The Future of Leadership Development for Senior Leaders

I recently spent time with the UJ Rugby team’s Head Coach, Werner Janse Van Rensburg, and team Life Coach, Jacques Van Reenen. Three seasons ago their team was at their lowest position ever on the Varsity Cup log. A year later – last year and this year – they played in the semi-finals. I will not be surprised if they take the cup next season.

It became clear to me that the leader, in the form of the Coach, and his “Proactive Resource”, in the form of the team Life Coach, made a tangible difference. Both of them – but certainly Jacques – expedited personal growth of these young athletes and by default the team as a whole; and the Coach has benefited personally through interactions with Jacque. I have no doubt that the combination of Team Coach and Life Coach also allowed for the young players to process successes, which, if left unattended, could easily lead to arrogance; and failures, which can easily lead to a downward negative spiral.

Corporate reality

A senior management team in business is expected to be in top form not only once a week during a match – in season – but every day, except for the odd weekend – year in and year out. Over and above this reality, leaders have a Leadership Revolution on their hands. Followers are not what they used to be and leaders are scrutinized like never before; they are visible like never before; followers are more informed and demanding than ever before; more stakeholders expect more from leaders than ever before; markets expect performance from leaders like never before and faster than ever before. Everything around leaders of today seems to be “like never/ever before”.

A professional resource

The leader of the team is always there to lead his team, a responsibility no one can or should take away from him. In my sporting analogy the leader is the ‘Coach’. But please understand these are unprecedented times. More than ever it makes sense for the leader to bring in a professional resource to assist with the all-important task of supporting and ensuring personal growth of individuals in their team; to help them grow personally and professionally while processing failures and successes; to assist them to more than cope with extraordinary pressures; to guide them through their visible leadership interactions – be it on media platforms, speaking to large audiences or important one on one engagements inside and outside the organisation. Having said all this, these days that resource must be able to fluctuate between several functions for individuals and the team:

  1. Advisory: On leadership matters; political context; social shifts; media engagement; community engagement; even economic trends.
  2. Sound boarding: Talking through sensitive situations that arise all the time, for objective context; testing important options during decision making processes.
  3. Life Coaching: With Spiritual Intelligence being so important today, spiritual insight becomes important; discussing personal challenges that the leader wants to keep confidential; assisting with achieving balance and personal goals, including physical health; and much more.
  4. Executive Coaching: To expedite concrete performance, where required, especially following objective feedback.

It therefore follows that this person or resource needs to have broad exposure and context of many aspects of life and leadership.

How the professional resource functions

Back to my UJ case study. Werner is the leader. Jacques helps Werner personally with perspective and to keep him honest. The team knows that Jacques works with the management team and players individually and is there to observe team dynamics and the interaction of individuals within the team setup. He then gives individuals feedback based on his observations. He attends big games and watches individual players carefully, giving them and the Coach feedback about their behaviour on the field. Everyone knows he is there for the good of the overall goal, the team and individuals. He is not there to assist anyone with playing political mind games.

In the business environment I cannot imagine that a Team and Individual Coach/Advisor/Sounding Board can assist leaders fully without observing them inside the team context – on the field so to speak. I have done much coaching away from the leader’s actual environment and found that not being able to confirm the leaders own reality for myself – not seeing him in action “on the field” – left me in the cold. The leader would explain to me how well – or not – he was doing inside his “first” team – the management team that he was a member of. Or he would share his perspective on how well he managed his own team of direct reports in meetings and individually. But, when I had the opportunity to engage others around him – his boss, colleagues, or direct reports – they often had a totally different experience.

I will be bold and say, just as one mostly cannot edit one’s own document, so one mostly cannot objectively or accurately evaluate one’s own leadership behaviour and impact, especially under pressure, which is almost always these days. Organizational and human dynamics, together with the leader’s title – associated with his power – mostly hinder objective feedback from those around him. Does Jacob Zuma, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, or any CEO receive unadulterated feedback from those around them about leadership behaviours that directly impact motivation levels, trust and performance? I doubt it…one would hope so, but it would always be sugar coated.

Having a mature Resource in the form of a Team/Individual Executive Coach / Advisor / Sounding Board / Life Coach is almost like adding another member to your executive, but an independent one. It is about: having someone that brings invaluable leadership context and insights from out there into the business; expediting performance; having a courageous, objective view on a regular basis; helping individual members of the team become more balanced – succeeding personally and professionally rather than failing one after the other.

What else comes with the professional resource?

The structure that comes with this resource is also crucial. What else does the person bring to the table? Remembering that senior leaders in organisations must bring their A-game every day, it therefore makes sense that they may need to draw upon more resources than one individual. Does the ‘Resource’ bring with him a team with broader input and insights, so to speak?

I predict the time will come when employing a Team Leadership Coach or Coaching Team will become common practice as we head into a Leadership Revolution never before experienced. Leadership development away from real life practice – off the field only – serves a smaller and smaller purpose. We have to find ways of developing leaders in a customized one on one manner, inside their actual environment, with and around their own team, observing them “on the field” and in action. Based on real life data we can then give direct and more accurate feedback to facilitate impactful growth, always against the backdrop of a goal and clearly defined performance criteria.


In the 20th century the term ‘coaching’ largely centred on sport. Slowly but surely it transferred over to organisations as a very common, effective and logical development practice – mostly for individuals. Leadership development in this VUKA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world will continue down the ‘coaching’ path, because senior leaders in organisations are under much more pressure on a consistent basis than athletes are.

And then, in professional team sports, no consistent victory happens without team work. The same applies in organisations where the unity and trust in a team are non-negotiables for consistent success.

Leadership development for individuals and teams in organisations must become a way of life; a daily practice and habit; a real life experiment; ‘coaching on and off the field’; not some distant and separate programme that organizations pay exorbitant fees for with hardly any return on investment. Those days are gone…



Addendum 1: Profile of a professional resource


How would one define such a professional resource? What does he/she look like? Here are some attributes to look for:

  • He should preferably have advanced executive coaching training and experience.
  • He needs to have a good record of personal achievement in preferably more than one field.
  • He should have access and exposure to a unique top leader network, for broader context.
  • He needs to have access to a top team of likeminded experts and/or experienced leaders.
  • He should have a good academic and training track record.
  • He should have broad life experience.
  • He should be comfortable in the presence of senior leaders.

Why Adriaan Groenewald and his team are ideal for the above job: See here




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