I was recounting the other day the worst email I ever sent. It was a “Reply to All.” The email I had received said that my strategic plan had failed to create the desired results, and now it was time for me to end my efforts and join the email author in implementing his strategic goals (which were stupid). The email had been copied to my supervisor and to his.
A stalemate had occurred of who had the better strategic plan and who should get on board with who. I replied with an email, copied to his supervisor and mine, trumpeting the stupidity of his strategic plan and the brilliance of my own. No more emails entered my inbox from the sender or from either supervisor. The author soon resigned from his position because he felt the organization was hindering him from being effective.
The vitriol in my response still horrifies me. Till that moment, I was unaware you could attach napalm to an email. I apologized to the recipient in person, which didn’t repair anything. The only reason I don’t regret sending that email is because it was a turning point in my understanding of how an organization can be effective.
My email exchange demonstrated a truth that is becoming more evident. Leaders don’t lean into somebody else’s agenda. I have witnessed over the last 20 years the inability for leaders to get on the same page. Strategic planning may be dead. People don’t lean into them anymore and haven’t for a long time.
“Strategic planning uses objectification to achieve ends.” – Alan Roxburgh in Missional Map-Making: Skills for Leading in Times of Transition
For years I have thought strategic planning was the gold standard and that the problem is everyone I know, including myself, must be doing it wrong.
Roxburgh says that we should replace strategic planning with “cultivating environments that call forth and release the mission-shaped imagination of the people of God…” Leaders should continue to identify the problem and call the party of people who can affect change, and then they should create an environment that draws everyone into ownership of the problem and development of the solution. The leader will still need to make a few key decisions, but the number of decisions should be less and less.
This sounds a little too good to be true. The secret I have discovered is coaching. Organizations that take a coach approach to moving forward build up talented people and release them to change the world. Coaching isn’t a fad. Coaching is the new environment that pulls people together for a common good and identifies the strengths that each one brings to the team.
Let me lay out a few positive outcomes of creating a coaching culture in your organization.
A Heightened Sense of Awareness – In a “Strategic Planning Environment,” the leader walks around observing the work and the results. Then the leader sits down with team members and explains where they are going wrong. Team members resent the intervention, change as little as they can, and try to stay away from future observations.
In a “Coaching Environment,” the leader walks around engaging team members in conversation that causes them to reflect on their work. The leader stimulates a greater awareness at the team level so which lets them respond to what they notice rather than what the leader noticed. This causes change to happen at a much quicker rate and for team members to own the changes since they are the ones who had the original awareness.
Some leaders use this in a manipulative way helping the team member think it was their idea. This is a continuance of what Roxburgh identified as objectification. People under 40 smell objectification a mile away. Leaders who manipulate or demand will be less and less effective.
Creating a heightened sense of awareness in the team, leaders will be impressed by how much the team’s heightened awareness about the problem outpaces the leader’s shallow observations.
Custom Designed Actions – In a “Strategic Planning Environment,” the leader designs the future actions of each team member. The leader assigns tasks and responsibilities. The team often chafes as they feel set up to fail rather than to succeed. They worry more about pleasing the leader than solving the problem.
In a “Coaching Environment,” the leader and the team identify the desired result and then assign tasks and responsibilities that play into the favor of team talents, strengths, and passions. This takes more time, but the results are substantially increased. Of course, team members still must pick up tasks that nobody else wants to do, but that goes easier as everyone has had an opportunity to participate in a solid way. No one feels taken advantage of.
Stronger Accountability – In a “Strategic Planning Environment,” accountability revolves around whether team members meet the leader’s expectations, which are often subjective. In a “Coaching Environment,” accountability is tied to the outcome. It develops responsibility, ownership, and increases the possibility of personal and teamwide success.
Adding coaching to the process isn’t a fad. It leverages how people think today. Organizations that develop a coaching process and add coaching to their leadership skills will be quicker to adjust their course and use their resources in more fruitful ways. Coaching brings out the best in people and the best in an organization.