer people to turn to in challenging times. As a result, coaching must be highly focused on addressing the emotional needs, and providing accountability, for these leaders. Coaching for non-executive leaders must focus more on providing the frequent, highly-contextualized support that non-executive leaders need.
Integrated leadership experience
Programs for non-executive coaching should consider how to incorporate the other leadership and management materials provided to leaders. Many companies have existing leadership development programs, and the concepts and approaches taught in those programs should be reinforced in the coaching. For example, companies that have leadership values or competency models should have those ideas incorporated in the coaching process to ensure that leaders have consistent and understandable development.
There are also unique needs for setting up and managing a coaching program for large numbers of non-executive leaders. The demands on the human resources team can be much greater as they attempt to find and manage a team of coaches. Companies should consider the resource requirements on their team to manage the coaching program.
As companies focus more effort on developing leadership excellence, identifying ways to provide coaching deeper in their companies, and ensuring that the coaching is effective and tailored to non-executives leaders, will be a critical part of leadership development programs.
Todd Murtha is CEO of Careerwave. Todd is a former workplace psychologist and CEO of a 350 person internet company and is a frequent speaker on leadership, coaching and technology.
Careerwave’s technology-based leadership coaching service is effective and affordable enough to provide a coach to every manager in your company. Whether you need to coach 1 leader or 100, or need a full leadership program or just an addition to your current program, we can build a program for you. To learn more, sign up below or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our leadership solutions page.