Coaches: Capitalizing on Strengths, Shoring Up Weak Spots

We all tend to fit one of seven types of change leader, each of which indicates a different mix of leading with Head, Heart, or Hands. The first change leader type is the Coach—and he’s all about Heart.

When change leaders with a Coach style are at the forefront of a change initiative, people feel supported, inspired, and empowered. Steve Coats, a researcher on the subject of what makes a great leader, writes about the importance of this dynamic: “The responses we received through our research were both very interesting and consistent. For example, we noted how people almost always tended to respond based on how they felt, indicating ‘I felt connected to my team members,’ rather than ‘There was a great deal of collaboration.’ This should remind us all that the often cited quote, ‘People may not remember what you say or do, but they do remember how you make them feel,’ is certainly alive and well.”

Engagement through feeling is crucial. Jim Asplund and Nikki Blacksmith report on extensive research conducted by the Gallup organization, which has found that “employee engagement boosts organizational performance . . . We’ve also found that improving employee engagement links to improvements in crucial business outcomes (customer ratings, profitability, productivity, and quality) and reductions in others (safety incidents, shrinkage, and absenteeism).” Clearly, Coaches, with their unending desire to connect with and involve the people around them, are not wasting their efforts.

It seems obvious to Coaches that “people issues” have a huge effect on the bottom line. However, they often stop short of making this connection for others. Coaches tend to deeply believe that engagement is an end in itself, which can lead to engagement taking precedent over performance. With no performance to show for their efforts, Coaches can come across looking less-than-effective as leaders.

What Coaches need to remember is that as change leaders, we need to make connections among people as well as connect them with the mission of the change project and the strategies that will get the job done. When Coaches strengthen their ability to do that, their power becomes significant. James Kouzes and Barry Posner, in their book Encouraging the Heart, describe what Heart-driven leadership is like when backed up with the specialties of some other change leader styles.. Noting that the root of the word “encouragement” comes from cor, the Latin word for “heart,” as does the word “courage,” the authors observe that “encouraging the heart, then, is about the dichotomous nature of leadership. It’s about toughness and tenderness. Guts and grace. Firmness and fairness. Fortitude and gratitude. Passion and compassion.”

There’s no doubt that Coaches are critical in times of change. They put people first, and they place a human face on every change effort they’re involved in.

You can learn more about the role of a Coach and read the stories of individual Coaches in their own work environments in my book, Change Intelligence.

Coaches, Part I

We all tend to fit one of seven types of change leader, each of which indicates a different mix of leading with Head, Heart, or Hands. The first change leader type is the Coach—and he’s all about Heart.

If your change leader style is that of a Coach, you focus on people and how the change process will impact the people around you more than any other type of change leader. You give significant time and attention to communicating about change, engaging others in the process, and ensuring that people’s needs are taken into account as it occurs. You excel at encouragement, positivity, and support.

You may, however, place more emphasis on motivating people than you do on confronting them when they’re not following through. To help yourself and others move more smoothly and deliberately toward the objectives of the change project, you need to find a way to supplement your natural people-focus with attention to project planning and the overall purpose and goals of the initiative.

If you lead as a Coach, most of the time you:

  • Encourage people to participate in discussions and decisions
  • Step in to resolve process problems (e.g., conflict, lack of involvement)
  • Listen attentively (while withholding judgment) to all viewpoints
  • Recognize and praise others for their efforts
    • Help the team reduce stress during challenging times in the change process by joking, being informal, and discussing personal interests

However, as a Coach, you do tend to have some blind spots. For example, you sometimes:

  • See team process and organizational climate as an end in itself
  • Fail to challenge or contradict others
  • Do not recognize the importance of accomplishing tasks
  • Overuse humor and other conflict-mitigating techniques
  • Do not give enough emphasis to long-range thinking and planning

So while a Coach can be encouraging, tolerant, and humorous, he or she can also be seen as vague, impractical, or not sufficiently serious. When you have a full understanding of these facets of your leadership style, you can go about maximizing the good and minimizing the weak spots.

What’s Your CQ?

Head, Heart, or Hands—which do you tend to lead with? Each change leader has a basic tendency to lead with one of these, or some combination of the three. You probably have some sense of which is dominant in you. Is it:

  • the Head—focusing on the big picture goal, the business objectives;
  • the Heart—personally connecting with your people at an emotional level; or
  • the Hands—providing teams tactical tools and skills like a savvy project manager.

And you’ve probably thought about what’s missing from your change leadership style, too. One way to find out is to observe your people.

  • Are they working really hard but misplacing their efforts? You may need to be more Head-oriented and paint a picture of the target and explain the what and why of the change.
  • Are they unmotivated, indifferent, or even afraid? You may need to add more Heart and share your own story, build trust, and show them that working together as a team benefits them and the rest of their peers.
  • Or are your people paralyzed, like deer in the headlights, and can’t seem to get unstuck and into effective action? If so, they may need a heavy dose of Hands, and you may need to set a plan, process, and skill-build to guide their efforts through the change.

Of course, none of us leads only, all the time, in every instance with the Head or Heart or Hands. We are each a blend of all three. It is this unique combination that represents our change leader style. Each of the following seven styles of leadership indicate a different mix of Head, Heart, and Hands:

  • If you’re a Coach, you’re all about Heart. You love engaging your colleagues whenever you get a chance, and you find great reward in supporting the people around you as you all move through a change process.
  • If you’re a Visionary, you are the one who’s always looking forward to an inspiring future. Thanks to your Head focus, you have a gift for seeing opportunity and planning for new situations, and you tend to get excited about what lies on the other side of a change.
  • If you’re an Executer, you focus primarily on the Hands. You like to get things done, and people know they can rely on you to not just talk but take action. Often your execution is backed up by comprehensive, step-by-step plans.
  • If you’re a Champion, you use a combined strength in Head and Heart to get people pumped about change. Like a Visionary, you see abundant possibilities for the future and, adding the people skills of a Coach to the mix, you’re able to energize and excite your colleagues as you all work to bring about change.
  • If you’re a Driver, you’re strong on both Head and Hands. You see an enticing vision before you, and you use your executional abilities to drive toward that vision, laying out clear strategies and tactics along the way.
  • If you’re a Facilitator, you focus on the specific people and specific activities you need to support on a day-to-day basis to lead the change, thanks to your strong Heart and Hands capabilities. You know the tasks that need to be accomplished to make measurable progress, and you succeed in motivating others to work together on those tasks.
  • If you’re an Adapter, you’re about even on Head, Heart, and Hands. You can employ all three approaches as necessary, and you’re generally flexible, politically savvy, and willing to collaborate with others. This may seem like the ideal style—and it does indeed have great benefits—but later on in my book, Change Intelligence, you’ll learn about some of the challenges Adapters face.

If you’re uncertain about which style is yours, you can access a self-assessment tool free when you buy a copy of my book, Change Intelligence. This assessment will help you narrow down these seven leadership styles to find the ones that fit you best.

Studying the different change leader styles will provide you with targeted developmental strategies, which are immediately accessible, personally applicable, and professionally actionable, to hone your CQ to catalyze powerful change in your career, team, and organization.

Leading with Your Heart, Head, and Hands

The CQ System—which enables change leaders to diagnose their change intelligence, equips them with developmental strategies, and shows them how to be powerful agents of transformation—all starts with the fact that each change leader has a basic tendency to lead with his or her Heart, Head, Hands, or some combination of the three. If you lead mainly from the Heart, you connect with people emotionally (I want it!). If you lead from the Head, you connect with people cognitively (I get it!). And if you lead from the Hands, you connect with people behaviorally (I can do it!).

It is not inherently better or worse to focus on the Heart or the Head or the Hands. However, the effectiveness of a change leadership style shifts in different scenarios depending on the type of change occurring, the business objective, the organizational culture, the people involved, and many other factors.

Of course, no one leads completely from the Heart, or Head, or Hands. Each of us is a blend of all three, and a small percentage of people do lead with all three with equal savvy. But most of us tend to rely primarily on one or two of these aspects as we lead through change.

Many people are unaware of their dominant aspect (or aspects), and of the impact their leadership style has on the change initiatives they lead. But the effect of how you lead during change is significant—overreliance on the Heart, Head, or Hands to the detriment of the other aspects can alienate the people around you and limit your success. Fortunately, we can all build our capacity to use all three aspects and adapt our change leadership style to be more effective in any situation.

As with any leadership competency, we need to have the will to build the skill. Learning that sticks, like change that sticks, needs to be self-initiated and self-directed. People need to have the opportunity to focus their attention on the goal and then to uncover their own insights along the journey.

Fortunately, we don’t have to do it all alone. We can strengthen our less-used change muscles through consistent exercise. We can surround ourselves with others who excel in the areas we’re weaker in. And we can get coaching on how to craft systems and structures to remind us to focus on those areas that are not typically on our radar screens.

Change at the individual level starts with awareness, moves to acceptance, and leads to action. The intent of this blog and my book, Change Intelligence, is to help you become aware of your change leadership style, accept your strengths and weaknesses, and start to build your CQ to catalyze powerful change in your career, team, and organization.

What Is CQ?

When you hear the word change, is your first thought positive or negative?
Are you filled with excitement and anticipation or with fear and loathing?

We often assume that because we’re constantly bombarded with change in our professional and personal lives, we should know how to cope with it. We feel like we’ve been through so much change that we’re used to it by now. We tell ourselves we can handle it, and we assume we can help others through most change processes. But from what I’ve seen, the reality is often quite the opposite.

Psychologists have conducted many studies showing that, almost all the time, our first reaction to change is to perceive it as a threat—something that causes apprehension, if not outright fear. It can be very difficult for most people to adopt the mindset that change can be positive, and that the new can be better, more enjoyable, and more attractive than the old.

In the modern workplace, change is the only constant—an observation that is no less true because of its frequent repetition. As a leader, you are often called upon to lead change. How can you learn to approach change positively yourself, manage change so that it results in proactive benefits, and lead others to accept and even thrive in change?

While most companies today are highly experienced with change, they are far less experienced with change done right. Why is that? If your company is facing a major change and you’ve been asked to play a major role in it, you’re probably wondering that too.

As it turns out, we know a lot about organizational transformation. For over two decades, authors have written hundreds of books on change management. We’ve developed multiple models for leading change, spanning from whole-systems approaches to methods like “preferred futuring” and “appreciative inquiry” to name but a few. We’ve conducted studies and found that positive change requires, among other things, a commitment from senior management, a “guiding coalition,” and a “compelling vision.” Experts emphasize the “burning platform”: our workplace must be on fire before instinct kicks in and tells us to jump into the cold sea of change. We also know we have to answer the WIFM question—“What’s in it for me?”—when persuading others to adopt a change. We’ve developed organizational-readiness assessments, leadership-alignment and stakeholder-engagement tools, and communication plans to help us through change.

With all this knowledge and all these methodologies, why do 70 percent or more of major change initiatives fail? It’s not that any of these models or tools are wrong or useless—they’re just incomplete.

Successful transformations require more than book knowledge and theory, regardless of how sage and vetted the advice might be. To lead change, change leaders must know themselves. They must ask and be able to answer questions like these: What are my tendencies in leading change? What do I focus on, and what do I miss? What am I good at, and what can I get better at?

This powerful self-knowledge is the first step in developing change intelligence. And as leaders develop their own CQ, they begin to raise the CQ of their teams and the organization as a whole, dramatically increasing the probability of positive, pervasive change that sticks. Only when change leaders are equipped and empowered with this understanding of their personal working style can they guide others through transformation.

Change intelligence, or CQ, is the awareness of one’s own change leadership style and the ability to adapt one’s style to be optimally effective in leading change across a variety of situations. The idea behind the CQ System is that each of us has a distinctive method of leading through organizational change. Just as we can measure our IQ, our EQ, and any number of our other intelligences, we can also assess our change intelligence. In doing so, we learn a great deal about how we can leverage our personal change leadership style to lead change far more effectively than before.

The CQ System I’ve developed—and which I discuss more fully in my book, Change Intelligence—enables change leaders to diagnose their change intelligence, equips them with applied developmental strategies, and shows them how to be powerful agents of transformation.

Just because we have mouths doesn’t mean we know how to communicate. Just because we have brains doesn’t mean we can problem solve. And just because we’re social animals doesn’t mean we know how to behave as productive, respectful members of a team.