Lessons in coaching women in leadership

Last year, I wrote a blog about how system justice is at the heart of greater diversity. It generated quite a lot of interest. On World Day of Social Justice, it’s a topic I am keen to return to.

Social justice is about much more than diversity, it’s about the many inequalities in our society. It’s about how we build fairer companies and fairer societies. However, addressing issues surrounding gender diversity is one way to build fairer companies.

Unfortunately, a decade of equality programmes has moved the dial very little. There has been some good progress in boardrooms – women now make up 40% of board positions in the FTSE350 – but at the executive level progress is slow. Only one in three leadership roles and around 25% of all executive committee roles are held by women and there are very few women in the CEO role.

At Complete, we coach senior female leaders to push through that glass ceiling. We’re chipping away at those poor percentages in terms of representation at senior levels, but we need to move faster.

Looking at our aggregate coaching experience provides some interesting insights into what can hold women back at work:

  • Coach to celebrate, not to conform. Instead of coaching women to squeeze into the narrow bandwidth of ‘acceptable’ behaviour, we should be celebrating the diversity of styles that can work together to achieve success. Often, coaching an individual is not about helping them conform, but about helping them to communicate the benefits of the diversity they bring.

  • Understand emotions, don’t ignore them. Too often we hear the phrase, ‘let’s take the emotion out of this, it’s business’.This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how we operate as human beings. We cannot ignore or eradicate emotions, what we can do is notice them, articulate them, and seek to manage them.

    Greater emotional literacy is the precursor to greater emotional management. It’s often a fundamental element of our coaching work. It’s amazing how transformative emotional management can be. It offers an individual great power as they can recognise the emotional response in others and manage their own reaction to it. If you’re interested in finding out more, I’d encourage you to read my blog on mastering emotional management.

  • Be you. It might sound obvious, but many leadership development programmes seem to want to put you into a box – what type of leader are you? Perhaps even encouraging you to shift your leadership style to be more ‘successful’. This kind of approach might work for a few hours, or even days, but people then revert to ‘type’. Rather than trying to lead like someone else, the right coaching should help you lead as you … just a better version of you. This means understanding the source (or drains) of your energy, as well as your values and behaviours – the right kind of developmental assessments are a good start point. With those insights, your coach can identify exactly where and how you can be better. No coach should be trying to change you.

Wherever you are on your leadership journey, I hope these insights help you get the coaching you need. With such a big task ahead of us to achieve true gender equality and social justice, we can’t start soon enough.

Find out more about Complete’s coaching programme for women in leadership.

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