Teams and organisations are living organisms

Mr.Brank – you are a businessman with a very strong coaching background. Could you tell us a little bit more about your career path?
I had the privilege of running the Slovene branch of the world biggest logistics company between 1991 and 2009. One of the regional managers I reported to was the best executive coach I ever came across. The funny part of it was that neither of us knew – at least I didn’t in the mid-90s – that his management style was based on strong coaching skills. I only realized that when I read Sir John Whitmore’s book “Coaching for Performance” almost a decade later.

If I am allowed to simplistically describe CEO behavior from tell / yell “my way or highway” syndrome on one side of leadership/management spectrum (and I have seen a lot of those in my corporate and consulting life) to coaching skills on the other side. I believe a leader/manager with no coaching skills these days can hardly be successful in the long run.

In the year 2009, I started my own consulting/coaching/training business with 2012/2013 interruption in an interim role as CEO of Port of Koper. I am still slightly connected to the logistics sector as Chairman of Supervisory Board of Slovene Railways and member of the Strategic Council of Faculty of Logistics in Maribor. However, most of my time is dedicated to management development.

You briefly mentioned leadership and management. We are all aware of different definitions of the two – what is your description and how do they correlate in your opinion?
I am afraid I will not contribute much to the general wisdom on this subject. Let me illustrate my point with two books I flipped through on a single long-haul flight a very long time ago. The first was “What management is and why it’s everyone’s business” written by former HBR editors Joan Magretta and Nan Stone. On return flight I dove into second book “Developing the Leader within you” by John C.Maxwell. But best answer to, shall we say dilemma, between Leadership and

Management was provided by late Father of Management Peter Drucker. In his opinion both disciplines are part of the same job, different in its nature of course but they do belong – like left and right hand – to the same body. As much as the statement “Managers do things right while Leaders do the right things”, sounds sexy, but I prefer Peter Drucker’s left/right hand point of view. At the end of the day I trust all stakeholders within the company need and deserve CEOs equipped with a wide spectrum of knowledge, skills, behaviours, attitudes etc. in order to fulfil their shared mission.

Working in a company you are using a lot of powerful tools for people development (Change management, Performance improvement, Executive Coaching etc). How do you recognize which is the most appropriate in certain situations?
To start, I do listen very carefully what people are telling me, formally or informally. Usually there is no major gap between the two – however quite often it happens that top management and hierarchy bellow them are not on the same page when describing not only current situation but vision and strategy, as well. In this case the first challenge is to get all relevant parties behind one table and make sure people listen to each other. Eventually, this will lead to establishing where we are now and where we want to be in the future. I know it sounds like a recipe from the past century – without intention of playing down “Principles of Scientific Management” by Frederick W.Taylor published exactly 100 years ago. But, getting people on the same page is a solid start especially if we manage to agree to listen in order to understand rather than to instantly reply. On this particular issue, and of course not limited to this one only, one has to respect wisdom of Edward de Bono, who describes the subject of argumentation and proving one´s point of view since ancient times as not very helpful in search of Team´s common ground and establishing best way forward. Nevertheless, Team capability to have a constructive disagreement (with win/win objective) remains a sign of a team quality.

It should also be stated that we all know a vast proportion of brilliant and less brilliant strategies are never executed mostly because they were created in ivory towers without any participation and buy-in from the people who were supposed to execute it. If you do not know which port you are headed to, then there is no wonder you are at mercy of winds blowing you around – to paraphrase famous dialogue between the Cat and Alice (from “Alice in Wonderland”).

Can you describe your coaching practice? Also how do you improve your own skills and knowledge?
On coaching side I work with a lot with C-level of executives and leaders, as well as with their teams in team coaching sessions. I greatly rely on the work of Dr.Marshall Goldsmith, because he is a great thinker and writer whose philosophy regarding knowledge sharing I greatly admire. I believe all his key book titles on management development are in my library. One is signed by him as I had a privilege of attending his, as he described it, retirement party from individual 1:1 coaching last summer in New York.

The undisputed authority in the field of team coaching is Dr.Peter Hawkins. I fully agree with an endorsement on the front cover of his latest edition of “Leadership team coaching” that reads: “Best book yet on team coaching”. I aagree with this endorsement because all titles Dr.Hawkings mentions in his book as valuable sources, I have at home filled with fully highlighted.

I also had an opportunity to listen to both of them a couple of times at the World Business & Executive Coaching Summits (WBECS) which in 8 years of existence in my opinion grew to the top as the prime event for the industry. Achievement of WBECS founder Ben Croft of bringing together high calibre and top-quality speakers as well as hundreds of coaches around the globe is to be admired and respected.
One more thing regarding teams for those who maybe believe a team is just a sum of few individuals. Trust that Dr.Peter Senge is not the only one who believes team or organisation are living organisms.

Any final thoughts?
Well – I do my best to combine my own quarter of the century CEO experience with latest theory and fresh ideas and concepts. In doing so I feel like I am standing “on shoulders of giants”. I will conclude this interview with a book recommendation. Former Google CEO, Eric Schmidt while he was still in the role in 2009 put on You Tube the best compliment for the coaching profession one could think of. 10 years later he and some colleagues wrote a book about working with Bill Campbell, one of the leading Silicon Valley coaches, called “Trillion Dollar Coach”. It was released on April 16th – DHL delivered the package on 23rd. In the evening of that day I read the Foreword – among other great thoughts – which included a couple of key messages: “to be a great manager you have to be a great coach” and “higher you climb the more your success depends on making other people successful. By definition that is what coaches do”. I could not agree more.

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