The Newtonian leadership paradigm versus systemic emerging processes, two opposite world views in our current executive coaching reality
For at least last twenty years, and in most corporations worldwide, there has been a growing concern about the steady decline of personnel motivation, stress in the workplace, and in some cases, outright employee burnout. Almost paradoxically, the key management buzzwords and phrases focused on these corporate issues are centered on how to empower the personnel, how to enable co-responsibility, how to foster pro-activity, how to develop ownership, how to create a learning environment, how to tap on collective intelligence, etc. Note also that all these themes are central in most executive coaching requests.
Considering that this concern has very consistently stayed on the top of most Human Resource department’s wish list for decades, we can assume that the issue is not being solved, and therefore that it has not been approached properly, including in executive coaching programs. Indeed, in spite of millions yearly allocated to diverse personnel empowerment programs, inspirational conventions, incentive schemes, motivational coaching, financial perks and bonuses, training schemes, executive coaching and development programs and a host of other monthly or yearly recognition exercises, significant measurable change is far from perceptible. On the contrary, it seems that in too many companies, personnel is generally subject to more absenteeism and occupational illnesses, under stress and voicing distress, quitting, and generally expressing dissatisfaction with their immediate work environment. In fact executive coaching is often used to treat the symptom rather than to permanently solve the underllying problem.
Conclusion: to deal with this generalized motivational issue, the array of means deployed by Human Resources seems to have been inversely proportionate to achieving perceptible results. It is high time to reconsider corporate perspectives on the empowerment issue and find original executive coaching strategies to really deal with developing personnel motivation.
For one, it seems that if generalized personnel de-motivation can indeed be increasing in modern organizations, this evolution should less be considered a problem in itself and more perceived as a consequence or a symptom resting on other causes. Indeed, if we are not solving the problem, maybe it is not correctly formulated, including in all our executive coaching processes.
- Notice that when an executive or leader asks the question “how can we empower personnel”, it is both assumed that the issue is with the personnel and not with the executive. It is also assumed that the original state of those personnel is one of disempowerment. On both counts, how amazingly convenient!
The very way the problem is formulated automatically drives a search for a certain range of solutions to be applied to the employees: more pay, more perks, more recognition, more bonuses, more training, etc. What else motivates personnel? Unfortunately, over time, we have noticed that this approach is not solving the issue. We may even notice that these apparent solutions are often fostering unproductive individualistic and competitive behavior when more is to be gained in collaborative teamwork. So these apparent solutions may actually do no more than add to organizational problems.
But let’s face it, in spite of all the apparent corporate concern and extensive Human resource programs focused on developing employee motivation, ownership and commitment, it seems that over the past decades, the corporate work environment has gradually become much more alienating. So let us now consider that the problem was not defined correctly. What if we are just trying to cure a symptom and not the real illness? To approach the issue with a different perspective in all executive coaching, it may be useful to consider a completely different frame of reference.
For instance, we could indeed assume that most people are naturally motivated to contribute to the achievement of meaningful and stimulating individual and collective goals. We could consider that when given a chance and a supportive environment, any normal worker, employee or executive will spontaneously volunteer positive and constructive energy to achieve corporate objectives. If one adopts this point of view in the course of any executive coaching process, then the leadership question becomes “why are employees and managers becoming unmotivated in the corporate environment, often to the point of quitting in order to become self-employed by taking great personal risks? What indeed makes people loose their motivation for one environment and choose to leave for other horizons?
- In this perspective, the real question in executive coaching today may be to simply ask: how is the corporate environment systematically de-motivating, dis-empowering and alienating personnel?
Indeed, it seems that most corporate leaders, executives and management are deploying an array of methods specifically tailored to limit empowerment, stifle initiatives, curb all risk taking, increase predictability and ultimately succeed in rendering their employee’s and middle management’s life utterly boring. Indeed, one doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to perceive that organizations are becoming more and more controlling. Consider:
- The growing amount of increasingly detailed standardized operating procedures that are usually rolled out and controlled from distant centralizing headquarters.
- The extraordinary array of complex and very detailed reporting systems that occupy many managers almost full time. Many of these control systems routinely by-pass and overlap managers and are redundant, for extra security.
- The extensive time spent in meeting presentations to inform and over-inform an increasingly inquisitive micro-managing executive hierarchy,
- The widespread deployment of ISO and other so-called quality measurement systems focused more on establishing another set of measurable procedures than on really developing client quality,
- The very wide and continuously growing range of financial and executive control systems,
- The growing complexity of matrix co-management structures, where everyone reports to at least two or three contradictory if not competing and conflicting hierarchies.
All these control systems and more are implemented in the corporate environment to achieve two very complementary objectives: minute executive control over any possibility of initiative, and extremely precise predictability of results. This is the central issue that needs to be approached and solved in the course of most executive coaching processes.
- Delegation means "untie". De-Legature. Legature is kin to ligament. This is what most managers and organizations do not undertand about the whole concept of delegation.
Organizations and executives need to face the fact that unmotivated and disempowered personnel are not the result of a world-wide and general social evolution that would have today’s employees require more perks to function normally. The lack of interest for work in the corporate environment results from growing a form of neo Taylorism that has been very gradually developed by over-centralizing headquarters, with HR often coming in first place, and over-controlling executive processes and paradigms. This has acelerated over the past thirty to fifty years.
As a result, outstanding increases in the volume of sales or of financial results are not first in the hierarchy of executive concerns or priorities. Executive managers mostly want to know what each and every person is doing and want to control exactly when and where they are doing it in a very predictable way. This has become much more important than to have the same people creatively achieve really outstanding results in a less controlled and more unpredictable way.
In effect, most executives priority is to justify its managerial presence by proving that it can very correctly and minutely predict and control. Executives must be able to answer any question concerning their organization, at a pin's drop. This is what their shareholders expect. If an organization’s personnel ever aims for outstanding goals in a fashion that escapes executive control, then the latter will often react in fear and move to establish tighter controls. Consequently today, it is much more important to merely make a safe and sure budget than to unexpectedly deliver multiplied results.
- As a consequence, when the large majority of an organization’s personnel seems to display lack of motivation and empowerment, the real issue is that their corporate culture is primarily focused on pleasing security-oriented shareholders who prefer stable and predictable progressions over unexpected opportunist peaks and slowdowns. Shareholders want their corporations to compensate for their fear of change by providing apparent stability. Consequently, employees have to suffer a fundamentally insecure management culture focused on implementing a very wide range of coercive control systems essentially designed to limit unpredictability for executives.
In such a context, middle management and personnel adapt, comply, and limit themselves, slow their potential growth and minimize all risk taking. Why indeed spend time and energy fighting more and more pervasive internal limits imposed by the corporate system if the priority is not to develop. Organizations are today running in the fashion of excessively reigned race horses. In this context, it may also seem useless for executives to attempt to motivate, empower and grow personnel. One does not grow in coercive environments. At best, one will better survive by displaying apparently compliant and pleasing behavior. Just deliver the very safe expected results.
In this context, there are two possible executive coaching strategies that could bring much more coherency.
- The first strategy is to cancel all useless expenses on training, coaching, empowering and other means that are fundamentally incoherent with the underlying corporate priority on total control and legation rather than delegation.
- The second strategy would consist in using executive coaching to develop a more goal-oriented management culture that would not privilege a top-down centralized micro-controlling environment. This executive coaching strategy would indeed consist in accompanying leaders to create a learning environment for their personnel to grow, unfold and achieve their potential for outstanding results.
Organizational personnel would then be simplie untied. They would not need to be empowered nor motivated. They would just be allowed to express and unfold their existing natural motivation to grow and develop in a positive environment. In this systemic executive coaching context, the personnel would be less stressed and distressed, and executive coaching and training alike would have their rightful place.
The Newtonian leadership paradigm versus systemic emerging processes, two opposite world views in our current executive coaching reality
At the turn of the last century, the western world has witnessed a major shift in its preferred frame of reference. Today, this shift is becoming very influential in executive coaching. This shift may not be apparent to the common man nor to the average executive, leader or manager, but it has become obvious to most modern scientists, informed policy makers, advanced scholars, educated thinkers and readers, and systemic coaches. Gradually, this shift in worldview is becoming widespread, and is globally influencing major evolutions in belief systems, values and ultimately in everyday decisions and behaviors. It is high time this shift of world view be considered in executive, management and leadership coaching models
This major shift is a gradual change from a linear Newtonian or Cartesian view of reality to an iterative and interactive, systemic, global perception of the universe. This major shift in the western world’s perception of reality is now considered more important than the one that provoked the Renaissance, changing our perception of the world from a flat plane to a globe, a mere planet in a small solar system, away from its previous position in the center of the known universe.
If such sciences as mathematics, astrology and applied physics were instrumental in humanity’s evolution from the middle ages right through the industrial revolution, quantum physics, molecular biology and cosmology are today at the growing edge of the present major shift of perception of our place and role in the universe. This new paradigm is becoming central in executive coaching.
Today, it seems that executives and leaders still live between two radically different perceptions of reality. On the one hand, a large number of them are still convinced that effects have defined causes and that specific actions can lead to expected results. In short, executives and their coaches still believe that the world is a fundamentally logical and predictable place in which rational decisions will lead to predictable outcomes. Simultaneously, more entrepreneurial executives and leaders seem to be much more aware that things are not so simple at all, and this is becoming central in executive coaching. In fact everyone is actually beginning to understand that nobody controls nor can predict finance, trade, world growth, the weather, population development, evolution, etc. This category of executives and leaders is beginning to perceive that we humans actually know very little. In fact, everything in our universe is totally interconnected and interactive, and the sheer complexity of it all has always been out of our attempts to controlling reality. This reality is now shifting the whole frame of reference of executive coaching towards a more systemic approach tailored to embrace complexity, previously perceived as unmanageable chaos.
This major shift in the perception of “reality” is a huge lesson in humility for all the hard sciences that, in the last millennium, have been convinced they know and can predict reality, almost pretending to be human gods, otherwise known as experts. Unfortunately, this so-called scientific approach is the most widespread paradigm in most leadership circles and has been reinforced in past and recent executive coaching relationships.
Most readers from the executive coaching community will probably recognize that their profession, born at the turn of the century, is in the crux of the change of perspective mentioned above. Some of the consequences or declinations of the frame of reference of this new profession which is foundational to modern executive coaching are also listed below.
Indeed, it is clearly said that executive coaching is a new approach that rests on an attitude of deep trust that new, more appropriate options and solutions can emerge out of a truly interactive process with clients as with our larger environment. The executive coaching profession clearly stipulates that an attitude of respectful presence and listening is more productive to finding valid solutions than any voluntary knowledgeable or analytical approach. To position the executive coaching profession, it is indeed often stated that an executive coaching professional is neither an expert nor a therapist. This definition is important, although it does not necessarily add to clearly define what an executive coach actually is or does. At any rate, a systemic executive coaching approach is gradually spreading throughout the fabric of society and influencing new leadership and executive perspectives on the more complex nature of reality.
The list presented below will attempt to first clarify what the previous millennium’s dominant leadership and executive coaching paradigm of what reality has been. It will then attempt to define a more systemic management or coaching attitude, in keeping with what is perceived to become the next organizing matrix for human consciousness and executive coaching.
This list can obviously be applied to accompanying progress within any system such as a person, a team or organization, a body, a living cell, a country, the planet or the universe as a whole.
Most Performing Energy flow
Centralized or top down: the mind or leadership decides what is appropriate, and the body, the people, the employees must implement these decisions to ensure success.
Bottom up: the people, the body, the employees make numerous local micro decisions and immediately inform the mind, the center or the leaders, as well as the rest of the concerned system, community and environment. This is a central repositioning of reality in executive coaching.
Very precise, simple high-level objectives are clearly and centrally defined by system leadership and are must precisely be achieved in a defined time.
High-level objective are loosely and interactively defined by all the elements of a system. They are often multi-dimensional and are expected to become more precise or evolve in time. This approach is central in the very process and relationship of executive coaching.
Actions and steps
There is a clear distinction between high-level objectives on the one hand, and the subsequent actions and steps that will make their achievement possible on the other.
There is an iterative process between objectives, goals, states and actions. In the new executive coaching paradigm, the whole system is expected to gradually define high-level objectives by creating the states and performing the actions that contribute to their definition, as they are achieved.
Acceptance of Complexity
The linear relationship between objectives, states, goals and actions must first be condensed and simplified. They must then be clearly understood by all before implementation. This is a binary informational organization.
In the course of an systemic executive coaching process, an understanding of the relationships between goals, states and actions is accepted to be imperfect and will be gradually acquired in the process of realization. This is what takes place in all iterative, learning organizations.
Interactions within and without the system are limited and even censored to be manageable. Information is given and responses are solicited depending on the actions that are or must be taken. Information to and from the larger environmental context is restrained.
The outcome of interactions within and without the system depends not only on the actions that are performed, but also on the larger context within which the actions are performed and on the possible interpretations of the actions. Modern executive coaching embraces that form of complexity.
Time is managed as a controllable linear process. Deadlines rule processes. Each step to achieve larger goals must be successfully completed before the next can be initiated.
Time in systemic executive coaching is managed in a multitasking fashion, all possible actions may start simultaneously and all actions may progress concomitantly and haphazardly, feeding on each other and nourishing each other.
The nature and structure of a problem needs to be very well understood before attempting to solve it. This is an analytical approach.
The nature and structure of a problem can only be understood after all actors are actively engaged in the process of solving it. In executive coaching, this is an emerging action-oriented process.
One preferred solution and strategy must be clearly identified before any action can be considered or taken.
Numerous complementary solutions are retained as optional, and more precise strategic choices are made with systemic executive coaching, after actions are undertaken.
Specific means are allocated to ensure the separate success of each of the steps that make up the larger process.
An extensive range of possible actions is determined and explored prior to action. All probability risks in the environment are precisely described.
Only a limited number of pertinent actions is identified or perceived as appropriate. The environment is perceived as uncertain and the range of unexpected events that might happen is constantly kept open in an executive coaching process.
What must happen is what was intended to happen in the details of the planning and preparation phase. Each detail needs to be flawlessly carried out, as planned.
Systemic executive coaching intention is focused on the general goal. it is believed that during operational phases, outcomes surface through complex processes that no one can fully predict, understand or control.
Good decisions are made through explicit statements of objectives that rest on a single and clearly defined worldview or paradigm
The problem is often simply defined by a single coherent and logically sound model.
Any simplification of a complex problem depends on gut judgment and intimate first-hand knowledge of the context. Systemic executive coaching works with intuition.
Carefully planned actions are designed to achieve one valid option after scanning and eliminating all other available alternatives.
In executive coaching, immediate actions are chosen from a very limited subset of possible options, and the process is repeated endlessly as the system actively moves forward.
Decisions are made slowly on the basis of the fullest possible amount of information, prior to undertaking any action
Decisions to act are quickly made, to create retroactive information, as a systemic executive coaching approach recognizes that only limited information is or will ever be available prior to taking action
Good decisions are the product of a structured and careful process of calculation
The best possible outcome is achieved through a conscious controlling process dedicated to maximizing allocated resources.
Good outcomes in systemic executive coaching are derived through continual and often partially unsuccessful adaptation to constantly changing circumstances.
Order is the product of a single directing and controlling mind or body, and is established top-down
Order emerges or surfaces bottom-up and spontaneously in systemic executive coaching, out of a collective trial-and-error learning process.
To achieve credibility, the rational decision maker must always be, or appear to be consistent
Consistency is considered a minor virtue in systemic executive coaching, possibly even a dangerous one, kin to one-mindedness. Reactive adaptability predominates.
Expert-leaders define procedures and models that direct people on how to find solutions
Coach and executives work with people to constantly learn with them, in order to find solutions by interacting together
Risks in the environment are described probabilistically. Attempts are made to control uncertainty that is considered to be a perturbing factor
In systemic executive coaching the environment is perceived as naturally uncertain, and attention is given to integrate unexpected events, considering all of them as possible opportunities
Consequently, with this new coaching strategy driven by executives and HRs, a number of managing and follow-up procedures are enforced by sales trainers to accompany salespeople to define challenging goals, to follow up on their clients, to measure progress, and to achieve better results in the field. Now, what is surprising is that normally, sales management is also about implementing procedures to accompany salespeople to define challenging goals, follow up clients clients, measure progress, and achieve ambitious financial results.
Considering this overlap of responsibilities between sales managers and sales coaches, some questions may be raised here, including the following:
- When sales trainers are busy following up on salespeople to ensure that these achieve results, what is sales management doing?
- Who gets the bonus in case of higher results, the alledged coaches or the managers?
- Is this parallel coaching-cum-management process focused on rapidly achieving higher sales results really a coaching approach?
- How is this internal process participating in blurring the difference between top-down management cultures and a coaching approach that should principally rest on tapping creative energy that can emerge from the bottom up?
- Are these trainers-coaches merely surrogate managers that will eventually replace the existing managers? indeed, if they really learn how to accompany sales teams to achieve higher results, they will in effect become excellent managers. They could then apply for the job and be paid accordingly.
What seems to emerge out of the recent “performance coaching” trend is that some organizations have given up on developing their executive and management skills of the people who hold these positions. When executives and managers don’t manage their personnel to achieve measurable results, the new strategy is to have their personnel directly “coached” by a third person to achieve results. Interestingly, these third persons do not get perks and bonuses linked to sales results, as they do not hold management position. This seems to be quite a roundabout way to protect all the executives and managers who lack management skills. But then, it is no secret that most executive decisions just aim to increase executive comfort.
The real issue may be for companies to accept to face their reality. Too many people holding executive and management positions are still not trained to be real people leaders and managers. Most of them may indeed be good experts or have friends in the system and seniority in the organization, but they do not know how to accompany their personnel and teams to achieve outstanding professional results by delegating, motivating, enforcing procedures, defining ambitions goals, following up, measuring progress, and achieving higher financial results. This, interestingly is the focus of executive coaching.
It is quite clear that these organizations are underachieving. But bypassing executives and management with operational coaches will not solve the issue on the long run. Consequently, people holding executives management positions need to be coached or trained to embody management skills and really accompany their personnel. That is their main function. To achieve this, it is the executives and their managers that need training and probably coaching. Not their personnel.
But considering this situation, what are the real management and people skills of the managers who manage these managers? What is the strategic competency of those that design these roundabout bypassing programs? What are the real training skills of the trainers, who should be training people to develop behavioral skills rather than just entertain with concepts originating from books? It is indeed difficult to apply a coaching solution when all the real organizational needs have not been identified.
Now don't get me wrong. There is a lot to be done with real executive coaching to help organizational clients, executives, managers and sales people achieve very performing results. But this cannot be achieved by simply compensating for non-existent management skills. Nor is coaching the same as training or managing. Coaching rests on accompanying exceptional employee growth and development to achieve outstanding results, in their own creative way, at their chosen pace. To be sure, that can often lead to achieving much higher results than any old top-down approach within an organization that avoids to train its management.
Typically the organization cultures I have mentioned (but not named) above are very centralized. Their programs are directed from conceptual headquarters to distant countries. Centralized systems want to roll out their solutions all over the world. They are much more concerned with controlling every person on their sales force, every minute of their professional day, than with achieving higher results. What these organizations call internal "performance coaching" is very often just another centralizing controlling process that ends up creating more personal stress and dissatisfaction, less motivation and ownership within sales forces and the feeling of helplessness within internal training teams. This has to be revisited on top levels with real executive coaching. Then, individual, team, and organizations coaching may be one of the appropriate means to accompany professional systems to really achieve short and long-term success.
Is the current leadership crisis anouncing a shift in paradigm
The recent European search for a Union president has surely been very revealing. The heads of states of the EU have faced the fact that they have finally agreed to a constitution that stipulates a new position is to be filled: that of Union president. They also reached a consensus that this president should definitely not be a charismatic leader who would want to push significant agendas. Indeed, the preferred search was out for a low profile and humble person who would not make waves. The Belgian Herman Van Rompuy has thus become the first European Union president
To be sure, each country would have been flattered to have one of their nationals named as the first European president. Nationalisms die very hard. But each country was just as sure that it did not want another country’s national to assume that position and certainly not if the person was to demonstrate any real leadership. We can conclude that the European Union clearly didn’t want a real leader to be named into its presidency. For once we all agreed.
This situation has provoked an avalanche of sarcastic analysis from political observers, numerous humoristic observations from journalists, and just as many cynical comments the world over. The subject is also what is motivating this text. In a question form, the object of this article is “what can the recent process to designate the first EU president reveal about the real expectations Europeans have from their leadership?
Also note that the expression of leadership crisis is rather common in everyday conversations. It is generally used to give an easy explanation to the troubled social, political and economic times we are living. Poor leadership can indeed provide us with a quick and simple explanation for our day-to-day difficulties and low hopes for the near future. When we hear this expression, however, we can wonder to what level of reality the words “leadership crisis” apply and how they should be understood.
- Do we understand that there is a crisis concerning our leaders, who they are, what they decide, how they behave?
- Or do we understand that we are going through a crisis that questions our frame of reference about the very concept of leadership?
Concerning the first dimension, numerous media analysts, trainers, consultants and other specialists are extensively covering the field. All the world leaders are daily being scrutinized, analyzed, categorized and judged. Probably more than ever in past history, all our leader’s speeches, behaviors, beliefs and habits are constantly dissected, criticized and publicized.
But what if our whole frame of reference about the concept of leadership had changed? What if our leaders were chosen to assume a position and play a role that was no longer perceived as useful in our current society? What if we were electing people into positions and offices that no longer correspond to a real social and political need? What if we were all slowly and subtly evolving to the point of no longer wanting or needing leaders? Today, we may just be naming leaders into offices because the offices are there. But our current world may be working in such a way that real leaders are no longer necessary or useful.
An international perspective
Taking that hypothesis to an international level, let us consider the following: Twenty years ago, a few countries played key leadership roles on the international scene. The US and the Soviet Union were polarized in a competitive east-west relationship that structured world politics. In Europe, the same could be said, with two partners, Germany and France on one side facing the UK on the other. The three pretended to lead Europe’s destiny and define its construction.
These times were easy. We knew who were our leaders, we had role models and clearly defined enemies, we could choose sides and follow footsteps. Worldwide, most countries were aligned with their chosen leaders while a few others were choosing to remain non-aligned. Paradoxically, some countries were meanwhile trying to be the leaders of the non-aligned. Those were the good old days.
Interestingly, we could also perceive the same type of dynamics in numerous sub-systems worldwide. Within countries, political parties, public organizations, private companies and teams, leaders fought, won or lost and did what they could to lead. All others watched, followed, or chose to remain unaligned. Everyone knew whom to consider as a potential leader, whom to follow and whom to ignore.
Today, things are much more confusing. Either there are no more true leaders or many more candidates have the potential to hold the position. But if at any given time, everyone is a potential leader, then no one can really lead. Internationally, today’s leading countries are not so clearly positioned. Some of our old champions such as the US and Russia may still have residual power, but numerous new players are rapidly accessing to equal or stronger positions: these new players are obviously China, India, Brazil just to name a few.
Times have also changed on the European scene. Try as they may, the past partnerships between key players can no longer structure today’s progress. Germany and France have their own separate agendas. Separately or together, they no longer have the credibility to play a leading role. Next to them, a host of newer members are actively reconfiguring continental equilibrium. Although these new players cannot be leaders, they can keep any other country from legitimately holding the position. Hence the current situation, with a non-choice of a non-president.
It seems that worldwide, the very possibility of a country holding a strong leadership role is no longer a desirable option. Although many countries would love to assume the role of leader and are still endlessly maneuvering to appear to be leading nations, it is just not happening. The real change in our society of nations is that the position of leadership can no longer be held by any one country, nor by any one coalition.
Some statistics from Western Europe
Let us approach the issue from the angle of training in Europe. Consider a few figures from the Observatoire Cegos who has interviewed 2355 employees and 485 H.R.s and training managers from organizations that have more than 500 employees in Western Europe. This study took place in France, Germany, the UK and Spain over a 3-year period from 2005 to 2008. According to this study, 72% of the French employees had received professional training, against 52% of the British, 29% of the Germans and 24% of the Spanish.
For some, the difference from one country to another may be quite a surprise. The fact that the British are not first in Europe may be an eye opener for many who have a Anglo-Saxon bias and approach to training and coaching. Indeed, one could imagine that if a country trained their personnel 40% more than another, that country's training tradition may be rather developed, and worth attention. If French organizations train their employees so much more than English, German and Spanish companies, what is can their experience teach others? What are their results? How do French programs and ways of delivering training compare to other countries? What is similar and what do they do differently? Just out of interest, what are some differences in training content and strategies that specifically apply to Latin cultures? What companies extensively call on French consultants and trainers, and what results do they achieve?
Other numbers: According to the study quoted above, a particularity of the French training market is that only 6% of the personnel had followed leadership training programs, against an average of 15% for the other countries in Western Europe, and 25% in the UK. This is a huge difference. France implements 40% more training than the UK, but the UK is sending four times more personnel to leadership training than France. In fact, 50% of UK training focus is on leadership, and less than 10% in France.
There can be many interpretations to explain this difference. One concerns the obvious US cultural influence on the British market. The US and UK focus on leadership may not be so trendy in France. But then, the UK also sends many more employees to leadership training than any other European country in the study. Are there so many people that need leadership training there? There could also be more people that need to be flattered by being sent to a leadership development program. Or is there more of a need to develop leaders, whereas France and the rest of Europe already has them? Of course, there are many other questions to be asked.
Excess focus on leadership
Another explanation to these statistics concerns a possible difference in the continental European Community culture which is just outside the field of Anglo Saxon perception. Continental Europeans may be more concerned with communication, negotiation, peer collaboration, cooperation, mediation, conflict resolution, etc. rather than with leadership. The European issue may be how to work together between peers, how to give and take, get along, etc. These are very different issues from just focusing on leadership, having a vison statement, a mission statement, setting goals for the employeees, and the lot. We should also remember that leaders absolutely need followers, and that these may need to know how to work together, in a less individualist way. Unless they just refer to the leader. Now who is training them?
To be sure, so much focus on the individual leader may just not be so European or continental. Focus on project-oriented teamwork may be much more so. Incidentally, note that publishers in France also avoid to have the word leadership on book titles. The word and concept just doesn't sell. On the other hand, leadership books really sell in Anglo-Saxon contexts.
Acknowledging this state of affairs can help us understand the emergence of a new political paradigm on the international scene, and can provide a few insights as to the evolution of leadership in our society as a whole. Several questions emerge as to the direction in which we are going or growing.
- Can this current international and European state of affairs be an advance indicator of the disappearance of the very concept of leadership in all levels of society?
- If leadership is no longer a structuring role internationally, within nations, organizations and teams, what will replace it, or what has already started to replace it?
The Continental European Model
As an emerging international network of nations, the European Union countries have been struggling with the validation of a formal constitution. Although numerous countries have had difficulty ratifying this constitution for very different reasons, its future effect is very clear. This new European constitution will permanently serve to ensure that no one, two, three or more member countries will ever have the possibility of exerting a permanent leadership role in the future union.
There will be no future legitimacy in having specific nations assume statutory leadership positions. From now on, France, Germany, England, the Benelux and other big “founding members” will have to consider every other newer member country as an equal partner. That may be hard to accept for a lot of the older EU countries, but that is the new reality. Lets face it: Europe wants to be a network, a number of project-oriented teams, a loosely-woven confederation of partners, anything but a formal system headed by a strong leader. In effect, the present European constitution has ratified the largest formal international leaderless network system ever experimented.
Indeed, it is obvious that the current European Union doesn’t need any one state or pair of countries to act as leaders. The Union doesn’t need any one country president or leader to try to lead the Union, much the contrary. The message to each state leader is stay out of European leadership. If you want to act as a leader, stay within your country, (and see if you can succeed there).
Within the Union, different leadership positions are conceived within such a quick rotational system that we are ensuring that officials will not have the time to push significant personal agendas. To have a chance of being elected for most European posts, candidates better be humble, transparent, diplomatic, consensual and patient.
If this state of affairs concerning leadership in Europe is a perceptible truth, then we need to start considering some of the consequences. Should such a change towards leaderless systems be taking place on the European level, there will surely be numerous effects on all other levels of European reality. We may already be in a transitional process that questions the very necessity of strong, visible and charismatic leadership on all levels of our society and in all our social and economic systems.
The need for leadership in Countries, companies, administrations, teams, communities, cities and provinces may in fact be in the process of being completely questioned. This may explain why all over Europe, people perceive a leadership crisis. We are simultaneously looking for direction through visible leadership and ready to do away with the very need for leaders as a structuring role to achieve collective ambitions.
Enter leaderless networks
Unfortunately, for numerous people, the very concept of working or living in a leaderless collective system is still impossible to imagine. For those people, working or living within an efficient and effective peer network or federation without any one member taking over a permanent leadership role is practically inconceivable. Leaderless systems are the equivalent to chaos.
In some organizations, however, temporary network teams or project teams have been designed to achieve a given goal and then dissolve into the background. These temporary flat and reactive teams are often difficult to understand by traditionalists, but they work. The reporting systems of network teams are often complex and their decision-making circuits difficult to explain, but they achieve results. A close look at network teams most often reveals that they do not have strong leaders. In fact, that is what makes them effective. In general, humble and diplomatic temporary pilots represent many of these project-oriented systems.
Interestingly, network systems and project teams often do manage to achieve objectives in a way that more classical systems cannot. Network systems have the reputation of being much swifter, lighter, more effective and more collaborative than most formal systems in leadership-ridden organizations. These networks are generally designed to work across the very boundaries erected by territorial and competitive leaders. Project teams are flat systems that are built on the principle of goal-oriented cooperation and collaboration.
If leadership driven systems are on the wane, are flatter project-oriented systems on the rise? Is this the new paradigm that is slowly being created while we focus on annulling all our potential leaders’ capacity to lead? This may be a slow and natural evolutionary process that is so close to our eyes that we do not perceive it.
Coaching as a model for non-leadership
Interestingly, in the past fifteen years, coaching as a profession has spread the world over, proposing a new model for relationships in the consulting arena. Much in the same way as some project management pilots, coaches question, reformulate, accompany and facilitate dialogue to allow the emergence of new solutions. They do not push their solutions or agendas on their clients, they do not take the lead on client ambitions or goals, nor do they drive for client results. Avoiding all knowledge-based expertise, power-based or contractual leadership, coaching rests on the principle of sharing responsibility to progress in concert, within a respectful peer relationship.
Interestingly, the non-leader coaching posture and corresponding coaching communication tools interest numerous managers who are in search for a new paradigm to accompany teams and organizations to success. This new manager-coach is searching for ways to create learning environments that allow for all employees to take responsibilities and initiatives, grow and succeed together. This collaborative approach spills out and affects a new type of relationship between teams, with suppliers and clients, and with the larger environment. In Europe, with the gradual disappearance of the old leadership model, it seems that more community-building and collaborative attitudes, strategies and tools may be on the rise.
The preliminary question is: What do managers really need? Do they need knowledge or do they need skills? Do they need a another fashionable diploma or do they need to change the way they manage people in their everyday context?
- If the answer is that managers need more kgeneral nowledge and theory to understand coaching and how it may apply to leadership, designing visions and goals, elaborating values, motivating people, etc. then practical training on coach skills is not very useful.
- If the answer is that managers need to develop more practical communication and relational know-how, they need to revisit and modify their day-to-day way of relating with their employees, with their clients and with their business partners, then acquiring coaching skills and behaviors can definitely be appropriate.
Coach training workshops are paper-and-slides-free behavioral learning environments providing each participant an active context to acquire very practical pragmatic skills. In these workshops, participants learn by doing and practicing rather than by absorbing knowledge about practice.
indeed, workshops differ from seminars. The privileged approach is not focused on theory nor on concepts but on physically or behaviorally acquiring skills by repeatedly experimenting competencies until they become a second nature, naturally built-in communication reflexes. To use a sports metaphor, seminars teach students theory about muscle and concepts on ideal styles. Workshops offers active workout environments to build muscle and develop a personal style.
Consequently, after following a workshop, the measurable result for managers is that they change their day-to-day behaviors within their immediate professional environments if not in all their relationships. They very practically implement what they have already repeatedly practiced. Within coaching workshops,
- Managers develop the motivation to use coaching skills because they personally experiment achieving very positive results with these skills.
- Managers become competent in the use of coaching skills because they practice them time and again with a masterful trainer and coach in a well-designed learning environment.
In coaching workshops, however, managers also learn much more than behavioral skills. They change more than skin deep. There is a paradoxical observation about learning new behaviors and acquiring very practical skills: when managers really change how they communicate, they gradually change who they are.
People often think that learning different behaviors is just a superficial process. It just takes time. If you want to improve your service in tennis, for example, just practice serving one thousand times. You will almost automatically achieve your goal and improve your service. Indeed, practice makes perfect. In coaching, managers can also learn new behaviors in the same way. Learning how to listen and then ask powerful questions just takes practice.
Note however that in general, learning by sheer repetition is not perceived as very validating, motivating nor committing for participants. This type of behavioral learning is looked down upon as if it were too mechanical and not noble enough for elevated minds. Consequently, numerous managers come to skills training with the idea that they are just acquiring tools, in a superficial way but that they will not fundamentally change.
One becomes what one does
Observation in training situations seems to prove otherwise. To become a pofessional pianist, one needs to practice hours, days, months and years. Acquiring a discipline in any domain requires minute practice, regular practice and then more practice. Only through practice does one really achieve mastery. In coach training workshops, as managers espouse behavioral changes, they also gradually change their perspectives on management and that in turn may modify their more fundamental nature. They may even change physically. Note that tennis players gradually develop one arm to become much stronger than the other.
So any regularly practiced management activity is different and each develops very different qualities. Just like in sports, different activities modify personal equilibrium, distribution of strength, capacity for speed, personal resilience, heart rhythms, team skills, precision in details, individual concentration, systemic strategy, will power, etc. The same happens in coach training environments such as workshops. All the behavioral skills that are acquired by the managers help them acquire more than personal competencies. These skills gradually change how they are as managers and sometimes how they are perceived in their leadership position. More deeply, these changes may affect how they perceive themselves and their own roles as leaders.
Consequently, by practicing new skills in workshops, managers learn to use them. Behaving differently changes the way they relate with others. Changing how managers relate modifies how they are perceived. This in turn changes their perceptions of their work environment and of who their employees are. If this process is tailored towards accompanying personal growth in the work environment by the development of how we manage people, then we become much better managers.
In coaching learning environments and workshops, managers do not only learn how to do coaching or management. They also learn how to become profound coaches and effective managers with real people skills.
To conclude, coach training environments for managers are designed to have them acquire powerful people-coaching skills. These are communication competencies that can be used within a large number of other professions that deal with people such as in sales, recruiting, counseling, training, etc. Acquiring coaching skills for professionals in any of these fields not only helps them succeed better in their profession, it also helps them develop to become better people.
The above saying is well known and is central to any systemic approach. The concept behind it has been very trendy, and has permeated society to the point of immensely influencing worldwide social, political and ecological awareness in the past decades in all environments where populations have had easy access to global information. Unfortunately, the implications of a truly systemic approach are not always completely understood in their amazingly innovative reach, to the point of influencing day-to-day behavior.
Simply put with a well-known neologism, the systemic paradigm rests on the principle that one needs to become “glocal”. This means that the best way for anyone to comprehend a phenomenon is to observe it within its global environment, and the best way to initiate change is within a totally local approach. Consequently, a glocal approach in keeping with a systemic paradigm rests on practicing a truly global analysis and understanding, and then implementing local changes and initiatives in one’s most immediate and intimate environment.
To give an obvious example, to understand the effects of pollution, one needs to have a totally global approach. One needs to cross geographic boundaries and scientific fields of specialization to include effects in unexpected far-off regions such as Antarctica, Iowa and Bangladesh, and in scientific fields as different as the weather, oceanography, wildlife, human health, economics, etc. On the other hand, to do something about global pollution, each individual must implement totally new local behaviors by changing minute personal habits in all their day-to-day lives.
Now this is already a very important step, but it misses the point. Indeed, the illustration remains in the same field. It feeds the illusion that only local pollution adds up to global effects of pollution. It does not propose that we should expand our horizons to reconsider other behaviors that add up to global pollution. A systemic view of the origins of global pollution needs to cross into other fields of common human behavior.
To offer an example, consider such different daily activities as studying harder in order to distance other students and get accepted in a top-ranking school, playing chess or tennis to beat a challenging partner, maneuvering to increase a company’s market share, winning an argument in a debate with an opponent or beating a political party in any democratic elections. All these normal social and professional activities rest on win-lose principles. If one gets to win, another must loose. If one gets in, another doesn’t, if one passes, another fails.
The whole social and economic fabric of our society rests on the principle that to have, to achieve, to develop or to grow, it is necessarily at the expense of others who will not. You cannot win a tennis or chess game if your opponent doesn’t loose. You cannot earn a higher market share if another company doesn’t get less. You cannot win an election unless your political foe doesn’t get into office. This competitive behavior is central in all aspects of our lives. In the end, there are the haves who win and the have-nots who loose. And nobody wants to belong to the second category.
To be subtler, most of the social and economic games are not based on a winner-take-all principle. In the large majority of our social and economic systems, there are ladders that present different degrees of relative success and different depths of comparative mediocrity. The result is that no matter how much one has, there are always means to get more, and no matter on how little one survives, it is always possible to end up with less.
As a result, when one observes traffic behavior, sidewalk etiquette, social discussions, team meetings, market place strategies, professional strategies and behavior in almost any human environment, the general strategy is how to one-up the neighbor, get an edge, scramble for an advantage, get a head start, beat the crowd, finish first by the greatest margin. This ambition is the fabric our social system, even if it sometimes means cutting in line, becoming devious and cheating to get ahead.
Today, bankers, traders, businesses and nations model the winning game in the economic field, and sports relay the pattern to touch humanity more privately through soccer, the Olympics and other playing fields. Mass media thrive on all information that drives the paradigm that winners in any given field are heroes, and that someone else in that defined environment is going to have to loose. Even save the planet associations and other green warriors are singling out enemies they would die trying to destroy. Now which is the biggest and best in that field.
There is some talk about win-win behavior in some restricted areas such as between chosen partners, within teams or organizations. The principle is often professed as necessary alternative so as to start growing together rather than against each other. This usually done within a well defined, closed circle, however, and implemented to beat the outsiders.
Exceptionally rare are the individuals, partners, teams, organizations and countries that systematically search for a cooperative win-win posture in all they undertake with everyone, with their suppliers, with their clients, with their families, with their competition, with their enemies and with the larger environment. For those, there is no outside, no enemy, no one to be left out or to beat.
Systemically speaking, we must realize that our behavior in our social environment is exactly identical to the one we all have with our general environment and that includes with mother Earth. The way we generally relate within society is the way we generally relate with everything out there, including nature. Sustainability on a worldwide level starts at home and in a win-win way to perceive your neighbor, your competition, other people in the traffic jam, the person waiting in line with you, whoever else who happens to be next to you.