Talking About... Leadership Development

The Coaching Leader

What does it mean to lead?

If we are to develop leaders, it is important to first establish what it means to be a leader. No doubt there are many definitions of leadership. Each provides a useful look at leadership from a different point of view. However, at least in an organisational context, we have noticed something missing. Although many people in leadership positions may have a lot of knowledge about leadership, they do not tend to have a leadership philosophy which grounds that knowledge. Since most individuals do not have a foundation for their leadership, it is not surprising that when we look at leadership teams, there is certainly not a shared philosophy of leadership. Is it any wonder that organisational leadership and the culture it creates is largely disjointed and reactive? Added to that, they do not apply that knowledge at the appropriate time. What Jeffrey Pfeffer termed, "The Knowing-Doing Gap".

The key to understanding why this is the case lies in what Jeffrey Pfeffer termed the "Knowing-Doing Gap". It is not that people in leadership roles do not know the theories of leadership because, due to the huge investment in leadership development, most do. However, although they know leadership, they do not DO leadership. To understand why, it is useful to go to the research and look at the key challenges faced today by leaders.

These challenges are:

  1. How to deal with increasing levels of stress;
  2. How to successfully engage the organisation in implementing rapid change;
  3. How to process the greater level of complexity that comes with such change; and
  4. How to maintain and then enhance productivity through the increased change period and beyond.

Meeting these challenges requires a high level of APPLIED skill in FOUR KEY areas:

  1. Personal Resilience
    The ability for self-awareness and the capacity to manage personal stress levels.
  2. Adaptability
    The ability to be a highly effective learner and to support others in their response to change.
  3. Alignment
    The ability to align others to shared meaning and towards a shared direction and purpose.
  4. Accountability
    The strength and openness to be accountable to oneself and others and the ability to hold others to account.

Our ontological approach to developing leaders aims to address the Knowing-Doing Gap and meet these key challenges. Our approach stems from understanding a clear distinction between managing and leading. To most easily understand this distinction, we can look at the two key ingredients in any organisation - people and tasks. Human beings think in linear patterns, so when we think of people and tasks, one will come before the other. Although on the face of it, this may seem a trivial distinction, when we develop what happens as a result of this preference for people or task, the difference can be profound.

We distinguish thinking of tasks and outcomes ahead of people as “managing people”. When outcomes are the first thought then we are predisposed to find ways to get people to do what we want them to do in order to achieve those outcomes. This approach sees people as a resource to be channeled to achieve the goal. The result leans to a “paradigm of control” where people are pawns in the game. Organisations that are “managed” rather than led tend to:

  • See the outcome as essential and a constructive organisational culture as “nice to have” provided the goals are achieved;
  • Focus on the organisation systems, policies and processes and expect people to fit with them - they are looking for compliant people;
  • Have a strong management emphasis on controlling people, resources, systems and tasks.

We then distinguish “leading people” as thinking of people before tasks and outcomes. This is not to say that task and outcomes are not important, just that leaders understand it is people who do the tasks and create the outcomes. This approach sees people as the source of all activity to achieve organisational outcomes and seeks to constructively enhance their commitment and motivation to achieve those goals. The result leans to a “paradigm of trust” and sees people as the key to success. Organisations that are “led” rather than managed tend to:

  • See a constructive culture as essential to generating optimal outcomes. Creating a desirable culture is not a thing to do, it is THE thing to do!
  • Focus on developing systems, policies and processes to support people in optimising their performance;
  • Have a strong emphasis on developing shared organisational values and direction; and then establishing strong commitment within the organisation to achieving and celebrating success.

Based on these distinctions, we define leadership as:

"Creating and Maintaining Willing Followers".

To do this, leaders can utilise what we term, “The Leadership Cycle”. This is a four phase closed loop where:

  1. Phase one involves the generation of shared meaning;
  2. Phase two involves the generation of shared direction;
  3. Phase three involves the generation and management of the commitments required to achieve the shared direction;
  4. Phase four involves the achievement of shared goals and connecting this achievement back to shared meaning in order to maintain followers.

To effectively maintain this cycle, leaders must recognise that human beings are “interpretative beings”. In other words, human beings are constantly engaged in making meaning and taking action as a result of the meaning they make. To do this effectively leaders must utilise outstanding communication to build trust and create and maintain followers rather than coerce and bully people into action.

Talking About Leadership Programs

To lead or not to lead? ...that is indeed a question.

More often than not, when we begin work with senior managers and executives in organisations and ask them “What’s the difference between a leader or a manager?” Many are hard pressed to provide a coherent or articulate answer. When asked the question “Would you prefer to be known as a leader or a manager?”, the answers always lean to a clear preference to be a “Leader”. When they understand our distinctions between this answer is reinforced.

At Talking About, we believe that there are many parallels between being a coach and being a leader. The key difference lies in whose agenda is being addressed. In case of the coach, it is their client's agenda. For the leader, it is their agenda and that of the community they lead. As such, aspiring leaders can greatly benefit from becoming a coach and using those skills in the pursuit of leadership.

With that in mind, we offer a clear path to developing your leadership skills through our tailored leadership programs.

Tailored Leadership programs

Our leadership programs are always tailored to suit the needs of those involved and can be run for individuals or groups. They all involve:

  • The utilisation of the Human Synergistics (HS) suite of profiling products to provide an assessment of individual and group progress through the program.
  • The development of a constructive (blue) leadership philosophy (shared if we are working with a team), which is based on the Human Synergistics Circumplex™. (see diagram)
  • The development of the skills needed to better interpret the human condition with a view to understanding how human beings make sense of the world. In doing so, we explore the role of our bodies, emotional states and thinking patterns to gain an understanding of why people might do what they do. This provides the basis of establishing how to engage others in the leadership cycle.
  • The development of the skills needed to communicate more effectively with others. In doing so, we explore what it means to be an effective listener and the patterns of effective conversation that establishes shared meaning, allows for the generation of plausible possibilities, effective decision making and the generation and management of commitments. This pattern involves a shift in thinking about human interaction and why we communicate away from the traditional transmit-receive paradigm to an interpretation-commitment paradigm.
  • An understanding of how credibility and authority applies to leadership and how to ensure a consistent and coherent approach to generate the identity and authority of a leader.

We believe that many leadership programs provide people with a set of knowledge about leadership that may or may not find its way into a leader’s daily activity. Our programs seek to not only provide a useful and coherent knowledge base about how to lead but also ensure leaders trigger their knowledge when it is needed. We see this as creating wisdom in those who work with us.

Leadership and Culture

There is no doubt that the major catalyst for a community's culture lies in with community's leader's leadership approach and how they deal with the internal and external challenges faced by that community. Based on the Human Synergistics' Circumplex as shown above, aggressive defensive and passive defensive leaderships invariably leads to a defensive culture. Constructive leaderships tends to create a constructive culture.

Although, many organisational design experts see creating a desired culture as a complex process, we do not agree. Creating a culture is simple and can be equated to building a house - start with the foundations and align behaviour, systems, processes, everything to those foundations. This is the role that great leaders take on when they build culture. Find out more here.

Want to read more?

If you would like to read some articles that explore these ideas in more details, please click here.

For More Information

For more information about how Talking About can support the development of your leadership capabilities, please contact a Talking About Coach on +61 412 741 537 or email us at