We looked at the leadership coaching topics that are most frequently covered with our executive coaching clients. These are the most common leadership challenges that we deal with in working with new and experienced managers and leaders in a range of industries. It gives a clear indication of the competencies and skills that sponsoring organisations see as most important in their leaders.
This list does not include coaching topics we have covered with career coaching and transition clients or work we do with the self-employed or small business owners. Although there is a degree of crossover, that work is mainly concerned with helping individuals achieve their own career or business ambitions.
The list was compiled by reviewing the notes from coaching engagements covering several thousand hours of 1-1 and team coaching sessions over the last 5 years. We categorised key themes in the notes and then grouped together to form the main topics below.
This is a big category but sums up the top leadership coaching topic covered by our coaches over the last 5 years. Most of the focus here is on self-awareness and understanding others. Whether clients are highly self-assured or lacking in confidence, understanding their responses to situations and the impact they have on others, is critical for high performance.
Daniel Goleman’s definition of Emotional Intelligence is much broader than this of course and elements of the model appear later on this list as separate topics.
Productivity & time management
Almost everyone we talk to has too much to do and speaks about having too little time. We all know that we can’t “manage” time – we all have the same hours in a day. It’s what we do with those hours that counts.
We work with many leaders to help them to find ways to get more done themselves and to support their teams to become more productive. This results in better efficiency, increased work-life balance, less stress. There is no magic bullet answer here: every client is different and finds a different approach that works for them. That approach might not work for others and is why a coach is more useful than a time management training course.
Leading and managing change
One of the more common leadership challenges is in managing change. Change is the new normal for most of us now and the pace of change is rapid. All of us have experience of change, not all have been responsible for leading teams through it successfully.
The ability to lead others through change, whether large-scale transformation or evolutionary projects, is an in-demand skill. Great leaders energise and enthuse others, build momentum and create a clear vision, while supporting those that are more fearful, or reluctant, to change.
Delegating tasks/involving others
This is one of the key areas when working with new managers, or those more experienced but considered to be ineffective. The ability to get things done with and through others is an important leadership quality.
Often new managers are promoted to the role because they are the “best” at what they do – selling, coding, designing, accounting etc. The impulse for them to continue doing what they do best is strong. In many cases, trusting others to do a good job is something that needs to be developed.
But effective delegation, which is an important part of leadership judgement, empowers and develops staff, increases motivation, job satisfaction and loyalty – and saves the leader time.
Communication, influencing & presenting skills
“I’m OK if I’m on familiar territory or if I’m prepared.” This is a familiar tale we hear. Many of our coaching clients think that everyone else is a confident and persuasive communicator and negotiator. The truth is that many, including some of the most senior leaders, welcome support in communicating information, influencing and presentation skills.
We have worked with sales people, CEOs and all kinds of commercial and technical specialists in this area. Highly practical in approach, we aim to quickly improve technique, develop strategies and build confidence.
If you think you’re the only one with “your area of weakness”, you are very wrong.”
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Self-confidence and imposter syndrome
Most of us assume that successful business leaders are full of self-confidence. You would be very surprised to learn just how many suffer from anxiety, self-doubt or a lack of confidence at times, if not always.
Almost everyone will experience anxiety or lose confidence at times. It is quite normal and often helps to keep us on our toes, enhancing our performance. Learning to channel this nervous tension, and keeping it from becoming a liability, is something we increasingly support people with.
Another common leadership challenge is dealing with “Imposter Syndrome.” This is the feeling that one is a “fraud”, wondering how you got the job, feelings of inadequacy in the job and, like Sheryl Sandberg, expecting to be “found out” – that one day soon the jig will be up.
There are similarities between low-confidence, imposter syndrome, perfectionism and having unrealistically high standards. We have worked with many individuals in this situation. We help you to understanding the reality, deal with your insecurity, accept and embrace your capabilities – and transform anxiety into a positive driver.
Decision making skills
Sometimes it seems that every decision we have to make is “mission critical”. That may, or may not, be the reality, but there is always pressure to make the right decisions. Indecisiveness has a variety of sources. These include: lack of knowledge/experience; insufficient information (either data or about the goal/purpose); insecurity; fear; perfectionism and good old procrastination.
Considering decision making styles and attitudes to risk, as well as understanding the cultural and commercial context of the organisation are important elements in coaching decision making.
Managing conflict/Having difficult conversations
As one of our most frequent leadership coaching topics, this is clearly an important issue for many. None of us relish conflict and few enjoy having those tough discussions with staff and colleagues.
But they are an important element of most leadership roles. Whether giving feedback, managing performance, challenging your own boss or dealing with angry customers and colleagues, getting this wrong, dealing with it badly, can be a career-limiting mistake.
Conflict management is part of the emotional intelligence model and closely related to self-management and self-awareness.
Strategy and strategic thinking
Are you a strategic thinker? What is strategy anyway? We often hear from sponsoring clients that a particular leader is “not strategic enough.” And we work with many individual clients who do not see themselves as strategic.
The problem is that strategy means different things to different people. So this has to be seen in the context of the organisation and the level the individual is operating at. But some simple questions and techniques help people to contribute to team, department or organisational strategy very quickly.
The executive coaching industry has experienced exponential growth in recent years. Our own business has reflected this, with a significant increase in demand for coaching projects, for sponsoring organisations, teams and ambitious individuals. This list of frequent leadership coaching topics highlights the areas we have been involved with most often over the last 5 years, but is not exhaustive, by any means.
The approach of bfpeople, and all our coaches, is to provide practical, business-oriented support to common leadership challenges. This is not therapy, nor is it “life-coaching” – there is no navel-gazing – just solutions-focused sessions designed to bring about long-lasting changes in thinking, attitudes and behaviours.
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