From the ordinary to the extraordinary, leaders juggle an inordinate amount of demands. At the same time, however, they are expected – and needed – to be visionary and innovative. When deluged with enormous responsibilities, leaders often struggle to find time to strategically envision how to strengthen and grow their organizations. Yet, to imagine, and then successfully set in motion strategic innovation, leaders must have the freedom to participate in a dedicated thought process. The many demands and distractions of daily leadership can make this challenging, which is why so many leaders benefit from the partnership of a coach.
Star Factor coaches engage leaders in discovering their creative vision through active listening. This deep form of listening creates a space where leaders can fully explore their vision and the steps needed to achieve their dreams for their organization.
The power in active listening is listening without interrupting and without judgment or assumption. As active listeners, coaches not only hear the words of the speaker, they notice the speaker’s body language, themes and emotions that surface in the speaker’s conversation; they listen with curiosity and without distraction. Coaches silently participate through actively responsive body language, such as nodding, making eye contact, smiling, or leaning in to show interest or leaning back to create space.
At appropriate moments during the listening, coaches verbally participate through open-ended or probing questions that kindle leaders’ imaginations. Coaches prompt more introspection by asking, “tell me more” or “how would that look, if you took that step?” At the same time, they validate by mirroring back what the leader has expressed so she or he can go deeper through self-reflection. Through empathy and encouragement, coaches help leaders identify their emotions and the emotional intelligence competencies needed to transform their thinking into action. As active listeners, coaches are patient and comfortable with pauses, knowing the silence is not barren but fertile.
As an example, through an active listening process that set the stage for a visioning exercise, a new principal recognized that her teaching staff suffers from stagnation and low expectations. She found that teachers at her school are used to working in silos and operating without feedback from the administration or one another.
She knew she wanted to transform the teaching culture. As she talked through her coaching sessions, she began to envision turning her school into a dynamic peer-to-peer learning environment among teaching staff. While at first this seemed daunting, given years of routine would need to be upended, she leaned into the openness provided by the active listening and visioning process. By talking through her hopes and concerns, and by identifying the emotional intelligence competencies she would need to employ, such as relationship management and inspirational leadership, she began to map out her vision. She identified ways for teachers, such as inter-visitations and sharing of case studies, to spark one another’s creativity, collaboration and mutual learning. An unexpected outcrop of this vision, was how the principal discovered that this paradigm shift would empower her teachers to develop their own unique leadership skills, which would also play a part in helping teachers thrive. Ultimately, she knew that benefiting the teachers would benefit students and the overall success of the school.
While actively listening to her vision, the coach noticed how progressively animated she became while talking about her goals. When she was overwhelmed by the prospect of such a major cultural overhaul, she clasped her hands and took a deep breath and paused in thought. When she was excited, she leaned forward and gestured. By actively listening to this body language, mirroring back and asking open-ended questions, the coach supported her thinking deeply through the incremental and bold steps that would lead her to making her dream a reality.