How manager coaching helps to create better leaders
Leadership can be hard.
Leading people, teams, or projects can bring up a lot of different emotions.
Management is complex and intricate. Two humans coming together for a 1-2-1, one with a little more power than the other, perhaps scared they’ll say something ‘wrong’. The other wondering “what do I feel safe saying here?”
I’ve thrown myself into leadership and management roles since my early twenties, mainly due to necessity after starting my own companies. While my circumstances may be slightly different to others, what I know now is the feelings I’ve experienced along the way are universal.
I’ve not received much good management. There are very few leaders I look up to in my career or in wider society that I am inspired by. I don’t see much great leadership around me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.
Many of us have had bad experiences of being micromanaged, manipulated, or treated unfairly. On top of social media showing us all the worst sides of the leaders in our world.
The list is long for me on the complex emotions that leadership and management have brought to the surface.
In my first company I felt like I could show absolutely no emotion as a leader. That I had to be a rock to those around me. I supported my team with regular 1-2-1s and tried my hardest to create a good environment for them.
Yet I hid away from some of the underlying issues and I sought absolutely no help for myself whatsoever. I believed leadership meant putting on a brave face, keeping calm and carrying on. This leaked into my personal life as I became an emotionless rock there too, hiding away from the challenges I was facing. The irony is the main challenge I was facing was; “how do I become a leader when I don’t really know what I’m doing?” The thought of being vulnerable or letting myself even explore those feelings frightened me deeply.
The imposter syndrome of “I don’t know what I’m doing” is common and an issue that’s come up multiple times for me. It’s arisen from my fear of being found out and my sense of inadequacy and insecurity about age and credibility. Through coaching and a deeper connection to my purpose, I felt more confident to lead Sanctus – to a point.
On top of feeling like an imposter there are two other challenges that have really held me back:
- Making decisions and decision paralysis
- Worrying about hurting people or not being liked
As I progressed to managing an entire team and being involved in ‘proper’ business, I became overburdened by responsibility. I was kept up at night worrying about customers, stakeholders, employees. Every decision began to feel absolutely critical. Life or death.
I struggled to make a decision because I was so fearful of getting it wrong. Plus the voices in the room had begun to get louder, a leadership team of smart people who I often thought might be right and I might be wrong. The weight of responsibility and the challenge from a talented team stopped me in my tracks too many times from having the confidence to make decisions at all.
Not only that, but I really began to feel angry and frustrated at myself and others. There were decisions I wanted to make, things I wanted to say that were stuck in me. I didn’t have the confidence to say them and to lead, inadvertently this turned against me and all the energy I had to move forward was pushed down, inwards. I began feeling tired, lethargic, stressed and anxious. I didn’t want to lead any more. With coaching and support from mentors I was able to move forward and make decisions, living with my own worry that “I’d got it wrong”.
The area of leadership that caused me the most challenge was personal relationships. Particularly managing performance in a compassionate, honest, direct way. I want everyone I work with to like me and be my friend.
I have a deep need to feel like I belong and I really wanted that from my work community. I was scared of conflict, of people being upset, of me hurting people. The reasons ran deep; fear of being abandoned, my work community meaning so much to me, a confused sense of guilt about my privilege as a leader.
The end result was avoidance. Not giving people on the team clear and honest feedback and refusing to make people decisions that the business desperately needed. The impact on the business and wider culture was big, the impact on me was a mind full of thoughts about what I should have done, what I should have said, and a brain that just could not switch off. I was completely stuck with my own feelings of being incapable to lead. I was seeing things that needed fixing in the business and I was sliding into shame, anger, and just being more frustrated at myself.
The impact on the business I was running was obvious. I became stuck, so did we. I couldn’t make decisions, nor could we. I was tip toeing around people and not being honest, so was everyone else. As a CEO I was setting the cultural tone for how we do things, I was role modelling good and bad behaviour. My poor leadership was affecting everything.
Don’t take this deep analysis of myself as me being overly judgemental. I’ve moved through that and this isn’t me being harsh on myself. I was managing a team of 50 at 28 with no prior management experience, no board, and a bootstrapped team of young people who’d not been there either.
The truth is, if I’d not had a coach all the way through I don’t think I’d personally have been able to handle the stress. I’d have completely burned out, left Sanctus, and the business would’ve been leaderless. Having a coach through the entirety of my leadership journey saved me and hugely supported the business. I was able to make some of the difficult decisions I was avoiding. I had a space to air my concerns and my frustrations. I was listened to – not judged – and my limiting beliefs were worked through and understood.
Thanks to coaching specifically on my leadership challenges I was able to navigate through the early COVID period and make a transition to installing a new CEO. The end to my story is perhaps different from many others in that through coaching, I decided I’m not ready to be a CEO. I saw myself and realised who I am. An entrepreneur, not a CEO. I understand the difference now.
Coaching gave me confidence to lead and challenged me to see myself differently. I was forced to look at some of the darker parts holding me back. I had someone by my side championing me telling me I could do it, telling me I was doing well even.
The coaching space itself felt like a relief from the rest of my day filled with 1-2-1s. I could relax there, talk it through, I’d come out with more energy and a renewed sense of focus to be able to go into some difficult conversations. I changed and I grew. I felt like I rounded out and became a bit more powerful in a way, but in a good way that I liked.
I saw that the situations I was in were things I could control, because I was responsible for how I showed up. That felt really empowering. I can’t control everything but I can control who I am and how I respond. I could lead.
Poor leadership cripples businesses, impacts employee wellbeing, and upsets performance greatly. Leaders themselves often feel misunderstood and fearful. In particular the management layer in companies is massively under supported. Typically young, first time managers who are technical experts aren’t always trained to deal with people. This layer of the organisation touches the whole company and is both a huge problem and opportunity area for businesses. The management layer is an incredibly powerful lever to pull on.
Well supported managers are better at managing people, improving employee wellbeing, and driving performance. Supporting and developing managers is the single most effective way to reach and impact the wellbeing and performance of a whole company – every single person.
The impact of a well supported leadership team is obvious, but it still isn’t the norm for leaders to receive coaching and emotional support. Leaders receiving support with a space to be listened to are less stressed and better able to make decisions. The way in which they show up to work then sets the tone and gives permission for the potentially thousands of staff to do the same. Imagine the struggling stressed out CEO who’s crippled with responsibility sending misdirected, short, snappy emails at 2am on Sunday night, what impact does that have on those receiving them and in turn the whole company?
I’ve spent 6 years in the mental health space looking intently at what supports employee wellbeing at work and what makes companies tick. Time and time again we come back to leaders and their influence. Let’s support our leaders and managers with a safe space for them to be heard and I promise you everybody benefits.
We’ve developed a coaching track specifically for managers and people leaders to become the best source of support possible for both themselves and the people under their care. Our sessions cover areas you don’t usually see in traditional leadership training – things like self awareness, empathy, proactive wellbeing support, the ability to have difficult conversations, and keep remote teams engaged and aligned.
Connected leaders are connected to themselves, their team, and their company’s mission. And science tells us they get the best out of themselves and everyone around them.