3 Reasons Leadership Coaching is Essential for AI Transformations

young professional leaders discussing ai transformation

AI transformations demand that leaders transform how they lead themselves, how they lead others, and how they lead for impact.

From increasing productivity and efficiency to completely revolutionizing industries, AI is transforming businesses worldwide. I was fortunate to attend the recent Post-Industrial Summit 2024: The AI Transformation, which focused on the state of AI and how organizations can carve their own path forward with understanding of the risks and opportunities involved. 

I joined the Summit to learn more about the state of AI and to gauge how people were thinking about leadership development in the context of the AI transformation imperative. At Sounding Board, we see leader transformation as essential to successful organizational transformation. I was curious if this would come up in the discussions, and I was encouraged to see that the need for leaders to shift mindsets – and for organizations to support them in that process, came up repeatedly throughout the sessions and side conversations. 

In short, AI transformations still require a human touch when it comes to leadership. 

As innovations in AI accelerate, we need leaders equipped to not only manage change, but to embrace it, lead it. Leaders must be ready to take Big Leaps and create a culture that inspires their teams to innovate. 

Yes, developing AI related skills is needed right now. And, leaders are under pressure. We need to provide more than training. We need to support and equip them with the necessary capabilities to lead and drive change.

This is where the support of a thinking partner shines. Leadership coaches stand as those partners — working with leaders to cultivate their development through a process that explores their mindsets, behaviors, and capabilities to help them expand and enhance their efficacy.

McKinsey & Company identified 3 layers required for effective leadership today:

“Leaders today need to be able to lead themselves, lead a team of peers in the C-suite, and exhibit the leadership skills and mindset required to lead at scale, coordinating and inspiring networks of teams. To do that, they must build a keen awareness of both themselves and the operating environments around them”.

Sounding Board has long recognized the need to develop leaders in these areas — Leading Self, Leading Others, and Leading for Impact. Here’s how coaching can transform leaders for real business impact:

1. Leading Self

Self actualization

I’ve read many times that a staggering 60-70% of transformations fail to meet or exceed their objectives. Effective leadership skills, including self-awareness are essential for success.

Yet, self-awareness is just a start toward effective leadership. After all, some people are naturally self-aware, yet remain stagnant in their development and their careers. Impactful leaders must adapt — and elevate themselves and their teams with the strategic view on how to achieve new heights. This is self-actualization.

Coaching can give leaders that extra lift they need to achieve self-actualization. Rather than take incremental steps towards one capability at a time, coaches can help leaders make Big Leaps towards greater self-awareness and strategic thinking that together increase their impact.

Mindset shifts

A compelling article in Harvard Business Review proposed  that “leaders need to look inward first and examine their own relationship with change” to be capable of successfully leading teams through transformations. I agree.

Coaches act as a thinking partner to leaders. They actively listen, and then reframe the discussion, enabling leaders to rethink challenges, perceptions, and assumptions. Working with a coach, a leader can identify their internal roadblocks — like resistance to change — and shift these mindsets toward more productive behaviors that support innovation.

2. Leading Others

Increased empathy and emotional intelligence

Change and transformations are emotional journeys. Many employees may feel threatened by AI. Leaders must be able to empathize with team members to help ease the resistance to change. In over half of successful transformations, the organization provided emotional support to employees, according to the aforementioned HBR article. 

Coaches help leaders increase their emotional intelligence by providing an outside perspective in a personalized way. Leaders can become more attuned to how their team may feel, and can actively work to address hesitancy or anxiety.

Communication and clarity

To further gain buy-in from teams, leaders must be able to communicate the value of an AI transformation. While the executive team understands the vision, the message can become diluted further down the line. 

Part of what makes coaching so powerful is how a coach can help a leader dig down to what they really want. Leaders find clarity not only in their personal goals, but in those of the organization. Once clarity is achieved, communication becomes easier.

According to Deloitte, organizations and leaders that have clarity on their strategy and how to best communicate it, “can translate strategic goals into a bold yet realistic transformation ambition that can be executed by the organization,” helping to secure successful outcomes.

3. Leading for Impact

Comfortability in the uncomfortable and unknown

AI transformations are most effective top down and bottom up. This means losing control, which has been a core attribute of management in the industrial age. Leaders must learn to be comfortable with the unknown.

Coaching moves leaders out of their comfort zone and helps them let go of familiar ways. Coaches help leaders to take Big Leaps and face their fears so they can achieve the impact they’re really capable of. 

Adaptability and resilience

The rapidly evolving AI landscape will require organizations to continually shift and adapt tactics while maintaining sight of their overall goals and strategy.

Coaches help leaders build resilience and adaptability by identifying and addressing binary mindsets that limit a leader’s ability to see possible solutions. Shifting from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset allows them to channel new paths forward for themselves and their teams. 

AI transformations require leaders to transform themselves. Leadership coaching can guide and accelerate these transformations by equipping leaders with the capabilities they need to lead themselves, lead others, and lead for impact.

If you’d like to learn more about how Sounding Board coaching and mentoring solutions help transform leaders and equip them to lead effective change, please request a demo.

Michelle Knight is Senior Vice President of Strategy and Operations at Sounding Board. Throughout her career, Michelle has specialized in building and leading teams within high-growth organizations and startups including ServiceNow, SAP SuccessFactors, Workday, Adobe and Live Picture. She is also a trained leadership coach and advocate for coaching and mentoring as essential for building the leadership capabilities needed to thrive in today’s ever-changing global market.

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