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By Stefaan van den Heever, associate, Legitimate Leadership.

I have been an executive coach since 2007 and I have loved working with people in this way. I believe it is a real gift when a person can hold up a clear, mostly-untainted mirror for someone so that she can come to terms with those places or areas where there are gaps or incoherence with authenticity. It has been a privilege to create this mirror and challenging space for others – and hugely meaningful to go through this journey myself.

However, in the past few years it has become clear that coaching can have only a limited impact if the system and culture of an organization, for instance, is not conducive to a coaching or learning way of leading really being “lived” by the individual in it.

During coaching, the client can gain great insights about how he shows up and can go out and implement new behaviour based on those insights. But then something can happen: it’s almost as if the new frame of reference “collides” or is in contradiction with what is going on within the organization. It happens quite often that an organization has an inspirational mission statement and values but they are only words …

An example: I was part of an intervention at a manufacturing plant. We were there to teach people to lead in a coaching way, and the objective was to get people to engage with each other in a “learning” way, where listening and asking questions were the key competencies for people to build. The training was successful and most people connected to this new way of engaging.

Unfortunately, when the pressure was on, most people also reverted back to their old style of “control and command”. A frequent comment was, “It’s hard to collaborate with the other department when we compete against them for KPIs and numbers.”

I am now certain that most successful coaching interventions happen when it’s part of a systemic intervention in which culture also shifts. Coaching then helps people to embed and really “live” the new way of doing things.

The Legitimate Leadership framework offers this systemic change to shift culture, and where coaching can be successful.

I became an associate of Legitimate Leadership because I really believe in the “why” of the framework. The framework not only assists leaders in what they need to “do” as leaders, but more importantly, how they can “be”. It goes right to one’s intention as a leader and whether she is here to “take” from others, or whether to “give” or contribute to them.

Fundamentally, what also attracts me to this framework is that it speaks to the organization as a whole. When the organization subscribes to the framework, its focus as a whole shifts from “taking” to “giving”. The focus also shifts to qualities such as Legitimacy, Trust, Contribution and Accountability.

To shift the focus, the culture of the organization aligns to this new way of being as a system.

How is this done?

Some of the main ways are:

  • Align the organization’s Mission, Vision and Values to be congruent with “giving”. The shift, for example, can be one where the organization was about “Being the best producer of …” to a giving organization where “We enable excellence for our customers …”
  • Align the structure of the organization so it is enabling for people to contribute, be empowered, and be accountable.
  • Re-invent the individual performance management system in order to really clarify contribution in a way where employees have control over their results, and where they can be held accountable.
  • Align discipline and reward systems to the new way of doing things.
  • Vertical and horizontal empowerment to facilitate the lessening of inappropriate or excessive controls in the organization.
  • Grow to Care workshops for employees, where the focus is on personal, team and organization excellence, and intent.

So, for coaching to be effective it is important that it happens not in isolation but within a system that is conducive to people changing and living – within which they can behave in a way that is congruent to their values. The Legitimate Leadership framework creates this systemic shift and culture change.