Coaching was “central” to building self-awareness in Northumbria Water’s drive to bring in a new, more engaging and participative leadership style.
The FTSE-250 company, which has an annual turnover of more than £670 million and nearly 3,000 employees, felt a new style of leadership was needed, in order to make an impact on its business culture and to produce a new CEO within the next five years. Leadership and management development, going beyond the acquisition of surface skills, were central to supporting the change, delegates at the CIPD’s annual Coaching at Work conference heard.
Jane Turner from Newcastle Business School said coaching was key at Northumbria Water in building self-awareness, providing a space for deep personal reflection, helping participants to understand their own identities and how they could be themselves as leaders, honestly and consistently.
Newcastle Business School has set up an innovative Masters in Leadership programme that helped to give credibility to its work and raise the profile of leadership and management, drawing on the authentic leader development framework.
At the start of the coaching, leaders at Northumbrian Water were asked to tell their life stories, mapping out their lifelines individually with their high and low points. They paid particular attention to “trigger events” that could have stimulated positive growth and development. These, along with their proudest moments as leaders, were explored through coaching. Alongside “connecting the dots” looking backwards, leaders were supported in talking about their values.
Turner said she believes leaders are resistant to pressure to compromise their values. Therefore, the way their values map onto the organisation will determine how they feel in the organisation and how authentic they are as leaders. The coaching brought out the leaders’ emotions and what impact they had in the workplace. Evaluation of the approach is in the early stages but Turner described it as “profound” and said deep internal shifts were being achieved with the leaders’ teams judging them more confident and able to take on new responsibilities fully.
Eve Turner 
Issue date : 11 December 2008