Coaching for freedom to lead

This morning, I woke up with an urge to talk to you about coaching and freedom. These thoughts literally came to me overnight. I want to share them before they disappear.

Before I became an executive coach, I had a long career as a corporate executive. In that role, I was driven to deliver tangible results, on time and under budget. Not surprisingly, people from the business world often ask me about coaching from this perspective. Acquaintances and potential clients alike as questions like: “What is coaching?” “Why for?” “Who is it for?” “What can I expect to achieve, and when?” And so on.

I know these questions are normal. Not everyone understands what coaching is, including those outside the U.S., and especially those deeply rooted in the business world. To many, coaching seems intangible and mysterious. Results typically flow not from project steps neatly laid out in a Gantt chart, but from an alchemy between coach and client. From a business perspective, therefore, coaching goals and outcomes may seem nebulous, even when compared to the world of athletics, in which coaching seems to be a more linear process with measurable outcomes.

But if I think about leadership, and the need for better leaders throughout the business world, the deliverables from executive coaching come into clearer focus. In fact, if I zero in on what often holds leaders back, I can begin to see how coaching and leadership can intersect to have an amplified impact. Let me try to explain.

While it may not seem obvious at first, I believe one of the main reasons why leadership is in crisis today is that leaders believe they lack freedom. Leaders don’t always feel free to think, behave, decide or operate. Why? Often for the wrong reasons, they feel constrained by various aspects of their operating environment, such as boards of directors, consumer trends, regulators, internal and external stakeholders of all kinds, and even their own employees. Although many of these facets of corporate life actually support executive decision making (boards provide external expertise and essential governance support; employees bring different points of view to company issues; regulators provide context from larger societal interests, etc.), leaders often experience them a hindrance—or even a barrier – to action.

I believe these perceived constraints are less a reflection of reality than a product of internally-generated fear – fear of failing; fear of not delivering; fear of not pleasing the board (or the boss); fear of being fired; fear of losing management and employee support; fear of not being innovative and visionary enough in today’s VUCA world; fear of showing vulnerabilities; fear of expressing one’s own needs – in short, fears of all kinds.

Photo by Fabian Burghardt on UnsplashThese fears are borne of layers of limiting beliefs that erode our most precious leadership talent: freedom. Freedom gives each of us the wings to fly as high as our imagination can take us. It gives us the courage to confront the unknown, and fosters the creativity to invent what was never thought of or done before.

I believe freedom is a shared value, and a dream of human beings everywhere. I’ve seen that firsthand, having spent hundreds of hours listening to all kinds of people from around the world when I was an innovation leader in my prior work. It’s true that freedom may take different shapes, meanings, and expressions across cultures, ages or social strata. But freedom is a necessary predicate for most positive transformations: a better self; a better job; a better relationship; a better leader.

And that’s my fundamental aim in coaching: to help set my clients free from self-doubt so they can first see, and then eliminate all those blocking factors – those layers of limiting beliefs that hinder their personal and professional progress.

When my clients reconnect with their internal freedom, they not only blossom, but they gain greater access to the full range of their talents. Freedom from artificial constraints allows them to realize their full leadership potential by unleashing all that is unique and extraordinary in them to make a positive impact on their own lives, and the lives of others with whom they live and work.

That’s what coaching is for me: coaching for freedom, because freedom brings out the best in people, so they can become outstanding leaders.


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