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From Boss to Servant Leaders and Coaches: Now More Than Ever

From Boss to Servant Leaders and Coaches: Now More Than Ever

Leadership behavior shapes 50-70% of organizational culture. In the same way, healthy leadership has a direct impact on organizational performance - including profit and loss, employee engagement, staff retention, and achieving purposes and objectives. Despite the direct correlation between leadership, culture, and results, many leaders lack some of the soft skills needed to succeed and promote team unity, lower turnover, increase staff engagement and achieve ministry results;

So, how do we best support emerging leaders with the skills they need to succeed? Leadership theory isn't a new concept, and most leaders already have a basic understanding of leadership, or can learn. What leaders today need is help in transferring knowledge into new habits - they need to be coached. Leadership coaching helps to bridge the gap between the leadership results that are desired compared to the leadership behaviors that are required to achieve those results.

Key Takeaways

  • A “boss” or traditional leader is someone who is “power-focused,” and tells people what to do and how to do it.
  • A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.
  • A leadership coach is a person who primarily uses questions to help another person identify a goal and actions to take, build commitment, offer accountability, follow up on progress, and ultimately help someone to successfully change.
  • The simplest way to begin to incorporate coaching is through frequent one-on-ones with team members.
  • Now more than ever, leaders cannot assume that they know more than the people they lead, especially with regard to the unique expertise that each employee brings.

Types of Leaders

Before we dive deeper into the skill of leadership coaching, it’s important to first set the stage for the type of leader we are referencing. Within the past 30 years, there has been a drastic shift in leadership styles; it was not long ago that a “boss” approach to leadership was expected and unquestioned. Today, we are in a cultural moment of clarity. The expectations for leaders have changed and our culture demands a higher standard - employees expect leaders to care about the welfare of their employees.

Let’s look at these two leadership styles in more depth.

What is a Traditional Boss?

A “boss” or traditional leader is someone who is “power-focused.” In this perception of leadership, leaders tell people what to do and how to do it, and followers follow blindly. The expectation is to do the work without question or care for employees as individuals. At best, the leader encourages people to do their jobs by providing them with guidance, direction, and motivation.

Typical qualities of a Traditional Boss include:

  • Structure and planning
  • Policy/process-oriented
  • Results-oriented
  • Power-focused
  • Title and influence
  • Change averse
  • Hierarchical

Notice the main focus of a traditional leader or "boss" is not the overall good or welfare of his/her staff, but instead the overall success of the organization. At his/her worst, an old-school traditional boss may bark out orders and expect the people around them to execute without complaining, and does not care about the impact on the employee. In today's society, this style of leadership rarely produces healthy workplaces or long-term positive results. Instead, this type of leader is no longer deemed acceptable, and the expectations for leaders fall more in line with the characteristics of a servant leader.

What is a Servant Leader?

The concept of Servant Leadership was first introduced in the 1970s by Robert Greenleaf. Greenleaf defines servant leadership as follows,

“The Servant-Leader is servant first. . . . It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. . . . The best test, and difficult to administer is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit, or at least not further be harmed?"

In a nutshell, a servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. Later, writer and philosopher Larry Spears further defined servant leadership by identifying ten key traits, including:

  • Listening,
  • Empathy,
  • Stewardship,
  • Foresight,
  • Persuasion,
  • Conceptualization,
  • Awareness,
  • Healing,
  • Commitment to the growth and development of people, and
  • Building community.

The most notable difference between a Traditional Boss and a Servant Leader is the emphasis on others versus power. The servant-leader practices humility and seeks to selflessly serve himself, others, customers, and those he leads. Today, servant leadership is the preferred leadership model in both ministry and secular contexts.

The Future of Leadership Emphasizes Coaching

A leadership coach is a person who primarily uses questions to help another person identify a goal and actions to take, build commitment, offer accountability, follow up on progress, and ultimately help someone to successfully change.   

Coaching is not teaching, offering advice, suggesting, or setting goals on someone else's behalf. It is also not taking responsibility to "fix" someone. Instead, a coach believes in the person and in God's ability to work in and through him/her and his/her stakeholders to bring about the desired change.

Coaches are:

  • Positive,
  • Enthusiastic,
  • Supportive,
  • Trusting,
  • Focused,
  • Curious,
  • Goal-oriented,
  • Observant,
  • Respectful,
  • Relational,
  • Listeners, and
  • Powerful questioners

Coaching is a skill set of effective leaders that can be learned. The basic premise of coaching is asking questions. As leaders, it’s tempting to tell our employees exactly what to do - telling often saves time and ensures the desired outcome. However, by asking questions, coaching provides opportunities for employees to come up with solutions on their own. This allows them to be interdependent and committed to the outcome. Coaching requires patience and discipline, but the long-term advantages outweigh the momentary inconvenience. Of course, there will be times when a leader needs to be directive or corrective; good leaders know when coaching is appropriate.

How to Begin Coaching

As mentioned earlier, coaching is a skill that can be learned. The simplest way to begin to incorporate coaching is through frequent one-on-ones with team members. Consider what questions you want to ask people on a regular basis, and then ask those questions during your regular interactions. These questions focus on what’s important to the employee, what they want to achieve and how are they going to achieve it - all by asking questions. As a leader, you can offer accountability by asking these questions.

Some questions to consider asking include: How are you doing? What have you been working on? What’s been challenging? What do you need help with? Remember, coaching requires 20% talking and 80% listening - your coachee should be doing most of the talking.

In addition to more traditional questions, consider including coaching questions like What direction do you feel like you’re headed in life? What goals do you have for the future? Where do you see our team/department/organization going?

Notice how coaching questions are future-oriented. Coaching questions consider the present and look to the desired future and how one might get there.

Leadership Coaching Drives Results

The formative experiences of the past few years have caused a large majority of people to evaluate their own lives and ask themselves “do I even like my job?” As more and more employees ask this question, the expectations placed on leaders have changed dramatically.

The Great Resignation, the influx of Baby Boomers retiring, and the global pandemic have hastened the need for leaders to shift from the traditional style of “telling” leadership to a collaborative, supportive, and interdependent view of the leader/follower dynamic. Now more than ever, leaders cannot assume that they know more than the people they lead, especially in regard to the unique expertise that each employee brings. Employees want to be heard and involved; they want to have a voice, and they want to know that their work is making a difference.

This is where coaching plays a key role in the future of leadership. As Peter Drucker famously noted, “The leader of the past knew how to tell. The leader of the future will know how to ask.” More and more, leaders of the future will manage knowledge workers. We’re surrounded by people who have expert knowledge - employees who know more about their work than their boss does. Gone are the days when the “boss” knows best. As leaders, it’s unrealistic to think that we know more than our staff. We have to rely on people who are much better at their jobs than we are, so we have to treat our knowledge workers like they are experts. That’s the only way we’re going to creatively innovate - they bring the creativity and innovation for the future.

A coaching mindset is the key to success for leaders who want to attract and retain the best talent. Coaching creates a culture of learning and ensures organizational culture is healthy. And, as noted earlier, by leaning into expert knowledge and focusing on coaching, leaders allow creativity and innovation space to flourish.

Wrap Up

Although the benefits of coaching are great, this is not to say coaching will solve all your organizational issues. Rather, coaching creates opportunities for listening. Culturally, people value and are engaged not because of a paycheck, but because they love what they do. In flourishing workplaces, employees are listened to, heard, have a voice, and are valued. Coaching directly contributes to helping people feel heard, to have a voice, and to provide input.

The best way to start growing a coaching mindset is to start! Start by asking questions and listening more. Ask those around you to provide feedback about how often you “tell” vs “ask” and begin to implement small changes. If you’re ready to go even deeper, BCW offers personalized leadership coaching as well as a 360 Leadership Review to better assess how a leader’s behaviors and skills align with the needs of your organization.

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