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How coaching can help smart city managers

The skillset and behavioural mix required to work in the smart city industry is complex and challenging, which is why many managers in the sector would benefit from investing in coaching.


As an opening of one of his recent TED talks, Bill Gates stated: “Everyone needs a coach. We all need people to give us feedback. That’s how we improve”.


As we all know, this statement has long been proven true for athletes and high-performing individuals. Surprisingly, though, in business nearly two-thirds of executives outside the leading-edge innovation sector don’t have a coach. In fact, the majority of individuals (more than 60 per cent) are embarrassed to consider, let alone ask for coaching. Most managers would identify a need for coaching for their team members so they can go that extra mile but not for themselves as they believe they are already performing at their best.


The purpose of coaching


So, why do they see the need so clearly in others but not in themselves? Well, this is exactly the purpose of coaching: hiring an external, non-judgmental eye that can help make you more aware of the blockers and behaviours that impact results. Indeed, stepping away for an hour a week is probably one of the most valuable investments you could make.


In today’s fast-moving workplaces, it doesn’t always seem acceptable to think about personal or emotional issues as much as business ones. But think about it, they drive most business decisions. In fact, business decisions are most often based on emotional responses to powerful conversations and, then, justified by rational arguments. It is even more true in periods of crisis and uncertainty where general confusion leads to an excess of emotionally driven decisions and a sense of losing track.


Coaches act as partners and motivators, not as counsellors. They never tell you what to do but rather ask questions that lead you to find your own answers. They provoke the kind of shared ownership that gives you the energy and clarity to turn your ideas into reality. They see through the excuses that you make and hold you accountable. They see how you limit yourself and challenge you to do more. They serve as a guide while you create the plan, define the outcomes and execute a strategy. They keep you motivated and committed to achieve the goals that you have jointly defined.

Coaches act as partners and motivators, not as counsellors. They never tell you what to do but rather ask questions that lead you to find your own answers

As leadership approaches and workplaces are changing then so too is coaching. There is little time for the kind of transformational coaching that serves personal development objectives. Leaders and managers need short, pragmatic – often online – sessions where no more than five questions will help them formulate their action plan. Coaching topics are becoming focused on short-term decisions: how do I cope with this complex client situation? How do I present this strategic change to my team? How do I create a new team dynamic? In fact, corporate coaching is moving closer to sports coaching and away from its original transformational approach.


As coaching becomes more widely available to middle managers, demonstrating measurable results becomes key, typically with pre- and post-360 interviews and structured feedback from management and sometimes even clients. Tools such as design thinking, agile approach, gamification, positive psychology are now more widely used in the coaching space. Even more important, though, is industry knowledge and experience in similar job roles or challenges if coaches are to serve their clients successfully.


Smart city skillsets


When it comes to the smart city industry, the skillset and behavioural characteristics required to succeed are even more challenging for managers than in established industries. The use of connected technologies means smart cities leverage both data and competencies from the public and the private sectors. Projects can be technically complex, risky and long-term. While most managers are focused on the day-to-day skills that enable them to execute their tasks, smart city companies also want their people to develop a much broader mindset and understanding of stakeholders, technologies and risks involved in projects.

Leaders and managers need short, pragmatic – often online – sessions where no more than five questions will help them formulate their action plan

Smart city companies also demand higher-level communication and collaborative skills as many private and public stakeholders from cross-functional backgrounds are involved and there is a need for frequent reporting and alignment. Critical and analytical thinking are also key especially given the importance of examining how other cities and solution providers are designing and delivering their projects.


Also high on the list are creativity and the ability to lead change as the future of many cities is being re-invented every day with constantly evolving technologies, applications and services.


In fact, the more complex an industry is in terms of the number of stakeholders, cross-functional and cross-cultural interactions and duration of product development and sales cycle, the more behavioural skills can make a difference and ensure a long-term focus and resilience. Times of crisis have shown that companies that invest and retain their talent also retain their clients and their business edge.


Nadia Chen is talent engagement director and executive coach at Kurrant Talent


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