The concept of professional development is one that is probably very familiar to us. We may apply this to ourselves, and also our work as coaches may be in direct relation to the professional development of our clients.
In the context of today’s environment, terms like “digital revolution”, “4th industrial revolution” and “VUCA” (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) are now heard almost daily. Alongside this, we may find ourselves immersed in conversations around climate change, economic and political turbulence, mental health and matters of social progress. In light of the characteristics and challenges this type of environment present, the World Economic Forum has shared that the following Top 10 skills will be most needed from leaders in 2020:
- Complex problem solving
- Critical Thinking
- People Management
- Coordinating with Others
- Emotional Intelligence
- Judgement and decision-making
- Service Orientation
- Cognitive Flexibility
What really stands out for me is that most, if not all, of these skills are as closely related to our personal development as they are to our professional development. By way of an example, I am struck by the distinct shift I see in the focus of my children’s education, which is now centered around equipping them with skills of the type noted above, as opposed to the more traditional approach of helping them develop subject matter expertise. I see the same concept applying to leaders in the workplace. I heard one of the teachers at my children’s school describing their approach as “future-proofing” leaders and I propose that in fact the leaders we may be working with today even need “present-proofing”, because the future is truly here.
At ICF Converge19 in Prague, one of the keynote speakers, Frans Johansson said: “Today is the slowest day you will ever experience from now on”. Looking at the skills above, the ability to handle change and change at speed are crucial and these skills offer a foundation for that to be possible.
So, the first question that comes to mind is, how can we as coaches support these leaders to be most effective in developing these skills? Leaders are now expected to lead under very different circumstances including:
- Leadership coming to them at an earlier age
- Experience and seniority being less valued as leadership traits
- Uncertainty and shifting outcomes associated with leaders’ own situation (e.g. provision for pensions and retirement expectations etc.)
- Leadership being distributed throughout a matrix infrastructure with less clarity of boundaries, responsibility, accountability and even deliverables
All of this seems to culminate in a significant increase in what is perceived as “unknown”, and that can create discomfort. How can we support our clients to navigate the potential discomfort, the “unknown” and be effective?
Another challenge is that, whilst some leaders may be open, ready and willing to engage in their own personal growth needed for them to be most effective as leaders, they may find themselves working in organisations with a “fixed mindset” culture. I was talking with some colleagues whose business provides large scale coaching programmes within organisations, and one of the themes they were noticing was that some leaders are feeling compelled and drawn towards a different kind of leadership and yet they feel unable to embrace this due to the culture of their organisation. One leader even likened it to the courage needed to “come out”; in this case, to be open and take a stand on how they felt and what they think is needed within the organisation moving forward. How can our contribution also reach the broader organisation, so that the ripple effect of coaching really becomes a strategic resource to the organisation as well as a development opportunity for its leaders?
As complex organisations struggle, and even begin to disintegrate in some cases, how can coaching support these individuals to engage in their personal growth needed for them to claim their leadership and support their organisations, communities and therefore society at large?
One thing that comes to mind is that we consider the concept of “first look within”. What is the personal development opportunity for us as coaches? For example, how are you with change? How are you with uncertainty and ambiguity? How are you with goal posts changing regularly and rapidly? How are you with the balance between perceiving something as an opportunity or a threat? Do you have the skills noted above? By first looking within, the ripple effect of coaching actually starts with us … and perhaps this is one of the ways that we can make our biggest contribution.
As this year comes to a close, what might be your biggest opportunity for personal growth next year? How could you turn VUCA on its head so that it meant something different? How about: Vision, Understanding, Connectivity, Action instead?