Bye-bye top down management, hello coaching for emotionally intelligent leadership

Mentoring, coaching

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In the first of three articles looking at the role of coaching and mentoring in business, Mette Andersen, Managing Director of digital innovation agency Futurice, outlines her belief that, empowered by emotional intelligence, future leaders will be coaches rather than bosses.

As a “people-first person” I’m fascinated by my fellow humans and what makes them tick. And in my role managing a London innovation consultancy, there is a real business imperative to understanding how I can get the most out of myself and my team so that we can all become better versions of ourselves – whether at work or in our private lives. Drawing on my experience of leading busy and talented people, here are six insights into what leadership in the future needs to look like:

We need to be more human and compassionate

Leadership today is highly demanding. The pressures include rapid globalisation, enormous amounts of data and constant market disruption. Leaders have to make smart, effective decisions in a very challenging environment. In order to keep up, they need to be in optimum shape mentally and emotionally.

Emotional Intelligence author Daniel Goleman puts it like this: “The rules for work are changing. We’re being judged by a new yardstick: not just by how smart we are, or by our training and expertise, but also by how well we handle ourselves and each other.”

With this perspective in mind, how can leaders empower themselves and their teams to unlock and fulfil their potential in ways that directly benefit them and their businesses?

Invert hierarchies

In my view, the conventional top down approach to leadership and ways of working needs a fundamental rethink.

I agree with Bill Gates when he says: “As we look into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” In practice, this is likely to involve inverting the conventional, hierarchical approach to leadership and empowering people on the front line to make autonomous decisions that are agile, transparent and beneficial for the company, the team and the individual.

Start with You

Coaching has a huge role to play in helping businesses achieve this paradigm shift. At its best, coaching is a human-centric way to help leaders and their teams continuously learn and uncover new ways to be the best versions of themselves.

The bad news for old-style leaders is that this sort of coach-led transformation requires a high level of emotional intelligence and a willingness to work on yourself. As a company we have benefitted from Google’s highly successful Search Inside Yourself leadership program which aims to “help people and organisations bring out the best in themselves, from the inside out.” After all, how can you coach your team in empathy, self-awareness and self-management if you lack these qualities?

Then your team

From your team’s perspective, coaching helps people identify and work with their purpose, guiding them to develop the self-leadership skills which can enable them to take greater control of their day-to-day life at work. When facilitated by emotionally intelligent leaders, coaching helps people become more self-aware by highlighting blind spots and allowing them to see themselves as others see them. It also encourages them to stretch beyond their comfort zones in ways that are beneficial to their careers.

Everyone can be a coach

For time-pressured leaders running big teams, finding the time to coach everyone individually is unrealistic. One tool that’s proving effective in my company is peer-to-peer coaching where team members are given the coaching training and tools to help develop one another. It’s early days but we are already seeing the benefits to this approach – for example it’s helping us to take greater collective responsibility for the team’s overall well-being and professional development. By holding ourselves accountable for spotting opportunities in each other, we’ve been able to reinforce a spirit of collaboration and raise the bar for what good looks like. And if someone is struggling we’re now able to address it more quickly and intuitively than before.

Share the load

As we have seen, the growing complexities of running successful businesses mean that individual leaders are under pressure as never before. Looking ahead to a model where decisions are increasingly delegated to people on the front line, I see a future where coaching both to build self-leadership, and to delegate and distribute it, will become the norm.

The principles of distributed leadership include trust, transparency, and collaboration, all qualities much needed in forward thinking, future-capable businesses and teams.

When it comes to senior leadership teams, I believe that a more distributed model of leadership will start to impact the C-suite. Instead of responsibility lying solely with a single CEO, a group of emotionally intelligent, self-aware people representing different areas and levels within a company, share the responsibility for its overall performance and future strategy.

Speaking personally

As someone who is committed to creating mindful and emotionally intelligent workplaces for all, I see coaching as a way of playing it forward. My vision is to use a blend of neuroscientific research, mindfulness and coaching to build a network of future capable leaders equipped with the skills-set and emotional intelligence to purposefully and compassionately steer businesses and people to succeed, after I’m long gone.

Mette AndersonAbout the author

Mette Andersen is managing director of digital innovation consultancy Futurice in London. In addition to leading the London office, Mette is training to teach mindful and emotional intelligent leadership with Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. She is also on the Change Council of GroHappy.

Headquartered in Helsinki, Futurice is a fast-growing international company of technologists, designers, data scientists and advisors who work with multinationals to help them become future capable.​

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