Leaders Can’t Support Their Teams If They Don’t Have Support for Themselves


Leaders Can’t Support Their Teams If They Don’t Have Support for Themselves

By Magdalena Nowicka Mook, CEO, International Coaching Federation

I’ve seen the word “crisis” more in the past 18 months than in the previous 18 years.

The entire world is still dealing with a crisis of enormous proportions with long-lasting effects. We know at least one of these is that the future of work looks different. The efficiency of teams and team approaches to problem-solving are top of mind. The leadership of the future calls for very different attitudes and actions from the leadership style teams became accustomed to in the past decade.

Many researchers and business-development specialists cite the need of all organizations to now rethink and retool their competency models. They acknowledge this is crucial for the success of any enterprise and all those who contribute to it.

Necessary and Overlooked: Support for Leaders

While leaders track the evolving environment and strive to prioritize their teams’ well-being, who is looking out for the leaders? All too often, no one—not even the leaders themselves.

During the pandemic, leaders have been exposed to the same level of difficulty, stress, and pressure as everyone else. They, like all others, have had to balance their significant responsibility for the organizations and people they lead with those of their personal and family lives.

But a changing world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) did not begin with the pandemic. Leaders have long tried to navigate disruption, a driving force for dramatic change for both teams and leadership.

Business leaders have had to adjust actions and strategies and take risks. Now many are burned out. The pace of change has not slowed with the rollout of vaccines. Organizations face new challenges every day. Leaders continually need a new way of thinking to address them. The need for agility and adaptability has never been greater. It is a tall order.

The Support Teams Need Right Now

All of this is occurring even as employees are really looking up to their leaders to, well, lead. To succeed, leaders in every organization should consider five key competencies:

  1. Emotional intelligence and empathy.Not everyone is instinctively equipped to deal with strong emotions such as anxiety, unhappiness, and uncertainty in the workplace. Leaders need to be ready to retain and engage talent by dealing with these emotions.
  2. Culture of trust and purpose.Employees, especially younger employees, want to feel as though their work contributes to a bigger purpose. Leaders need to know how to cultivate trust with their teams and regularly communicate purpose. When these two needs are met for each team member, it can be transformative in the culture, making space for creativity, drive, and longevity in employee tenure.
  3. Driving change and innovation. Leaders need to be open-minded about making changes and ready to seize opportunities, even with a level of risk.
  4. Resiliency in the workforce.Leaders need to help their teams become more resilient and support them in feeling confident through the changes and uncertainty ahead. Resiliency is a factor that can make change-management initiatives successful.
  5. Coaching culture. A strong leadership culture of empowerment will help employees find their place in the ever-changing environment. When leaders use a coach approach by engaging their employees to find their own solutions instead of a “command and control” approach, employees develop skills, gain confidence, and take ownership over their work. Being a part of decision-making processes will give them the ability to see a bigger picture, with greater transparency and deeper understanding.

Ask the Right Questions/Find the Best Solutions

The discipline of coaching includes asking powerful questions. Here are a few that might help leaders and teams navigate this time of post-pandemic unease:

  • What can the organization do to support leaders so they can continue serving and developing their teams into the future?
  • Empathy is one of the new leadership traits; how can space be created for leaders to be on the receiving end of empathy?
  • What can help leaders and teams be resilient?
  • How can everyone reconnect with a shared sense of purpose and move forward?
  • Where can leaders and teams find the inspiration and confidence necessary to innovate, experiment, and take risks?
  • How can leaders be vulnerable without looking weak or unsure?

Professional executive coaching may offer some answers. This confidential and thought-provoking partnering process may allow leaders to examine all aspects of their work and discover both new demands and new opportunities. Coaching can help leaders reach clearer goals and expectations so they can create realistic roadmaps to achieve these goals and produce favorable outcomes.

Leaders are expected to develop and grow their employees and look after their well-being—that much is clear. What is less obvious is that they also need to be provided with resources and supported on well-being in a systemic and consistent way. Leaders also require empathy and support for professional development, equal to what they offer their teams—without these, they will be ill-equipped to pass forward support to their employees.

In these times of crisis, leaders must proactively pursue forward-thinking support for both their teams and themselves. We must acknowledge the ways the pandemic has impacted—and continues to impact—each of us in major ways. We must equip our organizations and their people to adapt to new ways of working.

Professional coaching is effective and valuable, even when the word “crisis” is not on everyone’s lips. Coaching can make a meaningful difference and enable new thinking, offer reinforcement, and ultimately build up confidence, self-awareness, and the necessary competencies of the modern leader.

To learn more about professional coaching and its organizational benefits, visit the International Coaching Federation.

Magdalena Nowicka Mook is the CEO of the International Coaching Federation (ICF). Previously, she held positions with the Council of State Governments and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. She is a trained coach and a frequent speaker on subjects of coaching and leadership. She received a master’s degree in economics and international trade from the Warsaw School of Economics, Poland. She also graduated from the Copenhagen Business School’s Advanced Program in International Management and Consulting.

Read more from The International Coaching Federation:

  • Executive Coaching Can Help Managers Build More Collaborative Teams
  • Good Leaders Acknowledge Their Employees Often
  • Leaders Need Professional Coaching Now More Than Ever
  • How Coaching Can Help You Move from Crisis Management to Crisis Leadership
  • Effective Global Leaders Need to Be Culturally Competent

The ICF is the world’s largest organization for the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 40,000-plus members located in more than 140 countries and territories work toward the common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organizations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organizations, communities, and the world through coaching. Visit coachingfederation.org for more information.

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