The King’s Speech ~now, that’s leadership coaching!
I was, as the Brits would say, gob-smacked by The King’s Speech, the Oscar-winning film about Great Britain’s Duke of York and his struggle to overcome a debilitating stammer on his long journey toward the throne as the future King George VI of England.

I loved the movie, not only because it is brilliant in every way, but also because the film, as well known as it is now, has saved me from having to offer long explanations of what executive or leadership coaching is. Instead, when people ask, I say: “Did you see The King’s Speech?” Heads nod and I say: “The speech therapy guy? That’s coaching. That’s how it works.”

Hope you enjoy this article and if you haven’t seen the movie yet, treat yourself royally and do. 

A powerful story of a leader with a big challenge and his speech therapist, The King’s Speech abounds with parallels between that relationship and how leadership coaching happens in business today. The film is about how King George VI (aka Bertie) claims his seat and finds his voice with the help of Lionel Logue, who, whether he knew it or not, was perhaps the world’s first executive coach.

Both hilarious and poignant, the extraordinary sessions between Logue and the King show two basic kinds of coaching: developmental and transformational.

Ø  In developmental coaching, the client is learning new techniques, building and strengthening underused skills.  Bertie flexes his vocal and physical muscles as he and Logue work. They breathe, roll on the floor, practice tongue twisters, shout, and swear, shifting energy and shaking off self-consciousness and physical tightness.

Ø  In transformational coaching, clients learn to adjust their natural styles for greater impact. Changing habits and behaviors often exposes raw nerves. The higher the stakes, the tougher the demands on the leader and the more a coach challenges, the greater the likelihood for tension. And it is in those moments of tension where transformational learning begins.

In one of the film’s most excruciating scenes, Logue, having touched one of those nerves, is berated by Bertie and summarily dismissed. At that point, rubber has met road.  From that moment on, the King begins to really commit and when he returns to Logue with an apology, he has accepted accountability and is ready to do the real work that is required of every coaching client.

The emphasis on the relationship between this unlikely pair artfully underscores that chemistry, safety and trust are the critical success factors for coaching. Who can a leader really talk to about the deepest concerns and most troublesome issues? What moves us is the genuine affection that Bertie and Lionel have for each other by the end of the film.  A great coach creates an environment that makes room for feelings as well as facts.

Is it any surprise then that my coaching hero is not among the world-renowned executive coaches giving keynote speeches and publishing best-sellers?  Nope. It’s Lionel Logue who stands in integrity, sets boundaries, and models just the right mix of challenge and support.  He is the essence of everything I aspire to be as a coach (albeit for a somewhat lower profile clientele than members of British royalty): he is passionate, confident, knowledgeable, wise, funny, and absolutely fearless.

Whether leadership titles are inherited or earned, those who want to show up as leaders need to claim their own seats with comfort and find their own voices with confidence. Sometimes they just need a little help. It was a pleasure to watch The King’s Speech, a film that reminded me of what a privilege it is to be trusted with this kind of work.



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