Leading Change: What About the Coaching Skills of Senior Leaders?

Road sign with the words The Coach Houses written on it

Senior leaders are confronted with an increasing rate of change and complexity and need to find ways to deal with it. Leading your company through change has become different from how it was ten to twenty years ago. Mobilizing employees, engaging them successfully, motivating them, informing them, using the talent and potential of people and teams, it all is crucial. But these days more and more leaders are confronted with change fatigue in their organization. Leaders need to find ways to support their line management and employees to cope with this change fatigue effectively.

Senior leaders play a crucial role here. How do they think their company should deal with this increased rate of change and complexity? What do they see the priorities for the company? How do they want everybody in the organization to understand these priorities and focus their energy on it? What types of behavior do they expect from their managers and employees? How do they see their own role as senior leadership in this? What support do their line managers need from them?

Leading change has become much more a continuous process with less clarity on the exact outcomes. It is no longer an ‘on top’ activity that can be ‘managed’ by separate teams in parallel with the ‘normal’ business. Change completed: people go back to their normal business. No, today’s change ìs the normal business. Initiating and leading projects/task forces/new initiatives, and the related mindset and skills, have become a much more integrated part of the daily operating mode of successful organizations. And this requires for senior leaders to also change their operating mode.

Funnily enough, senior leaders are often not aware of their changing role. They tend to see their role in defining the strategy and priorities, in clarifying the decisions taken, but for the execution they expect their line management to take over. And maybe that is exactly why companies today are struggling with change fatigue? Maybe senior leaders expect too much from line managers as the key responsible for the execution of change? Maybe they underestimate the fact that leading change today requires a different relationship between senior and middle management?

What are the key characteristics of this changed relationship?:

  • The need for shorter lines between senior and middle management

Changes and complexity trigger a need for clarity. People want to control the change, want to create peace of mind by being able to understand and overlook what is happening. This applies to both senior leaders, line managers, and employees. It requires senior leaders to be close to their management. Close in terms of explaining the change, discussing potential ways to manage it successfully, initiating the right focus and right actions, guiding the desired behavior and results.

Successful leaders create more visibility on the things they are doing, more clarity on the topics they are discussing, more information on what is happening at the top. They do spend a lot of time together as senior leadership in defining strategy and focus, but they create a direct link with their management teams and keep up a high level of openness and frequent communication. Rather than keeping distance and radio silence until they are able to show white smoke.

  • The importance of ‘leading by coaching’

Of course senior leaders need to ‘lead by example’, especially in times of turbulence. But leading by example requires more than showing what you do to others and expect them to take over. Today’s leaders need to be able to coach their managers. Coaching in terms of understanding the challenges, strengths and weaknesses of the manager, investing time together to explore areas for improvement, support the manager to find answers and take decisions that improve effectiveness and motivation.

Successful leaders invest more time than ever before in coaching their managers, on individual level, as well as in team. They pay explicit attention to their own role as coach and the support their managers need to be able to lead the company through today’s challenges. They reflect on their own effectiveness as coach, they seek feedback or coaching from others without hesitation. And they never confuse coaching with micro-managing.

Do you recognize these changes? Do you experience the changed role of senior leaders? How do you coach your managers? What challenges do you face in this? Please share your comments.  

If you liked this article and would like to receive upcoming Leadershipwatch articles, register for free at the top of this page.
Photo: ell brown/Flickr (Creative Commons)


As international business consultant, change leader, alignment facilitator and executive coach Aad supports executives and leadership teams of multinational companies. Over the past 25 years he has acquired a vast experience and expertise in leading complex change, cross-cultural leadership, and post-merger integration. If you are interested, find more about Aad and his services here.

4 Comments on “Leading Change: What About the Coaching Skills of Senior Leaders?

  1. Pingback: 5 Models for Leading Change | Leading Project Teams « Martin Webster, Esq.

  2. Pingback: Leading Change: What About the Coaching Skills of Senior Leaders? | Accounting and Small Business /Beverly Shares

  3. Aad,
    Leading change indeed requires a different interaction from senior management. I like the focus you’re placing on learning to lead during times of change. I’d add the importance of senior leaders to interact with staff. They need to hear their excitement for change, their concerns of the change, and their ideas for successfully moving from old to new.


Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: