How coaching can help new leaders succeed

Angela Seach
October 2, 2019

In this post, we explore how workplace coaching can support newly-appointed leaders to succeed in their role and help prevent conflict and performance issues down the track, using a workplace scenario that will be familiar to many of us!

Workplace scenario: Meet Azami, the new sales manager

Azami is a newly appointed leader at an industry super fund, leading the sales team. Although this was her first leadership role, she was an experienced industry sales person with an outstanding track record for exceeding targets. 

Having just completed a Master of Leadership, Azami was looking forward to putting her knowledge into action. She immediately decided to make some process changes to how the team went about their work, based on some things she’d learned at her previous job. 

She saw this as a great opportunity to show the team how she intended to conduct herself as their leader – decisive and agile. She also thought it would help show her credibility as a subject matter expert. 

Azami set up regular one-on-ones with each team member, encouraging them to bring current challenges along to their meetings with her so she could support them to “workshop” solutions. She was sure this would show them she cared about, and understood, their challenges.

Three months later, things have deteriorated. No-one is meeting their targets. Azami feels like the team makes everything her problem. In fact, they seem to be de-skilling before her eyes. She’s feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. 

After a particularly frustrating day, unable to contain her annoyance, Azami confides her frustration to the only team member who seems to genuinely care about her – Jasmine, who has been supportive from the start. 

Then, the head of Human Resources calls Azami to a meeting. It seems that her team members are upset, claiming she has been bad-mouthing them to Jasmine, making changes for the sake of change, not consulting with them and micro-managing them through weekly “interrogation sessions”.

Azami is devastated. Her team is unhappy and underperforming and it seems likely key revenue targets will be missed, with broad impact across the organisation. HR was left to try and patch the pieces together.

Like so many people before her, Azami thought leadership is all about what you do, having more expertise than the people who report to you, and being decisive. 

Azami is not a real person, but her story is not unusual. She should have been ideally placed to step into her first leadership role smoothly, but it all went wrong. 

How coaching can help your new leaders like Azami

No training session would have helped (Azami even had a Masters in Leadership), but 1:1 coaching from an experienced coach would have made a significant difference. Coaching would have helped Azami to:

1. Consider her impact as a leader

New leaders rarely understand their impact, and the dynamics at play are often not visible to them at the start of their leadership journey.  Coaching would have helped Azami to identify the values and behaviours she wanted to demonstrate to her team, and how best to do so. 

Azami wanted to show the team that she understood their work, and wanted to help them, but she didn’t take the time to see herself as her new team members did – as their boss, not their colleague. She didn’t understand the new dynamic created by her appointment, and she underestimated the potential for her team members to misunderstand her motives. 

Coaching would have provided a safe environment in which to explore the dynamics of power and authority – an opportunity to be up on the balcony rather than on the dance floor[1]

2. Think through her vision for herself as the leader of a team  

Like so many other new leaders, Azami fell into the trap of thinking that the way to get her team ‘on board’ was to show them she was an expert in their field. Understandable, but her team members interpreted this behaviour differently – they saw her as showing off rather than supporting them. 

Coaching would have helped her to find more effective ways to demonstrate her core values to her team.

3. Develop clear, specific, achievable and time-bound goals for herself as a leader and her new team

Coaching would have given Azami the opportunity to think through and plan in a considered way for the short, medium, and longer-term goals she wanted to achieve, and help her identify the actions she could most effectively take to move towards her goals, taking her team with her rather than imposing decisions.

4. Identify appropriate ways to engage her team members with her vision, goals and plans

By working through her values, vision, goals and actions with a coach, Azami would have had time and space to identify road blocks and barriers, risks and opportunities, and plan for them. A coach would have helped her to think about her team members perspectives, fears and aspirations, and how these could have been engaged effectively to achieve shared goals. 

Add coaching to your toolbox!

Coaching is a powerful tool to ensure new leaders are equipped and supported to succeed in their new role – provided of course it is undertaken by experienced professionals with deep understanding of workplace conflict and effective strategies to improve workplace culture, team dynamics, interpersonal relationships and performance at work.

[1] From the work of Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky (Harvard University) on adaptive leadership.

About Angela Seach

Angela Seach is an experienced workplace coach, and brings substantial experience across the full spectrum of strategic and operational people and culture management functions in public and private sector organisations to Worklogic. 

Prior to joining Worklogic, Angela was an accomplished senior organisational development manager with a significant track record in successfully driving outcomes in large, complex and geographically dispersed organisations, including the Country Fire Authority, Ansett Australia and Air New Zealand Engineering Services.

If you’d like to discuss how coaching could help your new leaders thrive, get in touch with Angela.

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