John Ainley: Why every leadership team needs an objective view

No business has it all. Take two clients I’ve worked with recently. One is a new, smaller, agile business that can move at pace but, on the flip side, is run by a very strong founder who has clear views about how to do things which, in itself, can be restrictive. The second client is a big, well established FTSE business which has many of the things that the smaller company needs in terms of process and the ability to speak about issues and challenge ways of thinking, but it doesn’t have the agility to turn on a sixpence.

One wants what the other has and vice versa – neither is in a perfect place.

Deep examination

There is no one answer to this problem, but the way to begin to address issues like these is to carry out a deep examination of both the personal experience blindfold – where previous experiences interfere with an ability to watch, listen and learn from others – within the leadership team and the organisational experience blindfold, where beliefs have been established over time that cause sediment to build up and create a lack of agility.

You need to be working in both those realms – the personal and the organisational – to identify what it is you need to change. The problem is, it can be hard to see yourself and your business objectively when you’re looking at both through your own eyes. It’s when an objective third party view can be a great help.

To address this issue with our clients, we begin most of our leadership coaching programmes by carrying out a deep investigative interview with each member of the leadership team. These interviews usually draw out common themes that individuals cannot observe themselves; identifying what the organisation is good at but also finding those blind spots and beliefs that have built up over the years – the sediment – and that aren’t necessarily the ‘truth’.

Build the right foundations

These interviews should be at the foundation of any culture change in your business. Without getting this piece right, anything else you do to address your business culture could be focused on the wrong thing. And while no business can expect to be the best at everything, an objective situational analysis is a vital first step in identifying those areas that need to be addressed to develop a well-rounded and ultimately more successful organisation.