These coaching exercises will help you develop the Leadership Qualities required to be an effective Future Leader
The most successful leaders aren’t born—they’re made.
The secret to becoming a successful leader is in the way you think. It is a question of developing a certain mindset and skillset. Some exercises from coaching can help you get there.
We have already discussed extensively the Leadership Qualities of the Future Leader:
- Being Future Ready.
- Having a clear Purpose.
- Mastering People Skills
- Being obsessed with Personal Growth.
Here we will look at some coaching techniques, tools and exercises you can use to develop each of them.
Being Future Ready
Being Future Ready is about understanding the future, not predicting it, and being ready to shape it.
As a coach, I have used different coaching exercises to help my clients work on their future readiness.
Let’s look at three of them.
Developing foresight by asking “what if” questions
Coaches work mainly by asking powerful questions, and “what if” questions are some of the most potent questions that can be asked.
When you ask “what if” questions, you are opening windows to new possibilities; you are making the impossible possible. When we receive a “what if” question, our brain creates new neuronal pathways. We start to consider new things that weren’t there before.
It is worthwhile asking “what if” questions one after the other, probing and going deeper into the answers, and not discarding any of the questions or their answers as too unlikely or too absurd.
When asking “what if” questions, we explore the unknown and try to be creative, so we shouldn’t discard the options that present to us too soon.
Some good starting questions you can ask yourself or someone you want to coach and help:
– What if my industry got disrupted by this technology or that geopolitical incident?
– What if I were in that other position/department/company? What would I have to do to be successful?
– What if AI enhances my job? What if it replaces it?
And so on, you get the idea.
Writing or ideating fiction scenarios and possible futures
Scenario creation is linked to asking “what if” questions, but it goes further.
When building a scenario, you are creating a fictional world in the future that doesn’t exist, and it probably won’t exist in that exact form and shape, but it could exist, and that’s what matters.
I ask my coachees who want to be ready for the future to create different scenarios of what that world could look like.
It can be helpful to awaken the creative juices in our minds, so I ask them to write vivid possible future worlds. If they prefer to draw, make a ceramic sculpture, write a song or use any other creative form, that’s great too.
When writing scenarios or possible futures, different possibilities should be explored. As I did in my Possible Futures series, it’s helpful to at least include three types of scenarios: growth, collapse, and transformation worlds.
Signal of change collection
As William Gibson famously said, “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”.
Signals of change are those little gifts from the future that are already here. They are signs of where the world is going or might be going. They come from different spheres of life (technology, politics, economics, society, culture), and when many signals are pointing in the same direction, they form drivers or future trends.
When my coachees are really interested in forecasting and the art of foresight, I ask them to collect signals of change. They need to scout the news and the web to find these signals. Sometimes they are easy to find and spot; others are well buried.
The Institute for the Future (IFTF) and other institutions publish signals of change regularly, but like many things in life, the real beauty of it is to find them yourself.
Future leaders have a clear purpose that goes beyond their own self-interest and is engaging and inspiring to others.
This is a fertile ground for coaching, and there are plenty of exercises that can be done with clients. Again, let’s look at three.
Personal purpose exercises
The first step to finding a purpose that is inspiring and engaging to others is to define your personal purpose: What are you here for? What are you meant to be doing with your life?
Having a clear personal purpose is essential to being happy and living a fulfilling life, but many people wander through life without even thinking about it. Coaches can help people find their purpose, and there are different exercises to do so.
I explored one method in How to find your Career Purpose in Four Simple Steps, with the four steps being these:
1. Name what you love
2. Identify what you are good at
3. Find what the world needs
4. Think about what you can be paid for
It is focused on the career, but its scope can be broadened, and it can be used for all areas of life (you can take out number four if you don’t need to be paid, for example).
Other exercises will require the client to write a personal mission statement that defines their values, passions and life goals. These should all be basic things, but not all of us have thought them through, and it is a worthwhile exercise to think about them and write them all down.
Coaches can then work specifically in some of these areas. Some will go deep into your values, for example. There are plenty of other exercises to explore them (see, for example, here).
The Wheel of Life
The Wheel of Life is an excellent tool to find balance in your life.
It is a simple tool that allows us to look at the different areas in our life: love, relationships, career, friends, health, etc. I will ask my clients to rank the importance of each of these areas and then rate the focus they are currently putting into them.
In a very visual way, it shows the user the discrepancies between where they would like to focus their attention and where they are actually doing it.
It can be mindblowing to see the differences in front of you.
Journaling is a widely used and very recommendable exercise.
Its most usual place would be in the Personal Growth section below, but I wanted to include it here to focus on a specific type of journaling, the gratitude journal.
As its name indicates, when we write a gratitude journal, we list the things we are grateful for. We show gratitude to others and ourselves by focusing on the things that really matter. The benefits to our mind and well-being have been well-researched, so it is a great habit.
It also helps us realise the impact our purpose can have on others and on making the world a better place.
By keeping track of all the things you are doing for others and how grateful you are for them, you remind yourself that what you do matters and positively impacts the world.
Isn’t that a nice feeling?
Mastering people skills is one of the most crucial skills we can have, both professionally and personally.
We are constantly dealing with people, so being able to manage our emotions, have empathy for others, communicate and listen well, persuade and influence them, and all the set that composes this broad skill set will have a considerable impact on our success in life and our careers.
Coaches work on many aspects of people skills through a wide variety of techniques and exercises.
The empty chair exercise
This exercise can be beneficial to unblock an emotion or overcome interpersonal conflict.
When I do this, I would ask my coachee to sit on a chair and face an empty chair, with me standing behind them so they can’t see me. Then I would ask them to imagine that on the chair in front of them sits the person they have a conflict with or the emotion they have difficulties dealing with, usually sadness, fear or anger.
They will expose what upsets or annoys them, and what they don’t like about the other person’s behaviour or the emotion holding them back.
Once they have said everything they had to say to the empty chair in front of them (it sounds nuts, but it works), I’d ask them to stand up and sit on the chair in front of them.
Now they are the other person they are having a conflict with or the personification of the emotion troubling them. What do they have to say? I’d ask them again not to leave anything out and tell them everything they must say.
Then they would stand up again to swap chairs to respond to what they have heard from the other party. This can happen a few times until the coachee feels both sides have said everything they had to say.
I can ask my coachee a few questions about the experience, but usually, most things have already been said. They have told themselves everything they had to hear.
This exercise can be cathartic.
The client builds empathy and really puts themselves in the other person’s shoes. If working with an emotion, they get to understand the emotion’s function and how it is trying to help them.
The end result is a better understanding of themselves, their emotions or others.
Role modelling giving feedback
Knowing how to give and receive feedback is vital in today’s competitive world.
Giving feedback allows us to help others improve their skills and express our feelings about what bothers us. Unfortunately, many of us don’t know how to provide feedback correctly; fortunately, a coach can help you improve your feedback-giving skills in many ways.
One of my preferred ways is to role-model different situations where the client pretends to give feedback to a colleague, team member or any other person with whom they have interacted. Then, I’ll provide them with feedback on their feedback, so to speak.
I will usually tell them to focus on the facts and to be specific, not to attack the person but the specific behaviours and actions, to make it clear that it is their own perception and not an objective fact, and to share with the other person how they feel as a consequence of that action.
All these fundamentals make feedback effective.
Through role modelling, the clients have the opportunity to practice real-life situations in a safe environment and receive valuable feedback. As a result, the quality of their feedback improves considerably in a short time.
Rehearsing a presentation or a complicated and dreaded conversation is also a common exercise I do with my clients.
It is similar to role modelling, but it involves practising for a commitment in the short term, and the remit is broader than merely practising giving feedback.
I will ask the client to deliver the presentation or explain the points they would like to discuss in the conversation they want to have with their manager or client. Then I’ll give them feedback, so they can improve their delivery, communication style, clarity, the points to be included or taken out, and the like. As a consequence, they also gain self-confidence.
Together we will make it much more likelier that the presentation or the conversation will be a success.
Coaching is a methodology, or even philosophy, for personal development and growth, so everything we do in coaching could be linked to personal growth.
Gaining self-awareness through the Johari Window
As I explained in this other article, the Johari Window is an excellent tool to gain self-awareness and know yourself better, which is the first step in the long path towards personal growth.
I often explain to my coachees the four quadrants of the window: what is known to self and others (Open), known to self but not to others (hidden), unknown to self but known to others (blind spot), and unknown to self and others (see below).
We discuss what might be lurking in each quadrant for them and explore different ways and strategies to increase the surface of the open quadrant and reduce all the others.
Earlier, we role-modelled providing feedback to develop this essential skill. Asking for feedback and receiving it with the right attitude is equally important, and it is one of the most effective ways to reduce our blind spots.
The Johari window is an excellent way to start getting to know oneself better and to define strategies to develop that self-knowledge further.
360 reviews are widely used by HR departments in the corporate world.
They often involve external consultants and can be expensive, but you can also have a “homemade”, more informal, 360 review that won’t be as comprehensive and detailed but can also still be valuable and full of insights.
The formal 360 implies the line manager, peers, colleagues and direct and indirect reports filling a questionnaire, usually anonymously, and the HR department in question or the external consultants preparing a report with the findings. Then the coach (or a consultant) briefs the subject, asks them questions to gain insights and helps them define an action plan based on the feedback received.
The homemade version is the same but simpler.
When there is no budget or willingness to engage external coaches or involve the HR team, I will ask the coachee to ask for simple, written feedback from their surroundings: their manager, team members, and the like. This feedback has to be simple, so I’ll usually ask them to provide their three main strengths and development areas.
The outcome you will receive will be less comprehensive, and anonymity won’t be guaranteed (unless the coach or a third party, a colleague or friend, collects all the feedback and doesn’t share the specifics with the coachee). It can still be full of insights.
It will help the client reduce their blind spots, learn more about themselves, and focus on new development areas.
Exercises to develop a Growth Mindset
Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset, which we have discussed extensively on this website, is crucial for Personal Growth, so I work on it through different exercises with my clients.
Someone with a Growth Mindset doesn’t think skills and abilities are fixed, so there is always a way to improve and develop them. One way to do so is by embracing the power of “yet”.
I ask my clients to think about a skill they don’t master and they think about often. I tell them to add the word “yet” to their thoughts about it, as in, “I’m not good at public speaking… yet”.
It sounds silly, but adding this three-lettered word makes a difference. You are telling yourself you don’t master this skill yet, but you can and will if you practice and work on it. You are building the right can-do and constructive attitude.
In sum, you develop a Growth Mindset.
Another exercise is to reframe all your challenges and difficulties as opportunities. Whenever my client faces a big challenge at work or in their personal life, I help them reframe it as an opportunity for growth and learning.
Like all the rest, this challenge shall also pass, and with it will arrive new learnings, realisations, and growth opportunities.
Learning through coaching
These are just a few exercises we can use during coaching sessions to help our clients develop and learn new skills.
They can also be used with the help of a mentor, a friend or close partner. Some of them can even be carried out alone.
The future needs leaders who understand what is coming, have the purpose to shape it in helpful ways, and have the people skills and the focus on personal growth to bring that purpose to life.
Are you ready to step up and become one of them?