For the past 7 months, I have been engaged with the University of Texas - Dallas in their Executive and Professional Coaching Program. When I registered for this professional program, my end goal was to leave the program certified as an ICF certified coach. While I am getting closer to that goal every single day, there are a few lessons I did not expect to learn that have impacted me in significant ways.
For example, when I entered this program...
I loved solving others' problems. Over the past 12 years, I have been in various roles where I was tasked with solving problems. I had found success in working with others to help them solve their problems. If it were a leadership problem, I had a tool. If it were a team idea, I knew what to do. Going into this coaching program, I thought I would excel because I felt I was really good at solving others' problems.
I loved giving my opinion. Really, I did. I wanted to 'help' people and would offer my thoughts whenever I could because I really wanted others to be successful. Even when not asked, I would offer a "you know, if you did this..." to the person assuming it would help them in whatever they were facing.
I thought my positions required me to be the final decision maker for my team when they came to me struggling with making a decision. If I had an employee that came to me stating they didn't know if they should do A or B, I felt my position required me to tell them, "Go with B" and move on.
Here's the truth - each of these examples is the exact OPPOSITE of what should be done as an Executive and Professional Coach.
What I have learned over the past 7 months is the value of believing in others. People don't need me to solve their problems. People don't need my opinion. People don't want me to make the final decision.
This coaching program has allowed me to truly reflect on the type of leader I have been and has shown me where I need to grow. I spend a lot of time talking about servant leadership and I realized I was not being true to the essence of what Robert Greenleaf offered as his best test for servant leaders:
Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?
If I put myself up against Greenleaf's best test, I had failed. I wasn't serving. Those in my care and influence were not becoming healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous. I wasn't allowing them to do so. I was more focused on making sure they were happy and had their problems solved. What I didn't realize is that I was setting them up for failure. I wasn't always going to be there for them. My career has led me from Missouri to Minnesota to Wisconsin and now to Texas. I spent time working with so many people and my approach was to tell them what they should do so they would be happy. But what happens if they face a challenge now? I am not there.
If we truly want to serve those in our care and influence, we need to be a partner. The main focus of coaching is to partner with your client to support them in navigating their map of the world. How they decide to navigate their map is up to them. We all need help sometimes and a coach can be that person to help you see through the barriers in front of you.
It's not about you, but it's all about you.
I am not sure of the author of this quote, but this is how I summarize what it means to be a coach. If I truly want to serve others, then I need to be willing to allow for exploration. I need to allow my clients to experiment and think about what they truly want. I need to respect and value them as people. I need to believe they know the answer and they can identify the best route forward. I have to accept that they will have different viewpoints than me and that is ok. I have to accept that their path to solving a problem may be the exact opposite of what I would tell them. Because, really, it's not about me, it's about them.
To be an effective servant leader, we have to be willing to allow others to try things that may not work out. We need to care for them and ask questions that will require them to dive deeper into their wants and needs. As servant leaders and coaches, we have the ability to empower others to believe in themselves. We can help others become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous and more likely to themselves become servants.
It all starts with a question. Remember, we are all different. That's a blessing. As coaches, we have the opportunity to bring those blessings out in our clients.
I'll end with a question that has changed how I view my role with those I lead. This question has caused me to change my perspective of what it means to be a servant and a leader....
So, what would you like to explore today?