Tale of Two Leaders

Tale of Two Leaders

Meeting the Leadership Challenges of a Modern Workplace  

The world of work is increasingly dynamic and constantly changing, accelerating the requirement for leaders and their teams to be agile, constantly learning, unlearning, and relearning. As such, most leaders aren’t equipped to deal with the challenges they face today. More and more, employees are expecting individualised development from their leaders equipping them for high performance and the ability to deal with the challenges of change – all within a trusting and supportive relationship. And it’s never been easier for them to find another employer if they don’t get it.  


In the modern workplace, there are a number of challenges that executives and senior leaders I’m working with face. They:  

  • struggle to find the time to develop their people 

  • consistently finds themselves solving other people’s problems  

  • wish their staff would show more initiative

  • fears losing good people from their team

  • wonder if they can develop the leadership capabilities required to navigate organisational growth.

Can you relate to any of these?

The problem is that leaders can’t add more hours to the day, nor do they have the budget to hire someone to develop people full time, we need to do more with less. To manage the workload, they find themselves doing what is quickest and easiest – directing staff and solving problems for others. Neither of which develops people.  

The key to manage this pressure is to develop people whilst you lead them day-to-day. Few leaders have the skills to do it.  

The tale of two leaders 
Let's consider two leaders and two different approaches. 

Approach A 
John is under the pump. He has deadlines approaching and the work is piling up. He hasn’t been able to get to the two board reports that are due by the end of the week because he’s been called in by his team three times to help decide on how to deal with client challenges. Each time he sits down and gets the download from the senior project manager. Within minutes he is starting to formulate what needs to be done. Once his team finish outlining the situation, John jumps to his feet, grabs a whiteboard marker and begins to outline his plan. He takes them through the client’s needs and what each of the team needs to do to hit the milestones and make the client happy. He asks if there are any questions and receives silence and blank stares back. ‘Why can’t his team be more engaged, enthusiastic and show a little bit more initiative?’ he wonders for about the tenth time this week.  

Approach B 
Amy lifts her head as Sam sticks his head through the door asking if she has a minute to talk through an issue that’s just been raised by the client. Sam sits down and outlines the situation before asking what he should do. Amy smiles and asks about the purpose of the transaction, how it fitted in with the client’s broader agenda and how similar issues had been handled in the past. Sam was quiet as he thought about each question.

“I guess haven’t thought about it and I don’t know,” he said.

Amy then asked him to take the time to think about the answers to these questions and talk to Jack, who had dealt with a similar issue recently, and come back at the end of the day with several different possible options and what he would do to implement the best option.
 As Sam left, Sara entered.

“I just wanted to give you a heads up.”

Over the next three minutes, Sara outlined a problem her team had identified, summarised recent developments with the client, listed the possible responses she had considered, and indicated her intended plan of attack.

“Very well,” Amy responded. She smiled again, so glad her team was so positive, proactive, and productive. 

The difference 
John is the best in his company at what he does. Its why his team always comes to him with their problems. He’s quick to identify the solution and develop a plan for implementation. And his plans always work. However by always coming up with a plan and telling his people what to do, they have become reliant on John to solve all the team’s problems. They passively present problems to him and wait to be told what to do.  

In contrast, Amy prefers to ask her team what they think should happen and have them develop a plan which she improves. She has found over the years that asking her team what should be done rather than telling her team what to do, stimulates their creative thinking so they are more easily able to generate solutions – solutions which they own and are more motivated and empowered to implement. By repeating this process, over time her team have begun to show more initiatives and come to her with solutions and plans to implement, rather than presenting problems. 

John may be brilliant at what he does, but Amy helps bring out the brilliance in her team. 

Directing versus Coaching

Adopting a coaching approach 
Coaching is recognised around the world as one of the most effective development strategies for both teams and individuals. At its heart, coaching is simply asking strategic questions. By shifting from directing to asking questions, leaders are encouraging individuals to think differently, engage their brains, and move from passive problem presenters to active solution generators. This facilitates them in solving their own problems, empowering them to do so again in the future.  

When a leader has coaching skills, every problem a team member brings is an opportunity to coach. In this way, leaders can develop their staff as they lead day-to-day whilst conducting business as usual.

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