Business Agility: Coaching as a Leadership Transformation Tool

What does it take to build an agile team and foster an enabling culture of innovation and empowerment? Dr. Martin Oduor-Otieno, an accredited Executive Coach, is the Founder of The Leadership Group Ltd and serves as the Chairman of the AECC. He, along with Diana Mulili, member of The Room and an Economic Development Executive with a Post-Graduate Diploma in Executive Coaching, explore the transformative power of coaching to create business agility.

2020 was a stress-test year for leadership skills. Companies’ annual plans became redundant overnight as the uncertainty dragged on. Individuals struggled to keep regular work schedules while home-schooling, and in unfortunate situations, nursing the ill. Anxiety levels rose as layoffs became imminent to survive the socio-economic effects of the pandemic. By August 2020, studies estimated 6.8 out of 10 employees suffered burn-out. Through this, the most agile companies relied on a work culture built around purpose, innovation, and employee empowerment to navigate the unprecedented volatile and ambiguous market conditions.

However, achieving agility is not an overnight success change program. It is a complex process that requires losing the bureaucratic hierarchy many have long relied on for command-and-control while balancing stability through operational processes and systems. Decision-making is decentralized from a chosen few at the top and entrusted to empowered frontline leaders, those who have a finger on the market pulse. To adapt quickly, your frontline teams must analyze market intelligence, make decisions, and collaborate with other functions efficiently to change tact where needed or develop new solutions. Therefore, the first milestone toward business agility begins with the leadership team’s transformation: to influence an enabling culture of trust and empowerment. This is where the transformative power of coaching comes into play.

Shifting from command-and-control leadership to becoming a visionary

Executive coaching has long demonstrated success supporting company leaders through complex, ever-evolving business challenges. It is a contractual relationship between a coach and a coachee where the objective is to improve performance, especially in leadership and management. Coaching provides company leaders with an opportunity to experiment with new ideas and approach situations from different perspectives, enabling them to take actions toward achieving business goals. In creating an agile company, coaching can be used to help the executive team adapt to the changing business leadership needs.

Changing from a command-and-control leadership style to one that depends on being a visionary to inspire and empower teams is a mental shift. It calls for a guided development of self-awareness, growth in compassion and authenticity. These qualities are amplified in agile businesses, which have a very high degree of openness, transparency, and failure tolerance. Coaching best practice tracks the outcomes, decisions and action taken toward the behavior change needed to accomplish the business transformation goals. That way, a return on the coaching time and cost invested, is facilitated.

Companies that ranked higher on managing the impacts of the pandemic were also those with agile practices deeply embedded in their enterprise operating models.

Building a coaching culture

To guarantee the return on a coaching investment, connecting your team with the right coach(es) is critical. Recently the Africa Executive Coaching Council (AECC) was founded to build a coaching ecosystem that promotes best practice and connects businesses with a certified coaches’ network across the continent. In March 2021, the Council will host Africa’s first Coaching Convention for in-depth conversations on how coaching has been used to transform business performance across all sectors along with the building blocks to creating a coaching culture.

Speed is of the essence in the new market conditions and the leadership team mindset must align. A McKinsey & Company and Harvard Business Review study of the COVID-19 impact on businesses showed that one characteristic stood out for companies that outperformed their peers: companies that ranked higher on managing the impacts of the pandemic were also those with agile practices deeply embedded in their enterprise operating models. Those most agile responded better by measures of customer satisfaction, employee engagement and operational performance. The research further showed that agile teams continued their work almost seamlessly, without substantial setbacks in productivity. In contrast, non-agile teams struggled to transition, reprioritize their work, and be productive in the new remote setup.

Certainly, many companies, agile or not, accelerated decision-making in the last year, becoming more responsive to market demands and finally breaking down dynasty silos to collaborate better across teams. To keep the benefits of this newfound speed and innovation, leaders must now champion a sustainable, better embedded, agile operating model for their businesses.

The Africa Executive Coaching Convention features an exciting line-up of global leaders as well as coaches and experts in various fields, with founder of The Room, Fred Swaniker, delivering a keynote address on Unleashing Leadership Potential. The Convention takes place on 3rd March, 24th March and 14th April. Register here.

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