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Sunday, 22 April 2012

Want to Improve the Team’s Performance? The Leader Must Learn to be a Coach!

One of my Vistage CEO members said to me recently:

“My team seem to expect that I will come up with all the ideas and don’t appear to have any original ones of their own”

So, what is remarkable about that?  It all comes down to the role of the leader.  One of the primary functions of the leader is exactly that; to bring up ideas in terms of products and services, operational practice and working with the people. 

Of course, it is important to encourage all the members of the team to bring up new ideas, however bizarre, and most importantly for the team to be able to asses them and then put a plan into execution.

Perhaps it is hard to accept but it is not the function of the leader necessarily to implement the ideas.  It is far better to have a dedicated team who will latch on to the pearls of wisdom and then put them into action, always provided that a little effort at the beginning will determine whether it is a goer or not.

The differing roles can be likened to the difference between research and development.  Original research discovers new ideas and subsequently, development will permit these ideas to be exploited commercially.

So how can the leader straddle both of these requirements?  It should not be part of the role of the leader to be actively involved in development – rather it is to monitor, measure and evaluate progress.

Crucially, however, the leader must act as a coach to his/her team.  What is wrong in the leader having great ideas, communicating them to the team and then helping them to develop the ideas into practicality?

Many leaders have come up through the development function and know how it works and how it can be improved.  The role of the coach is not to direct, not to impose solutions, but rather to assist the team to improve their performance.  The relevant word here is “assist”.

In a hierarchical organisation, the structure is a conventional triangle with the leader at the apex sending down messages from on high.  In other words, a “top down” solution.  What is better from every aspect is to reverse the triangle so that the apex is at the bottom.

The top line now represents the interface between the business and its customers and the reversed apex at the bottom is the leader, supporting the whole structure and helping the people to do their jobs in the most effective way.

The Green Bay Packers football coach, Vince Lombardi said with great prescience:

Individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work”

He knew, above all else, that the function of the leader/coach is to help his players to achieve self-motivate so that their contribution is raised from that of the talented individual to that of a team player where one and one makes significantly more than two.

Remember, “no-one is as smart as all of us” and it behoves the leader to coach the team to go from good to great to exceptional.

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