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Why the 7 Ps are to Leadership coaches what sliced bread is to working mothers

By Dr Caren Scheepers: Director, Irodo Consulting (Industrial Relations and Organisational Development Organisation) at Optimum Care Wellness Centre. She is also a facilitator on USB-ED programmes.

For working mothers, convenience is paramount. Sliced bread enables a mother to prepare sandwiches at the break of dawn with one hand, while listening to her mother’s complaints on the phone which is clasped between ear and shoulder, and making coffee for her husband with the other. Thanks to even slicing, she doesn’t discriminate between her children and rather focuses on each one’s spread preference. Better still, she empowers her primary school children to prepare their own lunch boxes. What is easier than spreading peanut butter, Marmite or, of course, chocolate spread on bread?

First reason 7 Ps are to Leadership Coaches what sliced bread is to Working Mothers: CONVENIENCE

For leadership coaches (as quoted in Coaching Leaders: The 7 “P” tools to propel change) focusing on the coachee is essential (Scheepers, 2012a). In my experience of coaching supervision, coaches often struggle with responding appropriately to the content, while concentrating on the coachee and the relationship process (Scheepers, 2012c). The 7 Ps are firstly, just like sliced bread, conveniently structured for coaches. 

Each P Tool consists of structured steps to assist coaches in their quest to facilitate leadership development. I provided a model on Leadership in the book. Each P tool affects development in one of the facets of the model. The model illustrates an interrelated systemic approach to leadership, where the first 4 P tools focus on the individual leader and the other 3 P tools focus on the team, department and even larger systems, such as the organisation and society.

For instance: 
  1. Purpose coaching affects inspirational leaders with a clear sense of purpose to align the purposes of others to those of the organisation.
  2. Progress coaching affects goal-directed realistic leaders with processes and monitoring systems in order to track progress towards defined, balanced goals. 
  3. Process coaching affects self-aware and self-regulatory leaders with Emotional Intelligence and satisfying reciprocal relationships.
  4. Perspective coaching affects objective leaders, grounded in the present, and focused on achieving and celebrating milestones in the future on the individual, team and organisational levels.
  5. Polarity coaching affects leaders who leverage differences, embrace diversity and manage complexity.
  6. Political coaching affects leaders with political acumen who network and position effectively to the benefit of the organisation.
  7. Potential coaching affects leaders who coach themselves and others in order to cultivate a leadership development culture and exponential growth towards leadership effectiveness. »
During actual coaching sessions coaches could keep the framework of the 7 Ps in mind to structure their thinking. Generally, the 7 Ps could be utilised in a systematic and sequential manner. This frees coaches up to concentrate on their leader coachees and building their relationships. Leslie (2009) quotes research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) which included 2 200 leaders from 15 organisations in three countries, emphasising inspiring commitment as the most important skill. In the leadership model of the 7 Ps, inspiration is therefore on the inside of the concentric circles. 

Our organisations are hungry for leadership. Just think how different our organisations would be if leaders would provide true heartfelt inspiration, clear direction, authentic empathy, and if leaders won’t dive into endless operational detail, but rather focus on their appropriate strategic level?  What if they were able to cross the Rubicon and enable cross- functional teamwork?  This is an ideal that I am prepared to sacrifice much for and that I dedicate my career to. It gives me energy to contemplate this vision. Leadership development is a worthwhile cause. I am humbled to contribute through the book on coaching leaders. 

The research method utilised in this book is primarily analysing numerous case studies and deriving theory from them. The book provides anecdotal information. An extensive literature review has been conducted over many years (more than 165 references), confirming and sometimes disputing inferences from cases. I provided 10 questions per leadership facet that leaders could use in 360 type assessments of their leadership effectiveness. In addition, the book has 43 worksheets that facilitate reflection on issues such as managing transition, conflict, networking, political positioning, etc. These worksheets have been tried and tested over 20 years of leadership coaching experience. They could be used either during a coaching session, while the coach and leader coachee co-create for example a purpose statement or between sessions as assignments.

Second reason 7 Ps are to Leadership Coaches as sliced bread to Working Mothers: CHOICE
In terms of our metaphor, working mothers protect their families’ health by keeping them interested in healthy eating habits. She ensures that her children’s favourite spreads are available. She creates unusual bread slice shapes with bright colours. She realises that if they are able to execute choice, children are more likely to actually consume their sandwiches instead of handing them out. Therefore, secondly the 7 Ps, just like sliced bread, provide choice in that coaches can focus the leadership coaching on what is important to coachees.

Coaches could explore each tool and innovate and self-correct as they coach.  The 7 Ps could each be applied separately. You could perceive each one as a “pool” and at some stage in coaching sessions you could “test the water”. (Therefore, the cover illustration of the book is of reflection in water.) Is the coachee ready for venturing into this area?  Is this the appropriate time in the coaching process?  Are you ready as coach to address this area?  If you are not, rather skip over it till maybe next time.  It will be there when you need it.  

Generally, the first tool, “Purpose coaching”, is where you could start. This entails exploring the aspirations of the leader and providing a purpose for the coaching as an enabler to achieve aspirations.  However, some leaders would like to exclusively review short-term goals and then “Progress coaching” is the first tool to explore. The 7 Ps are available to utilise as and when needed. In my experience, leaders often focus on their personal development when coaching commences.  Then they focus a little wider, in terms of their teams and departments, and then the coaching mostly moves towards their organisation.  It appears as if they first strive to sort themselves out and they then have emotional energy to focus more broadly. I actually experienced this while conducting executive coaching over a three-year period with a team tasked to build a power station (Scheepers, 2012b). The outcome of great coaching is leaders who are able to coach others. I am confident that the 7 Ps provide structure that enable leaders, in turn, to coach their subordinates. Kets de Vries (2006) and Ulrich and Smallwood (2007) declared that real leaders develop their subordinates into leaders to improve bench strength in organisations and industries. In this way we reach exponential growth of accessible coaching (Scheepers, 2009; 2010). In my article for the ComensaNews of June 2012, I advocated, in addition, for an exponential growth in supervision and where coaches could co-supervise peers in group supervision settings (Scheepers, 2012c). This could contribute to professional standards in coaching practice (Bachkirova, Jackson & Clutterbuch, 2011).

Third reason 7 Ps are to Leadership Coaches as “sliced bread” to Working Mothers: COMBINATIONS
Rosinski (2003) in his “Cross-cultural coaching” emphasises coaching as an art of choosing an effective approach in any given situation, and creatively combining tools. Working mothers, also, have an opportunity to combine different spreads for an original mixture or to combine slices with different colour spreads to create “rainbow sandwiches”. This brings us to the third aspect as, just like a combination of slices, some concerns coachees will bring to coaching will require a multi-dimensional integrated 7 Ps approach.  

At times you will thus be required to operate from a broad field of parallel action. Beware of choosing only one P tool, as it may be addressing only the one area where the concern manifests. It may, nonetheless, be connected to other areas of the coachees’ functioning or there may be counterparts. The whole, in systems thinking terms, is larger than the sum of its parts (Von Bertalanffy, 1973) and as such the 7 Ps and their combinations provide results far greater than originally expected. A whole chapter in the book on the 7 Ps is therefore dedicated to alignment between the different Ps. For instance, leadership involves both vision or purpose and action or progress; therefore coaches need to check whether commitments around “dreams” and “actions”, as represented by Purpose coaching and Progress coaching respectively, are balanced. When a leader keeps this purpose in mind, it provides meaning to his weekly meetings and inspires him to prepare for those meetings. On the other hand, without adequate attention to his commitments made during Progress coaching, he will not be able to realise his potential as a leader and action his plans. These commitments therefore need to be aligned.
Especially when conducting large-scale coaching interventions at organisations, combinations of coaching methods and other leadership development interventions are required. Ulrich and Smallwood (2007) also emphasise the importance of leadership development, where the goal is developing leaders towards the leadership brand in the organisation, instead of only focusing on the individual leader’s personal mastery. Personal mastery of the individual leader is nonetheless essential, and in aligning coaching objectives to the organisation’s strategy, we realise the true value of coaching interventions (Scheepers, 2010). 

In my book I provided a structured process that directs coaching towards a leadership blueprint, aligned with the organisation’s strategy. I advocated for a blended approach of supplementing individual coaching with team or cross-functional team coaching and/or mentoring and training.  In this way we reach a critical mass of effective coaching in the organisation and ultimately a culture where leaders are developed. I offered, in addition, an evaluation tool for these large-scale coaching interventions. As such, face-to-face or virtual coaching provides an important bridge between business school classroom education, mentorship and/or coaching training and the practical application of learning at the work place (Scheepers, 2012a). 

As discussed, in utilising the metaphor of sliced bread to working mothers, the 7 Ps too provide convenience, choice and combinations to leadership coaches.

Source: Knowledge Resources:  Human Capital Review 

Bachkirova, T.; Jackson, P. & Clutterbuch, D. (2011). Coaching and Mentoring Supervision. Theory and Practice. Maidenhead: Open University Press.  McGraw-Hill Education.
Kets de Vries, M. (2006). The Leadership Mystique. Leading behaviour in the human enterprise. London: FT Prentice Hall.
Leslie, J. B. (2009). The Leadership Gap. White paper of Center for Creative Leadership.  Greensboro (NC): Center for Creative Leadership Press.
Rosinski, P. (2003). Coaching across cultures. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Scheepers, C. B. (2009). Coaching analogies from African Wild Life.  Presentation at International Conference of Center for Creative Leadership: Learning Days, June 2009, Brussels.
Scheepers, C. B. (2010). Five Coaching Hazards. HR Future, February, 28–31.
Scheepers, C. B. (2012a). Coaching Leaders: The 7 P Tools to propel change. Rosebank: Knowledge Resources.
Scheepers, C. B. (2012b). Constructing the Medupi Power Station. Case study from Ivey Richards School of Business, University Western Ontario, Canada.
Scheepers, C. B. (2012c). Exponential growth in Supervision, whether individual or group, requires a coaching approach. ComensaNews, June, 1–3. 
Ulrich, D. & Smallwood, N. (2007). Building a Leadership Brand. Harvard Business Review, July-Aug, 93-100.
Von Bertalanffy, L. (1973). General systems theory: Foundations, development, applications. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
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