Sustainable leadership is not easy to achieve. It takes time, commitment, and a lot of collaboration between coaches and leaders. But in our eyes it’s the only approach that really works, and as we open our new Middle East office in Abu Dhabi it will be the cornerstone of the work we do with our partners.

To mark the launch of the Abu Dhabi office we’ve been speaking to TPC Leadership founder Charles Brook and Niamh Briody-Jordan, our Regional Partner in the Middle East, about how the last 20 years of TPC will help support the new office and the lessons leaders can learn from the Middle East. In today’s article they’ll be discussing the importance of coaching and the need to work together to build sustainable leadership.

Crossing cultures and generations

As we acquire decades of experience, the expectations we have of ourselves and each other grow, but sometimes this can be a hindrance. “It’s the shackles people put on themselves,” Niamh says. Too often our deep rooted beliefs and experiences can lead to ill informed assumptions, reducing audacious ambitions and diluting the positive mindset that is very much required in today’s ever changing world.”

Niamh goes on to say that although young people may have little or no experience, they often eloquently challenge the status quo with an attitude of “the sky’s the limit.”

That’s not to say young people make inherently better leaders. Often the challenge is reversed: they see less of a risk in putting their vision forward but haven’t spent enough time coming up through an organisation to experience different leadership roles. This can be particularly difficult for startups, where young founders can become leaders of rapidly scaling teams almost overnight.

“Young people still have challenges around leadership behaviours,” Charles says. “That can hold them and their companies back as they grow and they have to lead others. They have a lot of positivity but that’s not enough on its own.”

It takes courage for leaders of all generations to think differently and challenge the ways of their organisation. We’re used to thinking that it gets harder to learn new skills as we get older, but the psychology underpinning that idea is more or less debunked. The real difficulty lies more in being able to ask yourself “is my leadership working?”, and acknowledging that what got you to this point might not be the right approach for where you’re going next.

In the Middle East leaders tend to be the ones with the most years of experience. But it’s important that leaders aren’t just allowed to ‘be’ and not be challenged. Great leaders draw the best out of their employees, but only if they’re prepared to do things differently themselves.

“It’s a challenge to change behaviours,” Niamh says. “It takes courage, increased self-awareness and risk-taking to lead differently, and there’s a lot of trepidation out there.”

“In my experience of coaching senior leaders, the narrative is very often ‘why was I not challenged sooner? I’ve found that when individuals start to experience the profound positive impact of coaching – not only on themselves but also their team and their organisation – they are inspired to create a similar experience for the people they lead. So coaching creates a domino effect that promotes a culture of feedback, reflection and continuous growth.”

Pushing to create something better

Leadership development wasn’t Niamh’s first career choice. A graduate of Queen’s University Belfast, she came to it after first spending years training and working as a primary school teacher in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. But the way she came to TPCL, through a deep-seated belief in the power of coaching and mentoring, embodies how we approach helping organisations to empower their leaders.

As her teaching career progressed, Niamh led a lot of coaching and mentoring sessions to help onboard new teachers. She recognised that a common challenge for new teachers was that the reality of a class full of children was very different to what they’d come to expect from their training.

Challenging the status quo has always been important to Niamh, so she partnered with universities and teacher training programmes to look at what was working and where the issues lay. Before long, the desire to push boundaries, make an impact and explore what mattered to her through coaching was impossible to ignore.

After twenty years of teaching, Niamh went back to study a Masters in Executive Coaching and Mentoring. Eventually her coaching journey saw her cross paths with Helen Loveday, who was supporting our previous Middle East office in Dubai. After running some development events for TPCL in Dubai, Niamh then met with Charles and the idea of working together to build a new successful office in Abu Dhabi evolved from there.

“There are a lot of opportunities for TPCL in the Middle East,” Niamh says. The region can benefit from qualified, experienced and skilled people and TPCL has such people globally. We can be that trusted partner who walks in the client’s shoes, helping to change mindsets and behaviours through coaching.”

Ask, listen, challenge

Sustainable leadership development isn’t about coming into an organisation with all the answers. Delivering “quick fix” programmes isn’t the way, especially in a region like the Middle East that’s trying to achieve lasting, positive change in its organisations.

The key is to ask good questions to find out what’s really going on for the client. We’ve found the questions don’t have to be complicated — what’s important is that they’re insightful and originate from a deep sense of curiosity. Then, it’s all about actively listening to the responses.

“Sometimes I think I set people’s heads on fire because I ask so many questions they say they hadn’t thought of,” Niamh says. “But it’s about building trust, by listening to the challenges/issues and following up appropriately through action learning, coaching, guidance, sponsoring or mentoring. A lot of people ask questions but don’t really listen, and that’s how you lose trust.”

Building trust is crucial with any organisation, but particularly in the Middle East where relationships are so integral to business. It takes many conversations – formal and informal – and a lot of curiosity to really get into a challenge. Leaders need to know that you’re committed to working with them as a partnership – to understanding exactly what it is they need and supporting them the whole way there.

“You’re setting up a psychological safe space,” Niamh says. “You do it naturally with your tone of voice, asking permission, and with the non verbal cues, language and respect.  The little things create that space and make people want to engage with you again.”

What feels too complex right now? Is your leadership working? Do you have a safe space to be challenged? Is your organisation ready to push boundaries, and are you clear on the implementation? These are all questions we need to be asking if we want to create sustainable leadership.

Looking to find a way forward? Get in touch with us to find out how we can help.