Things I’ve Learned Working as a Leadership Coach

Leadership Coach

Brad is an author, speaker, and consultant with more than 25 years of corporate experience in various aspects of human resources. As the founder of PerformancePoint, Brad has worked as a leadership coach, a human resources trainer, an executive, and an entrepreneur with organizations and their executive leadership in different industries. His leadership coaching clients have included household names such as Nordstrom, FedEx, Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, Gemini Hospitality, Kaiser Permanente, Mayo Clinic, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Deloitte & Touche LLP, Hewitt and Associates, Gillette, Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., AT&T Wireless, Dow Chemical Company, Nextel, Genentech, Amgen, WellPoint Health Networks, Tyson Foods, Subaru of America, New York Life, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and Gulf Bank.

People seem to think that leaders are born, which makes sense given that, on first glance, most leaders we look to are more than equipped for the job by birthright. Hercules was the son of Zeus. The eloquent Abraham Lincoln seemed built to deliver presidential speeches. Moses was chosen by God himself. However-

Hercules was cast out at birth. Lincoln tried his hand at being a rail-splitter, a flat boatman, a shop keep, and a postmaster far before he could ever set his eyes on the American political system. Moses told God to choose someone else, as his terrible speech impediment made him unable to lead.

Leaders aren’t born, they’re built. That is something I realized when I was much younger. Subsequently, the idea that leaders are cultivated through hard work and self-realization has become the founding principle behind my personal mission (and now the mission of my company, PerformancePoint LLC): To inspire others to discover and live their possible.

Today, in a world of rapid change, modernized leadership is more important than ever. Traditional leadership styles, while having value, must evolve to accommodate an increasingly hectic and digital world. Companies have to recognize this need and individuals must rise to the challenge. So what does it mean to equip ourselves for leadership?

To begin, the choice to cultivate leadership in ourselves and others requires vision and initiative. Someone has to see that icy, cold pool and jump in before others will follow. They must be willing to act in order to see results or to stir change in other people, that’s leadership. 

My father did not have a lot of money growing up and this didn’t seem to bother him all that much. However, he did believe that, regardless of socio-economic status, there were shared experiences that everyone should partake in. These were rites of passage that helped people grow, introduced them to different types of people and aided in their development as competent and empathetic individuals. The most paramount of these common experiences? Sleep away summer camp. My father believed that every child should be able to attend camp, whether or not they could pay for it. So one summer, he wrote the mayor of New York City, laying out his thesis about summer camp. The mayor was so impressed that he paid to let my father attend summer camp that year. After the week of camp, the mayor returned to my father and asked him how his experience was. My father promptly exclaimed that it had been the best week of his life. Either moved or amused, the mayor offered to send him for another week. Much to the mayor’s surprise, however, my father declined. When the mayor inquired as to why, my father explained that if the mayor could pay for another week of camp, he should send another kid because summer camp was an experience every kid should have, whether or not they could pay for it. This notion was one born out of his own leadership qualities: empathy, a desire for productive change, vision. However, it was my father’s letter to the mayor, his initiative that got the ball rolling. Even more importantly, my father’s decision to decline a second week of camp was one of inclusivity. He opted to take others with him on his vision, as opposed to going it alone in exchange for a bigger reward. That’s leadership.

Leadership of the now should focus on five fundamental skill sets: Resilience, Emotional Intelligence, Sense Making, Decisiveness, and Change Agent.

Resilience is necessary in today’s world, which presents itself as an ever shifting landscape. The game is different, especially now that many of us log into work as opposed to showing up. It’s a new frontier, fraught with boundless potential and unwieldy challenges alike. Resilience is far more about hopping back in the saddle than it is about your ability to tame the horse. We may not have all the answers, that’s why good leaders are open to learning, but they must be willing to try again and approach the problem from a different angle altogether.

Emotional Intelligence has always been and will continue to be of paramount importance for leadership. A leader is only as good as the team supporting them, so leaders must actively work to connect with and aid in the development of their teammates. Recognize the individuals you’re working with. They must have the ability to understand, use, and manage their own emotions and the emotions of others in positive ways to overcome challenges, be productive, build relationships and defuse conflict. 

Sense Making is the ability to create and update maps of a complex environment in order to act more effectively in it.  Sense making involves pulling together disparate views to create a plausible understanding of the complexity around us and then testing that understanding to refine it or, if necessary, abandon it and start over.  In essence, the ability to organize the information in front of us and reformat it into a decisive vision or plan. This becomes of paramount importance in the digital world, as we are introduced to a great many firsts. New tools, new modes of communication, etc.

Decisiveness ties into initiative. Firm decision making and direction are important, especially in a world that is moving at an exponentially fast rate. What’s the goal? What steps are we going to take in order to achieve it?  Procrastination and wavering lead to extinction more and more these days.  

A Change Agent is someone who encourages growth and change within their company’s culture. They look toward the new, having diversity and inclusion in mind. They encourage diversity of thought and actively look for newer, more efficient ways to pursue goals. Change agents are increasingly important in this new, digital frontier, as they are most likely to seek out exciting opportunities where others would see roadblocks.  Most importantly they coach others through change because they realize change is personal.

So the question remains, how can we work to develop and nurture these qualities in ourselves? I was interested in leadership from a young age and once I discovered that there were professions that helped promote and build quality leaders, I jumped on the opportunity. I entered University with the intention of pursuing that profession. Now, 34 years later, I get to help fulfill that personal mission for myself and others as well.

Inspire others to discover and live their possible

There exist a variety of tools to help people discover those aforementioned leadership qualities in themselves. These are tools that you can use as well. Tools like surveys to keep your finger on the pulse, assessments, classes, and courses. To be a leader is to be a perpetual student, seeking new challenges. Ask for work assignments that challenge you. Pick up a book on leadership subjects. Look for opportunities in your own life to take initiative, execute your vision, and most importantly, take others with you on that journey.

Also read: Leadership adjectives – Words to Describe a Leader

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