Change is inevitable, and time and generations march on with new perspectives and practices. Leadership as a topic has been evolving over the decades with every new generation contributing a new way of thinking about it.
I have seen the Command-and-Control leadership style - this has been the hallmark of the last generation of leaders. This idea of leadership was also conflated with the idea of “respect”. However, as our understanding of leadership expanded and matured, it became clear that there are different ways of giving and gaining respect other than the command-and-control style.
The more formal “Sir” and “Madam” way of addressing superiors has been replaced in corporations: Bosses are now being addressed by their first names. Interactions between employees and their superiors have become more open and less constrained, resulting in a friendly and less formal work environment.
Greater openness and more interaction between team members and leaders have given the team a place and a voice in the discussions and decisions. A more friendly manner of interacting has developed in corporate workplaces.
I have witnessed the older style and have seen the changing, emerging perspectives of leadership. This change has been reflected by changes in societal norms as well. While the older style may still linger in the government bureaucracy and the political class, the workforce at large has adapted to the newer, less formal way of interacting.
What is next in the realm of leadership is the question that came to me even as I reflected on the changes I saw. In this regard, a dialogue for annual review and personal development with a colleague last year was an awesome, eye-opening experience. I approached it differently: She and I engaged in a conversation in which I sought her perspective on how the previous year had been for her and what changes or developments in her career she looked forward to, and what needs to happen for those changes.
This approach was experimental, and it struck me that engaging with colleagues to enable insights with the right questions led to a better outcome than recalling each failure and success and providing feedback on what went well and what needs to improve. This approach provided a much better outcome, which led to much more ownership being taken by the colleague and not being enforced by me.
This experience seeded in me a vision of what could be inspirational leadership. I envision the leader as a coach. A leader who is also a good coach can understand and inspire the members of the team by his awareness of their unique qualities and strengths. In this way, leaders can inspire their colleagues to work to the best of their abilities, using their skills optimally. For this to happen, leaders must become good coaches. When leaders become coaches, the need for frequent monitoring and regular review can be dialled down as the team members function at their highest level.
The word “Leader “then lends itself to the idea of leading oneself rather than others. An individual who can lead themselves can have an inspirational impact on others when he engages with the others within the coaching parameters. I visualize leaders with the skills to lead themselves into the best version of themselves and coach their colleagues into tapping their potential and performing at their highest. This vision if realized will effectively replace the command and review model of leadership.
Further, I visualize coaching as a tool that can be used across all levels: team leader coaches colleagues in the team, and leaders engage each other in peer coaching at various levels. The coaching methodology can be used as an aid in reviews of mid-and senior-level leaders with top executives. In these situations, there are opportunities for the top executives to coach their mid-and senior- level colleagues to generate insights in place of the usual review in command approach.
To my mind, an organization can optimize its performance by using the coaching approach extensively in review meetings, team meetings, and one-on-one reviews into one-on-one coaching. The insights generated can empower the organization’s team to maximize its performance by tapping the potential of the individual member and inspiring them to deliver their best.