The Leadership Coach as Therapist
As I was maturing in my career the norm was to make a fierce distinction between being a counsellor, a coach, or a therapist. It seemed a good idea to make such professional distinctions, but it’s not true to life. In real life there is no separation between the church and state of the worlds of home and work. To suppose that your personal life has no bearing or impact on your performance at work is quaintly naïve. And those of us who have had a trouble night worrying about work know that “work” very definitely affects “play”.
A significant number of people have said to me recently (in the context of business development meetings) that I would make a good therapist. This was unsolicited and initially surprising. It stems, I believe, from my renewed commitment to listen to others without cluttering my mind with what I want to say in response. This often means there is a gap between when they stop talking and when I start – but it’s never been an uncomfortable pause. It seems the act of being attentively listened to is a therapeutic process for many managers, entrepreneurs, and leaders.
The fascinating thing for me has been the shift in content that has begun coming out when I listen more attentively. Much of the ‘stuff’ is personal (and confidential of course!) Whilst I have no ambition to be a therapist personally, I really do want to help people move forward in business. To do this, there is often a need to help them move forward at home too.
With my curiosity growing , I looked up the derivation of “therapy” and “therapeutic” – and was delighted to discover that the words are rooted in the idea of ministering to someone’s needs (often medically). Since I’m driven by a desire to see people living a life to the full spiritually, psychologically, physically, emotionally, financially, and socially, the definition works for me.
So what would be the role of a Corporate Therapist or a Leadership Therapist? The definition would suggest our role would be to minister to the needs of the corporation or the leadership. This would have to embrace all the current strengths of performance coaching, but add the more personal aspects of seeing the corporation and its leaders as being part of a broader social context.
I believe in “Organisational Ecology” – that organisations who don’t understand their role within the context in which they do business are missing untold numbers of opportunities for developing a vital and sustainable business. The same must be said of leaders. Leaders operate from a context – their private and social lives may be invisibly connected to their working lives, but the links are there nevertheless. As a consultant or a coach of the future, I believe it would be wise for us to learn to listen to all the content shared with us – and not to shy away from matters that touch on emotional states, or personal issues. Of course, we won’t have all the answers, and don’t need to. The important steps are to listen fully, and understand the wider context.
The level of rapport that this fresh approach is building between me and my “clients” has injected fresh vitality into my business. Now I am not just a coach but also a confidant – and often a friend.