We can choose to be leaders in every aspect of our lives. Leadership often requires making a choice between taking charge or providing wise counsel, and the ability to assess the needs of such situations and act accordingly is itself a measure of leadership. Leaders must also be able to bring forth specific skills, knowledge, and capability while others watch: This is the role-modeling of leadership in action. The most effective leaders are those who are not only able to do all of these things but who also recognize these moments of choice.
How will you recognize it? How will you know what to do? You will need to know yourself — and know yourself well — to understand the role you need to play.
That self-awareness comes from contemplation and self-reflection — analyzing and coming to terms with who you are and how you respond to situations; how you envision outcomes and work your way toward them; how you develop relationships with others; and how you create space for others’ perspectives and room for new ideas.
A large portion of this self-awareness comes from actively doing leadership. The day-to-day challenges of managing projects and teams allow you to see what works and what doesn’t. You may attend leadership development workshops that enable skill practice and learning from peers. There are myriad books on leadership, offering new approaches and models. Mentors will catch you doing something well (or not so well) and address it. Good managers will encourage growth and help you play to your strengths. Networking opportunities provide new and varying places to show up as a leader. Leadership is a lifetime of practice.
Leadership (or executive) coaching accelerates self-discovery and strengthens that practice of leadership. A leadership coach is something like a conscience or our intuition, asking the questions you may not have thought to ask yourself, challenging you on assumptions and false beliefs, and seeing the potential and talent within yourself, something you cannot always see. A leadership coach will explore your reactions to situations and ask you to further analyze them. The coach has no answers — only questions. The answers, after all, reside within each of us.
There is often a catalyst to seeking a leadership coach, a point in a leader’s experience that seems untenable. It could be:
"I feel stuck." This is how coaching clients often describe it. It is a sense that you are running in place, the work feels less fulfilling, and/or nothing seems as easy as it once was.
"My team seems 'broken.'" The team has lost focus or motivation, or it seems to be working at cross purposes. Sometimes your work feels chaotic.
"What senior management has asked me to do feels impossible." Too much has been asked of you as the leader or of your team. Or it feels that way. The problem seems unsolvable.
- "I received feedback that upset me." Maybe the feedback felt wrong or unfair, or you feel misunderstood. You are at the point in which it would be tremendously helpful to talk through it with someone.
In each of these situations, the immediate goal is to move past the point of what feels like a crisis — that is, to actively solve the problem. The gift within this is an opportunity for personal growth. A leadership coach will ensure that you bring your energy to both the micro (the problem) and the macro (your leadership) aspects of the challenge. You will come out of it with a clearer understanding of how you want to be a leader.
When you choose to lead, you are choosing both the doing and being of leadership. The doing you learn on the job: You learn the role itself and the expectations for it. The being requires self-study and reflection, some courage and vulnerability, and often the partnership of a leadership coach. Extraordinary leaders consider leadership to be all of it — doing the job and being fully themselves — and they choose to lead in each moment from that place.
Insight Experience offers executive coaching services to complement our leadership content and the commitments leaders make in our programs. Head here to inquire further.
Leah Carey is an organizational and leadership development consultant, facilitator, and executive coach. She has more than 30 years of experience working with all levels of management in a breadth of firms and industries. In working at Insight Experience, Leah focuses on creating programs that accelerate leadership development and improve leadership effectiveness at both the individual and organizational level.