Leadership Other Family Business

Meeting the Need for White Space

In turbulent times there is a clear need for “white space” – that is, quality time for reflection with a trusted neutral person.  Greg McCann explains more.

Even before COVID-19 rocked our world, family enterprise leaders have had the challenge of navigating today’s rapid pace of change, global interdependence and complexity. They’ve also had to adjust to the fact that the average family enterprise now consists not of one but of five or more businesses.

Add in all the other challenges of running a family enterprise, and it’s no surprise that one thing every leader I have worked with other the past 20 years has agreed on is the need for “white space” – that is, quality time for reflection with a trusted neutral person.

Those who get this through leadership coaching find it leads to a direct increase in their capacity and agility as a leader, which helps them meet the challenges family enterprise leaders face today—and will almost certainly increasingly face in the years ahead.

So, how exactly do these qualities of capacity and agility benefit you as a leader? What does a leadership coach do to develop them? And, what should you look for in a coach?

The benefits of developing your capacity and agility

Developing your capacity means becoming better able to think on different levels—to identify whether any given problem is a problem to solve, a system issue in need of a strategic solution, or a culture issue to influence. It also benefits you by deepening your self-awareness—so you know your strengths, weaknesses and blind spots, which helps you relate more effectively with others. It also increases your empathy for others, which research on emotional and social intelligence has shown is a significant benefit to business leaders.

Agility is about being able to choose the right style or approach for a given situation or relationship. In short, developing your capacity gives you a greater number of effective ways to think and act, and agility helps you choose the right one for each situation. Together, they help you become a better leader; and with many family enterprises over-managed and under-led today, that gives you a powerful advantage.

What a leadership coach does

A leadership coach creates the framework for all this work to occur. For example, I often spend a day with new clients and then arrange for three one-hour calls per month. This framework is designed to allow the time for leaders to pause, reflect, and process challenges, opportunities, patterns and even choices they may or may not be conscious they are making in the hustle and bustle of business.

It is also allows leaders time to process big ideas—such as, considerations about changing your enterprise or your family—with someone who is neutral, which can be hard to find among your family members.

Coaches are also more focused on helping you explore your own good ideas than on giving you advice—recognising that giving someone advice robs them of developing their capacity as a leader. They start with the belief that the client has the answer, and it is the coach’s role to facilitate the exploration of those options with questions, objective feedback, a re-framing issues, and an offering of stretch goals.

In other words, a good coach views each discussion as less about solving some immediate issue (say, a sibling conflict) and more about helping you develop your overall capacity (for example, recognise your communication patterns, which may or may not serve you in the current and other situations).

What to look for in a coach

Trust is vital. You need to ask yourself: Can I trust this person to have my well-being and development as of primary importance?

Trust, in turn, rests on competence and character. Is the person you are considering as a coach competent at what they do? Do they have experience and training as a coach? Expertise in your industry may not be necessary but understanding the nature of a family enterprise is.

As for the coach’s character, it helps to ask yourself if you respect him or her as a person and a professional. Do you think they can support you, push you when necessary, and have the fortitude to go deep when necessary?

As someone who has both had coaches and been a coach for two decades, I can say that it is one of the best investments you can make in your leadership development.

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