In our previous post on coaching, we discussed the multiple layers of assessment data that can be explored to develop a thorough picture of the Leader-Culture Fit—an understanding of the leader’s strengths and weaknesses in light of the organization’s culture strengths and weaknesses. Armed with this data, a leader and his coach can create a game plan for personal growth coordinated with cultural change.

Leader-Culture Fit: Coaching Challenges

This multi-level approach—working with the leader not in isolation, but in the context of cultural parameters, and with other stakeholders in light of ongoing organizational development objectives—is more complex than coaching purely for individual development. But the potential for individual and organizational growth is great.

Here are a few of the challenges a coach must address.

  • How much change to attempt? It’s helpful to focus on a small number (two or three) of the leader’s top attributes and biggest development challenges. This has been shown to be more effective than focusing on a single goal or attribute at a time.
  • Conflicting feedback. Be sure to explore conflicting data from different rater sources, as these could point to additional layers of fit and offer useful insights for the coach and leader.
  • Choosing self-assessment vs. 360s. There are tradeoffs to consider here. On the one hand, 360s yield unique information from multiple perspectives, surface differences between self and others’ perceptions, and involve stakeholders in the leader’s development process. But this adds time, cost, and complexity when interpreting results. On the other hand, engaging others in the sense-making process can ensure that the culture and leader are understood in relation to key business and operational issues, and this has positive potential for bottom line performance.
  • Linking LD and OD. Perhaps the most daunting challenge involves linking the coaching intervention to broader organizational development issues and imperatives. But there is growing recognition that the advantages of aligning leader and organizational development outweigh the associated costs!

Key to Leadership Coaching

The key for effective coaching is to understand the unique challenges presented by the culture, enhance the leader’s awareness of the challenges, and adjust the development plan accordingly. We have found the Leader-Culture Fit model to be one of the most useful tools for understanding and managing the leadership development process.

If you would like to consult with us regarding coaching practices, or discuss your own organization’s leadership development needs, please contact us.

This post is adapted from the article “Aligning leadership and organizational culture: the leader–culture fit framework for coaching organizational leaders,” by Levi Nieminen, Benjamin Biermeier-Hanson, Daniel Denison.

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