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Some tipps about leadership coaching

As leadership coaches, we have an impact on leaders. Without them, all team coaching might end up as a local optimization. As an effect, the teams experience a little progress, but in the end, they get frustrated about the lack of leadership support. I’ve found some research about leadership behavior, that scared me. In this post I’d like to share this research and some questions, I’m using to prepare myself when working with leaders. 
Some time ago, I had some peculiar experiences with executives. They happened in a short period of time, so they made me think a little. 

  1. A team of bank executives asked me, if I could introduce the product „Scrum“ to them - within 30 minutes. 
  2. One executive asked me, if I ever did a cost-cutting project with Scrum. There might be the possibility, that people would be laid off. „Have you ever done this before?“ 
  3. Another one bombarded me with his ideas about transforming the company, firing shots at me in a staccato style.

I felt a bit overwhelmed in these situations. I doubted, that I would ever like to be in a business relationship with them. I suspected, that they all seemed to lack the openness to listen, they did not prepare for the meeting with me at all and abdicated their responsibility for the development of their own companies. Apparently, their time was valuable and they were used, that they were being served all the time. 

To be honest, I wasn’t well prepared to these situations and I was not seeking to do business with impatient people. The problem was and is still now: If we cannot involve leadership, the company won’t change. 

To highlight the importance of the problem, I’d like to bring your attention to two studies: 

1. Bob Emiliani has written a book, why traditional, classical management will prevail over progressive management. He started his research in 1996 and published it in 2018 (/1/). „If there is one overarching learning from this book, it is that the most basic demands progressive management places on leaders are a severe infringement upon their vested rights and interests.“ (/2/) „Executive disinterest in progressive management is actually a 100-year-old problem, dating back to the start of Scientific Management.“ (/3/) 

If this a a 100-year-old-problem, why do we expect them to change now? 

2. Dark triads. There is a high probability, that people with so called „dark triads“, these are character traits, are more likely to acquire leadership positions. (/4/). „The three members – Machiavellianism, narcissism and subclinical psychopathy – often show differential correlates but share a common core of callous-manipulation.“ (/5/) „Central character elements include high impulsivity and thrill-seeking along with low empathy and anxiety.“ (/6/). 

If you want to learn more about this, enjoy this entertaining test on a BBC website: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20151123-how-dark-is-your-personality 

Sandra Diller, Dieter Frey & Eva Jonas did research on which strategies might help coping with dark triads (/7/). Among others were „deal with it with humor“ and „be well-prepared“. 

Here are my strategies, which helped me with the humor and my preparation: 

1. Shape actively your relationship: Reciprocal Characterization. 

This is from Robert S. Cohen’s concept „Acting Power“ (/8/). For example: „You can discover your inner geniality by making the reciprocal characterization that other people are lovable, funny, fun to be with, and fond of you. You can create confidence by characterizing other people as admiring your qualities, approving your intentions, and supporting your actions.“ (/9/)

How would your relationship with some executives change, if you characterize them like the example above? How would you start the meeting with them? How would you describe the atmosphere?

2. For preparation, I’m using a couple of questions to generate clarity for myself. The clearer I am, the clearer my expression will be, the clearer the executives will experience my appearance. 

1. What is the goal of this meeting?
2. What do they gain?
3. Which experience should they make in this meeting and how do they make it?
4. What should they do after the meeting?
5. Why should they be excited reaching this goal? (Referring to question no. 1).
6. Why am I excited about it?
7. What can they expect from this meeting?

I then,

1. Sum the answers up and memorize the start (the first 3-5 sentences are sufficient.)
2. Create a visual, so that people can follow easier. (At least I am better prepared).
3. Practice it a bit. (Especially for online meetings.)


/1/: Emiliani, Bob. The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management: How Tradition Prevails and What to Do About It (page 17). Kindle-Version. 

/2/: Emiliani, Bob. The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management: How Tradition Prevails and What to Do About It (page 17). Kindle-Version. 

/3/: Emiliani, Bob. The Triumph of Classical Management Over Lean Management: How Tradition Prevails and What to Do About It (page 6). . Kindle-Version. 

/4/: „Furnham (2010), for example, has detailed cases where high levels of Dark Triad traits, when combined with other factors (intelligence, physical attractiveness), often help an individual acquire positions of leadership. In the words of Hogan (2007), dark traits help people ‘‘get ahead of’’ but not necessarily ‘‘get along with’’ others in the work place.“ (Furnham, A., Richards,Steven C., and Paulhus, Delroy L.: The Dark Triad of Personality: A 10 Year Review / https://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~dpaulhus/research/DARK_TRIAD/ARTICLES/SPC%202013.Furnham-Richards-Paulhus.pdf, page 8). 

/5/: ibid, page 1. 

/6/: Delroy L. Paulhus * and Kevin M. Williams: The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy (https://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~dpaulhus/research/DARK_TRIAD/ARTICLES/JRP%20Paulhus%20&%20Williams.2002.pdf) 

/7/: Sandra Julia Diller, Dieter Frey & Eva Jonas (2020) Coach me if you can! Dark triad clients, their effect on coaches, and how coaches deal with them, Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice 

/8/: Cohen, R. (2013). Acting Power. London: Routledge, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203075999 

/9/: Cohen, Robert. Acting Power: The 21st Century Edition (S.116). Taylor and Francis. Kindle-Version. 


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