Leadership Development: The Power of Asking for Help

In my coaching practice I’ve had the pleasure of working with leaders in various industries, from construction and finance to technology and manufacturing. Many times the coaching engagements begin because HR recognizes an opportunity to support a senior leader. Usually these are high performing individuals who are struggling to build skills in a specific area. They may need help with coaching their team, learning how to show up with more empathy and compassion, building confidence or maybe they are getting close to burnout and need to create healthier boundaries. Some leaders walk into coaching with enthusiasm and gratitude while others are a bit more hesitant and cautious. However, no matter what their reservations after a couple of sessions I hear the same thing from every leader: I wish I had done this sooner.

When leaders are in the weeds, it’s hard to take a step back and notice what’s going on. You’re moving at such a fast pace, being pulled in so many directions you don’t recognize where you may be holding yourself back. When you have time to step back and breathe you start to realize there may be a better way. Imagine having someone who is actively listening and supporting you as you share your challenges and observations. As a coach, I have the opportunity to slow you down and offer some new perspectives. You have a safe space where you can honestly share what’s going on. Where before you only saw problems, now you see possibilities.

When I start working with clients one of the first steps I do is to help them get clear about their core values. This exercise is normally eye opening and transformative for many leaders. They realize how often they are showing up and operating in a way that isn’t aligned with who they are at their core. One of my clients had a strong value around humour but she realized she was never allowing people to see that side of herself at work. She was wearing her “professional hat”. Can you imagine how stifling that must be? Someone who loves to laugh and make jokes but completely shuts out that side of herself every day at work. It didn’t feel good, it felt out of alignment. The people around you notice as well, when you’re wearing a mask at work they can’t truly connect with you.

For another client, he realized he had a strong value of respect and how it was showing up at work. If someone engaged in behaviours that he deemed as disrespectful he would get extremely agitated. Once he became more aware of this value and how it triggered him he was able to develop a more conscious response. Most often when someone is triggering us in a strong way it’s because they have stepped on one of our values. The beauty of coaching is that you learn more about yourself and why you do what you do. As you develop greater self-awareness you are able to respond to conflict in healthier ways.

Some people go into leadership because they want to make a positive impact. Others go into leadership because it’s the only path they can see in front of them. They were stellar individual contributors so they’ll be stellar leaders right? Not necessarily. This reminds me of the book by Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Leadership requires a new set of skills that are very different from the ones that served you as an individual contributor. I believe that too many people go into leadership for the wrong reasons – the paycheck, the recognition, climbing the ladder, other people’s expectations, the power and authority it affords or they can’t see an alternative route.

The good news is that many of the soft skills required for leadership can be learned. If you’re willing to make the commitment to investing in yourself. Good leaders understand that personal development is a journey and you’re never done learning and growing. I mean NEVER. You don’t become a VP or the CEO and then you’ve arrived. No matter what your level in the organization, it’s a continuous evolution. When was the last time you got help? This can be a tough one, it can feel vulnerable. But the payoff is HUGE! For me it is incredibly rewarding to watch leaders give themselves this gift. I also love that more and more organizations are understanding how important it is to truly support your leaders. This is one of the best investments you can make.

Great leaders don’t focus on developing followers; they focus on developing other leaders.

There is a lot of talk about HR advocating for their leaders and having tools and training available for them. But I think it’s imperative that we remember that HR also needs these same tools. I see many HR leaders out there who are coaching and mentoring individuals in the organization but who’s coaching you? I believe HR plays a critical strategic role in the organization and in order for you to be achieving your best, you also need someone coaching you and helping you to reach the next level.

It’s hard for me to put into words how gratifying it is to watch leaders transform before my eyes. I get to see these shifts happen every time we have a conversation – some are subtle and others are BIG. No matter what, they are changed. Their world looks different. They are stepping into their greatness as a leader. When you live to your full potential, you are not only positively impacting your life but the lives of everyone around you. Is it time to ask for help?

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