Ben Morton is an accomplished team-development consultant and leadership coach, working with small businesses and international brands. His corporate insight is enhanced by a military background, giving him a unique insight into the dynamics of successful teams and inspirational leadership. He shares some of his thoughts and advice with us: Over to Ben...
"With the dizzying pace of a fast-moving, increasingly digital world, the skills required of leaders are changing. This is not to say that everything a leader does, all that they stand for and the qualities required of them is changing - because it’s not.
I believe that there are some principles of leadership that are timeless. But equally, many of the models that have made leaders successful up until now are not enough to make leaders successful in the future.
There is no question that the pace of change in business is increasing, which is largely due to technological innovations and its impact is far-reaching. It affects how work gets done, how we communicate, consumer behaviour and how we balance our work and personal lives, to name but a few.
Ten years ago, it would have been a safe bet to assume that most leaders would have done the job of many of those that they were leading. The natural progression from functional expert, or “doer”, to managing a team of ‘doers’ and then leading a department, coupled with a slower pace of change meant that most leaders had a great deal of expert knowledge in their field. If they hadn’t done the specific job of one of their team members, the chances are that they at least understood it pretty well through their wider career experience.
There is a principle of leadership that has always been one of my pillars of success. This principle is based upon a strong belief that as a leader you do not need to have all of the answers. In fact, this is a leadership lesson that I remember as clear as day from a meeting with an Army recruiting Major when I was just 15 years old; and it has served me well.
In the old world, those that failed to fully grasp this concept got by and got things done. They may not have found the best solutions, delivered results in the shortest time or unlocked the full potential of their teams, but they got things done. But this is no longer the case. We are moving further away from this world, at a pace that is equal to the pace of technological change.
In the new world, it’s highly likely that you will not have done the job that many of your team are doing – at least not in anything like the way they are doing it now. For example, many leaders didn’t start their career in such a socially connected world so are unable to share any direct experience of how they ran a social media marketing campaign.
This isn’t just a generational challenge though and it’s not just about our experience as leaders. It’s becoming increasingly common that those we lead may equally have no experience of a new technology, new way of working or any new challenge for that matter. This is the reality of the fast-paced world in which we’re operating in.
So if we cannot rely on sharing or drawing on our own experiences, and we can’t rely on the fact that those that we lead will know what to do straight away, what is the answer? The answer lies in coaching. I believe that there is a clear, close and incredibly significant link between leadership and coaching. In fact, I describe them as ‘two sides of the same coin.’
To be a great leader you need to understand how to get the very best levels of performance from your people. To get the very best from your people, you need to know how best to support them and how to help them unlock their full potential. You need to know how to coach them.
Coaching is about helping others to find their own solutions to their challenges or helping a group to solve complex problems. If we accept that we don’t have all of the answers, or even the experience, and we realise that those we lead may not have all of the answers or experience yet, then coaching becomes a crucial leadership skill.
To conclude, leadership and coaching have never been more important to the success of teams and organisations than it is right now. The leadership capability of any organisation, at all levels, directly shapes how innovative its products and services are and the experience its customers have. This direct line between the ability of an organisation management community to lead, inspire and coach their people is why coaching is so crucial in an increasingly digital and complex world."
Ben’s latest book “Don’t Just Manage-Coach!” is a concise and practical guide to unlocking your team’s full potential and leading them to success in our rapidly changing world. You can find out more about his book here or contact him via his website at TwentyOne Leadership.