Ever wondered why some organizations succeed with flying colours, whilst others plummet like an unwound toy bird with its beak getting stuck in the hard floorboards? It is really fairly simple (or in some cases also a real challenge!) since it is all about PEOPLE who by right “ticking” build truly powerful organizations.  Yet- what is this magic potion or is it just a lucky chance that some organizations succeed and others wither to deterioration? There are no magic potions or chances, but a thoroughly planned strategy, consistently active contributing and development, involvement and co-operation based on partnership, flexibility and sense of satisfaction, team spirit and work that has a deeper meaning – this all is coaching leadership and work culture.  

Why are we talking about it?

This topic is clearly relevant due to our daily (possibly also every minute) changing environment where the current needs and expectations at speed of sound become the news of yesterday.  This is clearly reflected also in the expectations towards work where on the labour market dominating “revolutionary” Y generation (born in the 1980s-90s), known also as the Internet or I-generation, have forced organizations to make significant adjustments in their work organization: people no longer work for earning money or because “this is the socially acceptable norm”, stability is rather seen as something terrifying and the mentality of conducting a fixed, so-called squeezed in the frames set of work assignments has remained in the past.  Work has become an integral part of our lifestyle where the main keywords are excitement, self-realization, variety, flexibility, new challenges and constant development that is all in a supportive and individual-valuing environment. And when we think from here even a bit more forward about the upcoming Z-generation (born in the beginning of this century up to now) who in several contexts have been referred to also as the “citizens of the digital era” and whose expectations-needs will very likely take a step (or even two) further, then there is no longer time to speak or think, but one must be ready and “fully equipped”- well, about right now.

„Want“, not „must“

A supportive and inspiring work environment is based on a mentality that one “wants”, not “must”- this is exactly from where commitment, willingness to go the extra mile, and the feeling of my work IS important and I as an Employee as well as individual AM valued come from. Such work environment is cultivated and developed together as well as amongst people by a coaching leader who besides being a great role model is also a conscious and consistent human potential developer. The keywords describing such a coaching leader are “innovation”, “inspiring”, “involvement and partnership”, “trusting one´s colleagues and therefore giving them more responsibility as well as freedom”, “long-term vision together with a supportive action plan”, and “noticing opportunities”. Coaching leader does not command, but asks with sincere interest: “What do you think?”. Their focus is not so much on “How and when?”, but rather a curious “Why?”. Also, a coaching leader does not have a need to leave an impression as if they have all the answers; they are not embarrassed of making mistakes nor do they “beat anyone up” for it. They realise that mistakes are an integral part of any learning process and rather give a confirmation that we are developing and are open to acquiring new knowledge. Or in other words – the made mistakes are our “war scars” that are proof of our courage to have tried and deserve to be celebrated this way! In an organization with such a leadership culture is dominant the widely spoken about and success stories sharing coaching work culture (for instance, Sir Richard Branson, founder of one of the world’s flagship organizations Virgin Group, who already in the 1970s so-called shocked the world with his “very different management style”) where there is a fat equal sign drawn between the progress of people and progress of an organization.

How to turn KNOW into HOW?

Just having or acquiring theoretical knowledge about the coaching leadership culture without actually putting it into practice or in other words “know without how” is a complete waste of our valuable brain’s space. At the same time, when this subject really “speaks” to you more than just on the level of thought and such a way of thinking has become part of your DNA, then before starting to transform it into HOW at full power, please be reminded that development and implementation of coaching culture is a process with no end since development is and should be ongoing. It is a strategic, detailed, and consistent approach with its success stories and progress on the basis of the most successful organizations in the world (e.g. Virgin Group, Google, Marriot International etc.) talk for itself. Therefore, I encourage you to ask yourself at first some truly leader-like questions: who will you be as an individual/team/organization after the implementation of the change and WHY is it important for you? Once you have clear answers to the beforementioned questions, then an action plan for the whole implementation process (starting from carrying out a so-called audit of your competencies until mapping out specific action steps with deadlines) will be a piece of cake. This is something that I as a coaching leader can confirm from first-hand experience.

Marit Alaväli, Head of HR and Member of the Management Board at Ignite OÜ ( ) (Estonia), shares their coaching culture success story

Unfortunately there are very few organizations in Estonia who think of coaching leadership style as a successful management tool, not to mention its implementation. That is what makes us at Ignite OÜ, a company specializing in software development, unique and untraditional in Estonia. During its 5 years of activity, Ignite has consciously worked on establishing a work culture that is caring about its people as well as contributes into their development. This has been very much due to IT sector’s rapid development as well as constant “fight” over talents. During these 5 years, the organization has gone through many tests, changes and learnt from its mistakes. Today I can confidently claim that Ignite has taken a strong direction towards the implementation as well as consistent development of coaching leadership. So what do we do then differently and what is its outcome for the company?

Ignite is characterized by the following keywords: international team (5 out of the total 24 Employees are foreigners, hence everyday communication is in English), flat structure (i.e. there is no hierarchy as such), flexibility and freedom (i.e. teams themselves decide what time their workdays start and how they organize their assignments), involvement, “We learn from our mistakes” attitude, constant self-development, and personal approach. People in our company are self-motivated because our co-operation is based on trustful partnership and regular feedbacking. The latter or so-called retros (i.e. retrospectives) are carried out once every two weeks and during these sessions teams assess each and every member’s contribution to their progress. This method has proven to be effective since fast reacting does not only allow addressing any issues at an early stage, but also learning from them in order to be even better in the future as well as keep the communication amongst ourselves active.

Involvement of our people is an integral part of who we are as we discuss openly topics related to our company and people. This is illustrated also by our Wednesday morning breakfast tradition where we get together to discuss the ongoing week’s events, make decisions on projects as well as brainstorm.

We are convinced that our biggest capital lies with our people which is why we do not only invest into them financially, but allocate for them plenty of time and dedication. Our aim is to ensure our people are satisfied, happy and the environment for them is supportive as well as inspiring. We notice, encourage and support their constant development because we believe that our people’ s development is what takes the company forward and makes it unique. One illustrative coaching tool that helps us to map the development needs of our teams as well as individuals are competence wheels where the individual as well as the team can decide for themselves what is important for them and why it plays an essential role in their development. Personal approach to every individual’s and thereafter team’s needs as well as expectations via regular communication has helped us to solve all issues and provide support immediately, e.g. we do not wait for annual performance reviews, but carry out quarterly one-to-one lunches.

Despite Ignite being a successful IT company with a lot of focus on ensuring high technical competence, then we do not consider any less valuable the constant development of the so-called soft values and skills. For instance, it is true that being skilled in feedbacking as well as negotiations is necessary in our everyday customer-relations assignments, but it is even more essential in the establishment of a good and supportive work culture where caring about each other as well as mutual understanding are of high priority.

Today I am confident to say that coaching culture has made our people more open and activated their internal motivation that is reflected in the organization’s improved financial results as well as Employees coming to work with a large grin on their face. Our people do not come to work because they have to, but because they want to offer something significant in an environment that inspires them.

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