What has coaching teenagers taught me about leadership

We often look up to people beyond us – in age or status – for inspiration, direction, an example to follow. What if, for a moment, we tried turning our attention the other way? Perhaps even to those going through a phase of disorientation and change?

10644293_757664617622154_8981041909709528919_oWe often look up to people beyond us – in age or status – for inspiration, direction, an example to follow. What if, for a moment, we tried turning our attention the other way? Perhaps even to those going through a phase of disorientation and change?

I had the opportunity to coach a group of 14-15 year old boys on the previous Helmsman Project program – as it turned out, a challenging and rewarding experience which taught me more about leadership than I could have imagined. Here are my lessons to share with you…

1. Meet them where they’re at

You may have heard of Robert Kegan’s developmental stages. In very simplistic terms, he argues that there are five stages to humans’ psychological development, which are based on how we perceive the world. For example, for a stage 2 person whose consciousness revolves around themselves, getting them to understand the impact of an act on a relationship can be a stretch. It’s essential to first meet them where they’re at – authentically validate the position they’re in – before trying to move their thinking. People in an organisation will be at different stages and it’s important as leaders to understand this so we can better connect with them (‘meet them where they’re at’). Our words will then be much more impactful.

2. Experience speaks louder than words

Speaking to a teenager about resilience will only get you so far. On the other hand, getting them to pull on a rope while being seasick on a yacht will give the word the full meaning it deserves. Experiences add shades and colours. They create an imprint in people’s mind and can stimulate buy-in towards one’s goals. So what concrete experiences can we use as leaders to create buy-in into our vision? Or to help our people have a tangible understanding of their contribution in the organisation?

3. Trust is earned 

It was very interesting to see the level of trust the boys had in me increase over the 12-week program. It didn’t happen overnight. By going through the challenges with them, listening to and supporting them, we developed openness and confidence in each other. Similarly, leaders must earn trust, which also means working hard through challenges, supporting our words with actions and being present to our people.

4. You will always be the authority figure

However much trust my group and I built towards each other, at the end of the day, I remained an adult and therefore an authority figure. This meant I had to dig deeper to get their true answer, as opposed to the one they thought I wanted to hear. Likewise, however friendly we may be as leaders, people will still look up to us to find the ‘right’ answer. The saying goes “Leaders cast a long shadow”. And the main activity in organisations is shadow watching…

5. Teams are formed

When my boys came together for the program, they were a group. They might have known each other’s names, but they didn’t really know each other. Over time, as they experienced challenges and fun times together, and were encouraged to spot strengths in each other, they started to develop as a team. As a result, they also began to work better together – they communicated more, engaged and supported each other. The bottom line is, a team isn’t a team until there’s cohesion. As a leader, it’s important to think about how we can develop opportunities to break silos within businesses as this is when innovation, efficiency and a positive organisational culture can emerge. Perhaps multi-divisional special project teams could be formed? Social interactivity between departments encouraged?

How do these learnings apply to your leadership goals? Have you learnt other leadership lessons from younger people? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Note: If you’re keen to find out more The Helmsman Project or coaching young people, head to the website.

1 comment on “What has coaching teenagers taught me about leadershipAdd yours →

  1. Quelle belle expérience!!! On devrait médiatiser ça, je veux dire faire une télé-réalité show à la télévision!!! Quelle belle exemple pour tous !!! Bonne journée Kim, je t’aime et quel beau travail tu fais, je suis fière de toi, continue….
    p.s. Dis bonjour à Dan!!!

    Bye xxx