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.