Kirsty Knowles describes how a coaching culture can reshape the ecosystem of an organisation, creating a flourishing environment - even for innovative collaboration in meetings.
What is a coaching culture?
Developing a coaching culture is worthy of consideration for individual and collective prosperity. Some businesses including, schools could do more to sustain and nurture their workforce, and a coaching culture brings about benefit for everyone: confidence builds, teams thrive, leaders progress, performance improves, productivity increases, creativity and ideas abound stimulating a range of new opportunities, stress is reduced, and people become more resilient for times of change.
It is important to remember that leadership with a coaching finesse is not about managing people.
Leading with demonstrable care for human Beings
A coaching leadership style is founded in its care for every individual. It is a leadership approach with human orientation. In this way, it actualises connection with the human being-ness of people - going far beyond lip service for seeming to appreciate employees and colleagues. For our current and future global landscape, it is vital for leadership to encourage whole selves to be brought into the work context. To be a human being is to be a work in progress. A person will fully commit to fulfilling a position at work where they feel valued and respected, where others believe in their potential and capacity for change. In the context of educational settings, when adults manifest this ethos, students feel reassured to show up as who they truly are - far healthier than them buckling under pressure to be defined by results or by peers to conform. In being our authentic selves, we need psychological safety and diversity to be recognised as fundamental for organisational culture and embedded and modelled by leadership. Workplaces, especially related to education are not a manufacturing production line; rather they are environments where we are shaped by experiences and relationships that subtly shape who we are and want to become.
Purpose is at the heart of what engages people. When shared, and with alignment, everyone feels connected regardless of geographical location. Leadership that facilitates person-centredness in others unifies through collaboration, sense of value, and trust. Creating a culture that prioritises relationships will unite actions for the vision all are invested in.
The ‘meeting’ of minds and hearts
One heavily utilised forum to gather for a common purpose is ‘the’ meeting. But how often are values of each human being considered? Is due care given for each person to feel included, for them to experience a sense of belonging? For me, a meeting is a joining of mind and heart. And in such a framework, differences of thought catalyse the flow of creativity, neuropathways in our brain shift, strategic direction for growth is explored and meaningful takeaway responsibilities resonate. In the accelerated digital world of online meetings, there is deeper fulfilment to be gained from cultivating solidarity while empowering individuals and teams to carry out their role with autonomy.
Meetings should provide intentional engagement and not be accepted as an unhelpful behavioural routine that no longer serve people and the organisation well. And if in-person, there is now more than ever a greater need for them to be purposeful for motivating investment from employees to attend. Physical meetings should not be influenced by any sense of only trusting work productivity if it is witnessed in the flesh. The ‘new normal’ is different for each of us and so it is the responsibility of leadership to ensure that however meetings are hosted, they hold space for everyone, and enable everyone to feel heard - that their thoughts and beliefs matter.
Coaching leadership for equitable teamship
A coaching leadership approach to meetings can ignite the introduction to a coaching style that David Webster (2021) defines as collaborative “Teamship”. Research-based evidence and experience show that people work to the hardest and highest level with colleagues and leaders with whom they align and care for. If team members feel interdependent, they will have faith in relying on others to fulfil their part to reach joint goals, and in collaboration, actualise the intended outcome: “I am because you are, I am because we are” (translated from the Zulu saying, ùbúnt’u). When meetings take place, people involved should feel that they and their contributions added value, that diversity was appreciated and inclusion was embraced, that they felt comfortable to take risks and share creative ideas, that instilled confidence enabled challenge or expression of conflicting views, that accountability was demonstrated, and that clarity was provided around content and actions. This should not be a list of desirable wishes or form post-meeting reflections of: “If only…” With a framework shaped by coaching, redesigned meetings can be reconnecting, explorative, developmental, restorative, energising, and constructive. And ultimately, the being-ness of humanity and the organisation thrives.
Being is as important as Doing
A coaching culture is astutely befitting for the world of work emerging from the Covid pandemic. Its key pillars making it apt for now, are deeply important for the future too. Hybrid or working from home can draw on talent and specialised skills from wherever the person resides. A coaching culture and leadership style have optimum effectiveness for providing equitable in-house and working from home experiences. And wellful-ness initiatives that started in response to the Coronavirus crisis will have longevity because wellbeing is crucial for a coaching culture. Employees stick around in their job if they feel cared for. Also, disconnectedness caused by disruption can now give way to camaraderie and collegiality to be rebuilt.
Change can be effected more rapidly in times of uncertainty when people are united around a shared vision and purpose, which a coaching culture engenders. Noticing where a fixed mindset might be stopping someone from trying to learn a new skill is important for enabling adjustment despite anxiety. We all have a fixed mindset for some areas and a growth mindset for others. Moreover, we should not assume people don’t want to try; they may feel they can’t. A coaching culture is blame-free because process is appreciated as part of learning. When people work in a psychologically safe environment, they will rise to responsibility and accountability. If mistakes are made, they will be learned from. This is also more empowering and can lead to bringing about meaningful and innovative systemic change across an organisation. Indeed, future-proofing strategies can be implemented in a coaching culture with greater ease.
Leadership can bring vulnerability but with a coaching leadership philosophy and culture, people are respected, acknowledged, celebrated, and developed with deserved dispensation for all that makes us human, including the leaders themselves. With leadership, and when establishing an organisational ethos, we need to relate to the essence of each human being, listen with compassion and empathy, foster connection, master constructive and motivating coaching feedback, build genuine bridges across cultural divide, and form a compelling vision resonant with others - with cohesive and clear roles. If we embody concern for the happiness of our colleagues and leaders, collective care for each other and the business will follow and embed. ‘Shoulds’, which Karen Horney (1950) referred to as a tyranny are not imparted. With more of a conscientious use of the pronouns - ‘we’ and ‘us’, instead of ‘I’ - people will feel and think that they are in it with others, together. Attunement brings the reality of the sum being more than its parts.
A coaching leadership style and coaching culture is gentle but no less robust. It puts people back into the centre of what makes each business exactly what it is, and collective flourishing ensues for human beings and the organisation.
Founder/Owner of Think Being®
Accredited Coach, Consultant, and Writer illuminating humanistic change for People, Leadership, Culture & Education
Horney, K. M.D. (1950). Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle toward Self-realization. New York: W.W Norton & Company.
Webster, D. (2021). Creating Adaptable Teams: From the Psychology of Coaching to the Practice of Leaders. London: Open University Press.