Teresa May: from command and control to coach-approach


coach-approachThis week’s news in the UK has been fascinating to me, particularly as it relates to Teresa May’s leadership style and her lack of a coach-approach.  I understand why she couldn’t step down from her prime ministerial role, after talking about strong and stable leadership.  Stepping down would make a mockery out of that statement (if indeed we haven’t all made a mockery of it’s repetition!).  But it appears that those around her have demanded that she become more collegiate, more collaborative, less domineering.

I work a lot with leaders wishing to move away from a command and control style of leadership to one which uses more of a coach-approach.  Of course, I don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, but the outward appearance, and that portrayed in the press this week, is that Ms May has been using a command and control style of leadership.  I think she could learn a thing or two about asking great questions of those around her, that enable them (and her) to shine.

Research by McClelland, developed by David Burnham Rosen, shows that collaborative leadership works so much better than telling others what to do – even when that directive approach comes with the best of intentions.  I’ve seen this in the field time and time again: great people become disillusioned when they work for a leader who has all the answers.  They want to use their own brains, they want to be challenged to bring their own thinking into the mix, they have other ideas that may work better than the leaders’ ideas.  So why don’t leaders ask rather than tell?   I see a power motive in Teresa May; and that power just hasn’t worked for her, or for her party.  We can all learn a lot from the lessons that I hope she is drawing from this.  Step away from command and control, and move towards collaboration and coaching.

People seem to learn coaching skills best when two things happen:

  1. they have a coach themselves (not a mentor, though there is a time and a place for that too), and experience its potential first hand
  2. they see coaching in action, and start to see how it is different from other styles of leadership they use.  That’s not to say that they should always use a coach-approach.  If the building is on fire, they would be foolish to ask their team what they think they should do about it.

Coming straight into the classroom doesn’t always get the best results, but start with these two things, and their mindset shifts in such a way that they now want to learn how to do it, and can start to experiment with new behaviours.

I wonder what support Teresa May is getting to help her to shift her mindset, in order to then shift her skillset.  Maybe the election result will give her enough of a jolt, but hearing from your colleagues that they insist you are more collaborative is one thing; knowing what that looks like and how to go about it is quite another.