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Leadership is messy

Updated: Jan 2, 2021

Photo by Ricardo Viana on Unsplash

The real world

The world is awash with self-help books, and articles about leadership; about being authentic, about strategy, about creating followership, and not forgetting to be mindful. The self-help authentic, strategic, followership, mindful book about leadership! The words merge after a while, creating one giant meme. The books have rules and ideas about the proper way things should go, and they make a lot of sense, so long as you are in some neat and uniform world that exists only in those books. However, the stark reality for the stretched and under pressure business professional is a far more subtle and challenging job than those platitudes assert. The real world is very, very messy.

The real world is very, very messy.

Rapid changes to business models and disruption to jobs and organisations from things such as COVID-19, Artificial Intelligence and automation are our reality. The impact business has on their communities, and the environment, mean leaders have a much more challenging job than at any time in recent memory. Leaders need to learn faster and better, and organisations need to adapt and innovate in new, faster ways.


There is no such thing as a perfect leader. There is no such state whatever social media platitudes you read. Perfect isn't the point.

The key is to focus on continuous learning to improve yourself and develop your team.

A coach and a coaching style of leadership can help when a leader can't have all the answers. Three simple steps can help you along your path when you are surrounded by unprecedented change, unpredictability and complexity:

I. Ask

Asking questions is at the heart of coaching as they are essential for raising awareness and generating responsibility. Often the most impactful questions are the short, simple and open ones. They usually begin with:

  • What

  • Where

  • When

  • Who

  • How

Questions should be generative, taking the conversation forward.

II. Listen

Coaches must be focused on what people are saying, what they are not saying, and how they are saying it. The unspoken, non-verbal communication as well as the words. How can we listen well if we are distracted because we are focusing on what the best response is to what is being said to us?

Deep listening involves being genuinely curious about someone else's story, with a desire to understand them better. Being deeply listened to is often enough for people to resolve their problems in a judgement-free, trusting and supportive environment.

III. Empathise and normalise

One of the roles of a coach and leader as coach is to empathise with and normalise the feelings expressed to them, to reassure people that they are not the only ones to have them, or indeed that they are unusual. Whether they feel they may be "found out", not listened to or give a poor presentation, the job of the coach is to normalise this experience. To tell them they are not alone, and many (if not most) successful people have the same fears, particularly those driven by reward and status who have not given much time to develop their resilience.

Relationships and success

Your relationships are crucial. The quality of those relationships to a large degree determines the success of the team and the broader business. Follow these three steps to increase your awareness and gain a better understanding of your people and teams. It will help you to identify strategies to collaborate better, manage, lead, and develop long-term win/win relationships.


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