[ 10 min read ]
Leadership Coach and author, Catherine Stothart has 25 years’ experience coaching teams to develop high performance ways of working. We talk to her about the challenges she’s seen leaders face as a business scales, alongside how founders can support their teams and evolve business practices to accelerate success.
Catherine has run her own consultancy business since 2002, with clients including Airbus, Audi and KCOM, this wealth of experience resulted in her publishing her first book in 2018. ‘How to Get On with Anyone’ will give you the knowledge, principles and skills you need to improve your interactions, build your confidence and give you the life-changing people skills you need to connect with any personality type.
Catherine, can you tell us a bit about your experience as a leadership coach and author?
30 years ago, I started out in human resource management but ended up specialising in leadership development, because that felt more creative and interesting to me. I then trained as a leadership coach, working over the past 15 years with a diverse range of blue-chip companies on team building and instilling best practice.
More recently, I realised I wanted to make the ideas and insights I’d gained from these massively successful firms more available to the wider public. I think there’s a real interest in how to interact with people more effectively these days. And so I launched my book ‘How to Get On With Anyone’ just over a year ago. It’s full of practical examples and tools designed to build confidence and make interacting with people more successful in everyday work or home life situations.
In your book, you talk about people falling into four broad styles of working: Navigator, Mobiliser, Energiser and Supervisor. Would you say any of these are more common amongst entrepreneurs and leaders of scaling businesses?
Yes, I probably would. Although you don’t have to be a particular style to be a success, leaders of scale ups tend to be Mobilisers. They’re naturally driven to get results quickly, so being in a fast-evolving environment appeals to their inner drive. They also have a belief that their idea is worth the risk, even if they haven’t worked it all out yet, unlike a Navigator, who needs to know how to get there first.
The key thing about these four different styles, though, is to realise that you can behave like each of them, depending on what’s appropriate for the situation. For example, as a company grows, you have to have more systems and processes. The entrepreneur needs to become more formalised, which doesn’t particularly appeal to Mobilisers. So, they either have to develop more patience – be more Navigator – or they have to be prepared to bring people in who have those other styles, and then let them get on with it.
And leaders need to recognise that their teams should move between these styles as well. For example, people who join start-ups tend to want accountability. They want to use their initiative. As the company grows, they may have to conform more and follow more processes that they haven’t devised themselves. A good leader will help them tackle that switch between the different styles.
Do leaders of start up and scaling business tend to be more or less challenging than other leaders to coach?
Every situation is different. But I have found that a challenge with scaling business leaders comes from the fact that they are often very busy people who are juggling lots of different roles and priorities. So it’s not only about finding the time to reflect, but it’s also about them even realising they need to do that – that taking time out of a packed schedule can be valuable and necessary. It might not deliver an immediate numerical or tangible benefit for their business, but it will absolutely strengthen it in a different way. A good coach will get them to envision the future direction of the business, beyond the current day to day running around, and how to get there. Coaching will help them find new ways to delegate, so they’ve got the time to focus on their strength, which is taking the business forward into the future.
How does someone ask the right questions?
It’s about beginning the questions with a what or a how rather than a why. If you say to somebody, “Well, why did you do that?” it makes them feel defensive, then their emotions get involved and they can’t think straight. So, for example, if somebody is struggling with being confident, you might ask them a question like, “What would it feel like if you were confident? What would you be doing if you were confident?” this allows them to describe an objective in their words, which then gives them a vision of what they could do differently.
Leadership coaching seems to have become more popular over the last 15 years. How do you think the practice has developed over that time?
It’s more professional and regulated now. So, for instance, if you’re working as a coach you should have a coaching supervisor, and professional bodies like the Association of Coaching and the International Coach Federation set more standards and ethics these days. Which is absolutely right, because, although you’re coaching people about business, their issues generally stem from or stray into their personal lives as well. Having said that, though, there’s still nothing to stop anybody from setting up as a coach. So, if you’re looking for one, you should check that they’re a member of an appropriate professional body and they’re following the correct ethical standards.
What do you think makes a successful coach?
Listening and asking the right questions is really important – being able to pick up where the person is in their thinking and in their feelings. Having empathy for your clients and being able to build rapport is also key. It’s very difficult to work with somebody if you don’t feel you could get on with them. But it’s not just about being nice. A good coach should give support, but also challenge their client’s thinking and assumptions so they continue to develop and grow. Because that’s really the purpose of coaching – to help make change happen.
In your experience, is the art of delegation a particular challenge amongst small and scaling companies?
Yes, absolutely. People don’t delegate because they don’t trust others to do it as well as them. And that’s an understandable and common tendency with a leader of a scaling business who has poured their heart into growing it from scratch. But most people don’t want to work in organisations like that. Most of us want to have some measure of control over what we do and how we do it. So, with these leaders, I work on helping them to develop trust in people bit by bit, asking them questions about what needs to happen in order for them to trust that person or that department a little bit more, and what they can do to achieve that.
When it comes to communicating that delegation, how would you advise leaders to give more responsibility
to their team?
It really depends on the person. One of the key skills of a leader is to be able to present information to an individual in a way that appeals to that individual’s motivation. There tends to be four types of motivation, as well as the different styles of working, people are motivated by different things too.
One type are the people who have a strong sense of duty and responsibility. They need to feel part of a team. So, you’d get the best out of them by presenting the responsibility as a key part of their contribution to that team’s success.
Another set of people are motivated by being seen as highly competent or knowledgeable. With those People, it’s best to present the responsibility as an opportunity for them to showcase their skill and learn even more, to become a real expert.
The third group tend to need the freedom to solve problems in the moment and get immediate feedback. So again, you need to tap into that need for spontaneity, without them feel constricted.
Finally, other people can be motivated by helping team members achieve their potential. So, you would tap into that, making it clear that if they took on the project, they’d be really helping others develop.
The Skill Will Matrix is a great technique to help leaders understand and influence their team better – Skill meaning capability and Will meaning commitment. If you’ve got somebody who’s low in commitment and low in capability, you use a more directive style with them. If you’ve got somebody who’s highly committed and highly capable, you just let them get on with it. If you’ve got somebody who’s high in commitment but perhaps not that skilled, then you coach them. And someone who is capable but not committed probably needs more of a shake-up.
And how about those times when, as a coach, you need the leader of a scaling up business to realise that it’s time to bring someone in for extra support or to add skills in other areas?
I talk to them about the difference between leadership and management. I try to make them see that they could retain a true leadership role – having the vision, creating the broad direction, inspiring people and perhaps dealing with the external world such as the city or investors. But then have a CEO to manage the business – the planning, forecasting, budgeting, monitoring and so on. Most entrepreneurs actually prefer the visionary side of their world, rather than the management side, so helping them understand that distinction tends to work well. The other thing I tend to point out is, one of you can do a lot, but what can two people do? They like the answer – if you’ve got complementary skills, so much more.
What challenges have you come across in getting scale-ups to improve their practice?
I’ve found that scaling businesses can struggle with taking the time to build relationships, either with their customers, their employees or their immediate team. They tend to be very task focused, which is good, but sometimes that drive to get things done stops them from putting the time into relationship building.
People often say that when you leave a job, you’re usually leaving the manager rather than the company because you didn’t get on with them. You have to appeal to people’s emotions and what actually gets them excited and keeps them interested. I love that quote from Richard Branson – don’t put customers first, put your employees first. Because once you put your employees first, your customers automatically come first because your employees care about your customers.
Outside business practices, are there any other common, personal misjudgements that business leaders can make when they’re trying to scale up?
Trying to do it all themselves is fairly typical. Or not communicating their vision effectively: If you don’t communicate your vision, other people can’t see how they fit into it, to make it a reality.
But also, a common mistake is not having a diverse enough team around them. We tend to recruit in our own image because we build a rapport more easily with people like us. The danger with that is, when everybody thinks the same, nobody considers other alternatives. And scale up businesses need that creativity and diversity of thinking more than most.
An interesting exercise to highlight the benefits of hiring diverse people is to give someone a picture, then ask them what they see in it. They then list all the things they see. Then you show them what different personalities see in the same picture. They’re always amazed at what different perspectives bring.
Finally, if you were to give one piece of advice to leaders of a scaling business on how best to achieve the outcomes they want, what would that be?
Don’t try and do it all yourself. Bring people with you. If you can create a sense of common purpose and a culture where everyone feels that they’re pulling in the same direction, they achieve amazing things.
Catherine’s book, How to Get On with Anyone: Gain the confidence and charisma to communicate with ANY personality type is available to buy or download here