The Fundamentals of Leadership Coaching


When it comes to leadership, two models are often discussed. What are their similarities
and how are they relevant to organizations large and small? We find out.

Two authors and speakers whose names are synonymous with leadership are Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, and John C. Maxwell, author of Developing the Leader Within You.
There are many commonalities between both men’s philosophies. For instance, both developed models with five levels of leadership and both hone in on leading with humility. Yet each has a slightly different approach. Collins is more focused on knowing and understanding the hard facts about your business while Maxwell encourages connecting with and empowering each employee to be a leader. One of the key tenets of Collins’s philosophy is that leaders share credit for success with their employees but take the blame for any mistakes.

“You get to the same destination with each but the road you take is slightly different,” says John Matthews, a certified John Maxwell executive coach in Tampa, Florida. Matthews was introduced to Maxwell when he was working in a retail store and asked his boss for a promotion and was told he wasn’t ready. At the end of the workday, Matthews left for a week’s vacation and vowed to read a book that had been collecting dust on his shelf, Maxwell’s Developing the Leader Within You during his trip. His plan was to return to work
and tell his boss all the reasons he was ready. “I read the book,” he says, “and realized my boss was right. I wasn’t ready.”

Lead with humility

Matthews says he wasn’t ready to lead because he hadn’t yet mastered being a “servant leader,” who helps his employees achieve success rather than simply telling them what to do. The valuable lesson both Collins and Maxwell teach is leaders don’t just tell people what to do simply because they are the boss. Leaders earn their colleagues’ respect, ask for their help and develop the leader within each individual team member.

Collins and Maxwell’s similar philosophies of leadership include elevating and empowering others on your team, making sure the right people are doing the right jobs, giving people the tools and resources they need to thrive at work, and creating and communicating a powerful vision that every member of your team can emotionally connect to.
While Collins talks about leading with humility and Maxwell talks about being the “servant leader,” both are discussing a similar way to lead: You don’t seek success for your own glory but for the benefit of your team and the organization. “You don’t want to solve people’s problems for them but help them discover their own answers,” Matthews says.

For instance, Matthews says, by becoming a servant leader and asking employees “what can I do to help and support you today,” instead of telling them what do, he was able to help the Lifetouch Portrait Studio he managed earn an extra million dollars in revenue each year. “Instead of focusing on my agenda during site visits, and thinking about what I wanted to accomplish, I focused on serving the needs of team,” Matthews says. “This opened up conversations about the areas they struggled with, which allowed for us to build development plans that lead to measurable improvements in performance.”
Because he was willing to listen and help his colleagues, they were more engaged and honest with Matthews, and more invested in the store’s success. When Matthews would ask them how he could help them, he says, they would “drag the scariest things out of the closet, telling me stuff they normally would hide from managers, but I encouraged them to say what the problems were and I truly listened.”

Create other leaders

But that scenario – empowering people to find their own answers – can be scary for managers, especially if they are new to the team or they are a rookie manager, Matthews admits.

“People fear giving their power away and worry that their position won’t be needed any longer,” Matthews says. Or they worry that a team member will do a job better than they do it. “But,” says Matthews, “you can never give your power away, you can only share it by empowering others.” For instance, he says, if two people were in a rowboat and one person had all the power that person would have to do the all work. “If I empower you to help, we can get to where we need to go quicker,” he says.

This fear, or lack of experience, may cause a leader to take a more ego-driven approach to managing, often called leader- follower, where one person assumes the role of the leader and tells the others what to do. “It’s easier to tell people what to do rather than what is expected,” says Anu Mandapati, a Robert Maxwell certified coach in Austin, Texas, who focuses on leadership coaching for women. “It is easier to say, ‘this is what I need done, go do it.’”

A manager might also take a leader-follower approach if the team hasn’t worked together for long, Mandapati says. It’s easier for new teams and managers to focus on specific outcomes that need to be achieved than to discuss how to achieve them, she says.

But, says Mandapati, co-creating a vision for success will always lead to a better outcome because the team is more vested in the ideas, better able to see how their work impacts the outcome and more willing to work harder for a desired result. Many managers don’t take the time to explain to employees why their role at work is so important, Mandapati says. For instance, the receptionist at the front desk needs to understand that he or she is an ambassador for the organization and the first person anyone has contact with.

“The job of a leader,” Mandapati says, “is to create other leaders and build influence.” When everyone is treated as a leader regardless of their title or position in the company hierarchy, the group will decide together on next steps and everyone will understand why their role is important. Some organizations have moved towards a holacracy, where no one has titles, but this type of transition can be very difficult for large companies, Mandapati says.

Collins and Maxwell’s ideas in the workplace

A number of companies including Quicken Loans Inc. and Zappos, have moved toward a culture that embraces the leader-leader model, Mandapati says. Quicken Loans was named the #5 best place to work in America in FORTUNE Magazine’s 2016 annual ranking of the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” marking the 13th straight year Quicken has ranked in the top 30 in the magazine’s workplace study.

Quicken Loans is focused on cultivating the leader- leader within each employee, empowering each to do whatever is needed to grow themselves and their business. “Our team members know their opinion isn’t only welcome, but expected,” Chief Executive Officer Bill Emerson said in a press release.

“From providing input on how to improve our existing business, to pitching a completely new company idea, our commitment to a culture of empowerment and innovation creates an atmosphere where hardworking, passionate team members can thrive.”

Meanwhile, Zappos got rid of all its managers two years ago, jettisoning the typical corporate hierarchy and internal job titles. Instead, Zappos is organized around the work that needs to be done rather than the people who do the work. This ensures that Zappos is producing leaders at every level of the company, Mandapati says.

This type of transition is not for every company, Mandapati admits. Most companies are able to adopt the leader-leader model for its management team, she says, but it becomes more difficult the further down the hierarchy and it typically reverts to a leader-follower model at the middle manager level and below.

Using a leader-leader approach to management increases revenue and retention, Mandapati says. “People can get a job anywhere,” she says. “Salary isn’t the be all and end all.” But, she says, culture and the willingness to develop the leader within each employee is what drives retention and revenue.


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