The Benefits of an Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy: An Interview with Thierry de Beyssac

By Thierry de Beyssac
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An interview with Thierry de Beyssac

More and more in today’s business world, we see the traditional “command and control”  leadership style isn’t working. In this interview with Axialent consultant Thierry de Beyssac, he shares his thoughts about the need to embrace new strategies and skills in order to be successful leaders in today’s fast-changing environment and the benefits of an Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy.

First, can you tell us what the Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy is?

Advanced Coaching Leadership is a kind of culture and strategy. It focuses on the decentralization of decision making, reduction of control, and increase of accountability by engaging and empowering people, thus liberating an agile organization and embracing four of the six “Harvard Leadership Styles”[1].

In case some of our readers are not clear on what the six “Harvard Leadership Styles” are, can you describe them for us?

The Harvard Leadership Styles, first developed by David Goleman and published in the Harvard Business Review, describes both negative and positive leadership styles:

  1. Coercive: The “Do what I tell you” style demands immediate compliance.
  2. Pacesetting: The “Do as I do, now!” style sets extremely high standards for performance.
  3. Coaching: The “Try this” style makes people accountable and helps them find their own way to succeed.
  4. Democratic: The “What do you think?” style builds trust and commitment through participation.
  5. Affiliative: The “People come first” style creates harmony & meaning and builds emotional bonds with employees.
  6. Authoritative: The “Come and do with me” style aligns and empowers around an inspiring vision.

Which of the Harvard Leadership Styles does a “command and control” leader use?

The Benefits of an Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy: team working together to reach the top of the mountain

The command and control style leader uses coercion when setting tasks and demands that employees do as they do, “now.” They set extremely high standards for performance. This controlled, centralized decision making and solution giving fosters authoritarian micromanagement. It creates and feeds into a competitive and perfectionistic culture where employees fear failure and blame others.

And what are the traits of a leader following the Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy?

A leader following the Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy (ACLS) decentralizes decisions and control, prioritizes accountability, achievement, and agility. This type of leader creates conditions for others to succeed. Instead of authoritarian, an ACLS leader will be authoritative within a clear collective vision and sense of purpose. He/she will allow for personal growth, self fulfillment, and the realization of self and employee potential. This creates a culture where feedback flourishes.

In what kind of business environment does this style work best?

The Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy is imperative for large, complex, multi-generational, and global organizations. It creates an interconnected diverse workforce and collaborative models, which allows for an openness to company-wide culture transformation.

How does ACLS translate into the culture of an organization?

Traditional hierarchical leadership cultures tend to have centralized structures with top-down communication and micro-managing (“my truth is THE truth” leaders). In contrast, the ACLS supports cultures to have a decentralized and “collegial” governance model, with visionary leaders who empower others. ACLS leaders understand that coaching employees to grow their skills is a way to engage with them to take accountability, give the best of themselves, achieve challenging objectives, and will lead to successful teamwork.

Advanced Coaching Leadership sounds quite challenging. What kinds of mindsets and competencies are required for the ACLS?

Self-awareness and creativity are key; an ACLS leader must be able to foster collective intelligence, collective creativity, and collective accountability. They will also need an unconditional responsibility mindset: the Player vs. Victim posture. They will be able to admit that, as a leader, you cannot know it all, see it all, nor be right and creative all the time. It is key to have this Learner posture, to foster a permanent two-way feedback culture and be able to delegate.

Harvard research has shown that the best leaders master the following four, or more, of the Harvard Leadership Styles: Coaching, Democratic, Affiliative, Authoritative. These leaders run companies with decentralized and empowered cultures. They achieve high people engagement and build a strong culture of consciousness of self (mindfulness): self-awareness, self-development, unconditional responsibility, ontological humility, sense of purpose and self-actualization.

Are there any situations where the other 2 Harvard Leadership Styles work for an organization?

The Harvard research found that Coercive and Pacesetting leaders can be effective in some crisis or severe turnaround situations when combined with the other 4 leadership styles. However, these two leadership strategies have the most negative impact on the 6 effective organizational culture components (Flexibility, Responsibility, Standards, Rewards, Clarity, Commitment).

Although the Coercive and Pacesetting styles can create short term gain, ACLS leaders understand that short-term failure can further long-term learning and winning (e.g. Design Thinking kind of innovation).

You have talked a lot about the pros of ALCS, are there any downsides?

Leading a business using the ACLS requires well-trained, versatile leaders willing to use these leadership styles while facing the high pressure of the “get it done now” economy. As I mentioned just now, there will be some moments when it is necessary to understand that short-term failure can further long-term learning and winning. Developing people is often seen as too time-consuming and resource-draining, so ACLS demands a strong leader who is willing to free up time for people management. This kind of leader needs to be willing to make a short-term time and resource investment while looking at the long-term gain.

So, in the end, what you are recommending is a change of culture. What would you recommend to a leader interested in this kind of leadership and culture?

I would say, don’t talk about it and don’t “do” it… measure it, own it, and be it.

Culture is the messages that people receive about how they are expected to think, act, and interact in order to fit in at a given organization. It’s that simple, that foundational.

The “Command & Control” leadership mindsets and behaviors tell you a lot about how you are expected to think, act, and interact. The Advanced Coaching Leadership Strategy does too… albeit in a very different way.

[1] https://hbr.org/2000/03/leadership-that-gets-results

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