Innovation is both an essential and messy disruptive for corporations. CEO surveys consistently site innovation as a top need to improve performance and sustain competitive advantage. However, innovation is often confused with invention and continuous improvement. Ultimately, the desire in corporations is that the status quo be disrupted so that the workforce is doing something different and useful. That is innovation. Continuous improvement is doing the same thing better and invention is creating a new idea or method. Masterful professional coaching by leaders inside of corporations is an innovation. Engaging employees at every level through the mindset and skill set of professional coaching causes individuals and teams to renew and restore. Application of coaching in everyday workplace conversation demands a thoughtful appreciation and awareness for the sources of disruption that generate innovation for people, including ourselves as leaders.
The etymology of Innovation comes from the Latin innovationem, noun of action from innovare, dating back to 1540 and stemming from the Latin innovatus, pp. of innovare “to renew or change.”
Innovation can therefore be seen as the process that renews something that exists and not, as is commonly assumed, the introduction of something new.
For this renewal to take place it is necessary for people to change the way they make decisions, they must choose to do things differently, make choices outside of their norm.
Frequently a colleague will say that not all leaders are prepared for coaching inside of corporations. The reason given is that coaching skills are not sufficient to be effective. The basis for this is that leaders must first have expertise that is gained through specific education such as a business or finance degree as well as experience in a supervisorial capacity along with industry-specific knowledge and credibility. All of these ideas are incredibly valuable to succeed with continuous improvement and invention. If innovation is desired, the coach approach supports leaders to focus on disruption of consultative idea generation. The consultative approach originates and creates ideas from historical from education, knowledge and experience. Being disruptive comes from examining human motives and character strengths that underpin mindset, behavior and decision-making. Fortunately, the professional coaching competency framework offers skills and behaviors to drive disruption and therefore contribute positively to innovation.
Leaders who engage others based upon personal experience and affinity for a specific industry or functional role often struggle to self-manage personal bias. As if wearing blinders, our perceiving of the situation and the teams of people working toward an innovative solution is not independent of our own thought. The blinders interrupt creating awareness from the inside out of the leader. In addition, individuals receiving coaching support that is content-rich, often do not sustain ownership for the personally disruptive change that empowers breakthrough behavior and contribution. While a business and system-orientation is useful for strengthening compassion for the leader’s situation, a tension of presence also occurs. One aspect of presence includes our motivation to share business content to evidence our competence to other team members. The second aspect that is also important, is full trust in an individual or team’s capability to choose wisely. The consequence of sharing content we perceive is useful is that we compromise our trust in another’s capability to create and tap their own resources and competence to choose to do something different. The choice of how to engage these two aspects of presence in healthy balance is to grant the choice transparently and then collaboratively determine what serves the desired business outcome.
A common conversation in the field of leading innovation today is that maybe, just maybe people don’t have all the answers for the questions seeking innovation. Maybe we don’t serve our teams by being attached to the underlying coaching principle that every person is whole, resourceful and capable to generate suitable answers. This line of thinking generalizes the basis of coaching on a point that is worthy of more careful discernment. Expecting certainty about what coaching does or doesn’t require of the leader and the colleague is analogous to a straightjacket on Houdini. The coaching process and experience does not fit a prescriptive approach. Innovation for a leader means learning, likely unlearning and then relearning how to behave to achieve something that does not yet exist and is unique for each person.
A focus on the nature of human development for leaders includes considering the complex and systemic influences upon an individual and his or her teams. The culture offers a set of norms of behavior and practices by which the workforce understands what to do when, with whom and how in order to have at minimum job security and ultimately, to live with purpose and potential. When leaders choose to engage as coaches, we bring curiosity on behalf of the team so that awareness of these influences is incorporated to the full scope of the initiative. The organization, represented by strategy and performance goals, is the first client; the individual leader or team responsible for an innovative solution is the second client, and the system-wide relationships for that leader are a third.
The discipline of coaching is rigorous and requires tenacity to sustain the stance of ooach rather than presume to know more than the organizational system about what serves the strategy and performance outcomes best. Given this complexity, the team is in the best position to understand the context and the relevant technical content for any prospective topic. Leaders adopting a coach approach, by contrast, have permission to challenge, champion and collaborate with the team so that his or her relationship with the context and content of the system may transform. As this occurs, an innovation emerges in the way of leading that produces the desired new results.
Status quo in corporations dies hard. Leaders adopting a coach approach in corporations requires four important strengths: patience, tenacity, fierce commitment to awareness building and detachment from having contextual and content answers. Offering leadership through a coaching stance generates one place, often the only place, that team members may express skepticism, doubt, outrage, disappointment and then crazy ideas, wonder, hope and courage without requiring immediate action or management of others reactions. Critical thinking that activates and the exchange between leader and the team is generative. Teams originate ideas and plausible methods to create something different are considered. Paths for learning and research are identified over time so that decisions are made and pursued for how best to produce results.
The engine of innovation is born in the coaching chalice, fully expressed with potential consequences assessed before commitments to action occur. The coaching exchange inducts courage and that changes everything. The climate for courage unlocks the assumptions, preferences and habits to transform. Transforming limiting beliefs is a process that invites the team to declare a new basis for decisions, one that better supports the organizational goals the leader is expected to fulfill. The coaching partnership allows disruption in thinking before disruption in action. This is essential because innovation has a most powerful force as its ally, fear – the stealer of ambition, enemy of change, champion of the half-measure, checked swing and almost there thinking.
Senior leaders in corporations see and declare failure using specific success measures. Separated from the day-to-day, key performance indicators are examined as if that is the binoculars to see clearly across long distances. Clarity however is missing. Failure is in the experience of getting to the results that are determined to be inadequate. In reality, it is the experience of the workforce being enlivened or not that counts and that’s the job of leadership. The failure is not in the results, it is in the leadership that created a climate of fear. Job 1 for leaders is creating the climate for an exceptional experience of being enlivened. Leaders must personally experience being enlivened or the status quo will stay entrenched and innovation will fail. Leadership is made not born; everyone is eligible. Engaging a coach empowers leaders to, in the words of John Chambers, Chairman of Cisco, ‘Be a role model versus a rule maker’.
Yes, YOU Can
People want to feel valued so they can contribute and engage with creating a positive future. High-jacked ideas by leaders who need recognition disenfranchises the workforce. Be valued for what you awaken that is so vibrant team members choose a new way of leading to produce the results that are needed. Surrender the bias to be seen as smart, competent and wise and choose to lead and serve teams by being evocative, encouraging and enlivening so that you induct courage to innovate.
Every person is destined for greatness and, it’s a path that must be chosen, over and over again. Every person feels fear and uncertainty when the climate is volatile and ambiguous. Human beings are not born with an operator’s manual. We engage life as learners and the best lessons are those we chose to pursue of our own volition. Partnering with others through a coach approach allows all leaders to share the burden of shaking off doubt in favor of hope. The practical influence of exploring the inside of the self and translating this into how each person is uniquely a leader is exactly how coaching disrupts and drives human innovation.
Janet Harvey, MCC ,CEO inviteCHANGE, has 30 years of executive and entrepreneurial experience with 12,000+ coaching hours, primarily in organizational and executive leadership engagements.