Friday, February 5, 2010

Coaching Lessons: Leadership Styles

Way back when, in the old days when psychoanalysis ruled the world, the worst thing you could say about an analyst was that he was telling his patients what to do.

Psychoanalysis was, and still is in the few precincts where it is still practiced, a mind game. It systematically eschews reality; it encourages people to get out of the world and into their minds. Presumably, the patient who is actively engaged in his life is insufficiently attentive to the murmurs of his unconscious mind.

Besides, telling people what to do felt too much like exercising influence. It would have been better if you had accused the analyst of practicing witchcraft. Psychoanalysts seemed to have mounted a war against influence.

Of course, it was a ruse. Psychoanalysis did not want to influence behavior because it wanted to control minds.

Therefore, it never paid very much attention to leadership. As the therapy profession veers ever closer to coaching, the issue that arises is not how to avoid offering advice, but how to motivate your clients to take the advice.

The science of leadership is not taught in medical school. Mostly, it has been constructed by observing effective leaders in practice. That is not the same as watching the cinematic portrayal of leadership.

People who only know leadership from what they see in the movies are likely to accept the simplest version: a commander giving orders that everyone is forced to follow.

Beyond having the experience of seeing it in action, a good way to learn how to lead is to try it yourself. You will find that it is extraordinarily difficult. Getting people to do what you want them to do, getting them to do what they want to do, getting them to do the right thing... these are not small tasks.

Therapists and coaches have found that their task not been made easier by a culture that insists, in Post-Freudian fashion, on the surpassing value of adolescent rebelliousness.

Today Daniel Goleman, via Alan Murray in the Wall Street Journal, offers a thumbnail sketch of six different leadership styles. Link here.

Your ability to lead depends on who you are, who you are trying to lead, what the task at hand is, and what the context is in which the activity is taking place. Being a senior executive leading a group of managers is not the same thing as being a parent organizing a child's birthday party.

And yet, leadership is involved in both situations.

Coaching a client is one kind of leadership. Organizing a team is quite another. As Murray's article suggests, the important thing about leadership is learning what works for different leaders in different circumstances.

As for the one clear rule about leadership, the one practice that is guaranteed to make you a better leader, it is this: if you want to lead effectively, begin by learning to follow.

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