By Dianna Anderson
That’s how they were raised and educated — to envision new possibilities and build what they imagine. It drives them crazy when their bosses tell them why their ideas and aspirations aren’t realistic or won’t happen, and it kills innovation and initiative.
Coaching-based leadership provides leaders with the tools and perspectives needed to guide and encourage younger generations to make the difference they envision in real and practical ways. It requires using coaching approaches in day-to-day conversations to help others learn in the moment from their experiences.
For instance, innovation is essential at the Bridgestone Americas Technical Center in Akron, Ohio, where employees create new tire designs and turn them into reality. Steve Shelton, the vice president of product development for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations, invites innovation by sitting down with Gen Y leaders and talking about possibilities. He helps young leaders build their confidence to innovate by giving assignments that challenge them to look at old problems in new ways and encouraging them to make their own choices.
That is what coaching-based leadership looks like. It’s not about long-term coaching engagements with goals and check-ins. Coaching engagements are valuable, but they are distinctly different from “in the moment” conversations where coaching is woven into the fabric of the discussion to create insight.
It’s a common misperception that coaching is only about asking questions. The focus of a coaching conversation is to create insight for the other person. It’s the “a-ha” experience an individual gets connecting the dots for him or herself that promotes engagement to take action.
Many managers ask questions to get others to comply with their wishes. Questions like, “Don’t you think that …” and “Wouldn’t it be a good idea if …” are thinly veiled directives. The not-so-hidden agenda to get the other person to do what the manager wants him or her to do is not lost on Gen Yers — or anyone else.
Real coaching questions get people to reflect and think for themselves. Questions like, “What else is possible?” and “What do you need to say or do to move that forward?” encourage people to consider new perspectives and different ways to move through challenges.
It can be scary for some managers not to know what the answers to questions will be. But to embrace coaching-based leadership, traditional managers need to let go of the notion that management means having all the answers. That belief limits innovation to whatever managers feel comfortable with, which may not be innovative at all. In a world of constant change there is rarely a single answer, and the answers keep changing as innovation continuously shifts the playing field.
Coaching-based leadership enables people to think and learn together, and it offers more tools than asking questions. Managers can share observations, offer stories or use analogies to get Gen Y employees to consider dynamics and options they may not have thought about. Coaching dialogue enables managers to ignite Gen Yers’ creativity without draining their initiative.
Dianna Anderson is the CEO of Cylient, a professional services company. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.