Promote continuous learning: An effective way to coach someone is to create a positive and supportive environment that encourages learning and development. By providing opportunities for career advancement, such as for example, implementing team-wide knowledge-building initiatives and encouraging skill development through conferences and workshops, leaders create an environment conducive to growth.

The number one leadership initiative in any organization today is improved coaching. Coaching empowers employees, empowerment drives engagement, and engagement drives performance. At its core, coaching is about transformation. Leading distributed teams requires transforming how we coach and changing our play calls and playbooks to get things done. As a part of our interview series called “Moving From Command & Control to Coaching & Collaboration; How Leaders and Managers Can Become Better Coaches,” we had the pleasure to interview Amey Porobo Dharwadker.

Amey Porobo Dharwadker works as a Machine Learning Technical Lead at Meta (Facebook) in California, USA, where he leads the Video Recommendations Core Ranking team responsible for developing personalization models used by billions of users worldwide. In addition to his technical contributions, he mentors several Machine Learning engineers and data scientists, helping set vision, strategy and direction for executing large cross-functional projects to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of video recommendations. He has served on the program committee for top-tier international conferences and journals in the fields of recommender systems and deep learning and has judged various renowned international technology competitions and hackathons. He has also mentored early-stage companies in the artificial intelligence and machine learning space through angel syndicates and startup accelerators.

Thank you for joining us to explore a critical inflection point in how we define leadership. Our readers would like to get to know you better. What was a defining moment that shaped who you are as a leader?

During my journey of working on products impacting billions of users around the world, a pivotal moment was realizing that our success does not depend one individual or a small group of individuals, but rather on the collective effort and success of the entire team shaped my career as a leader. It was good to focus on building and optimizing machine learning algorithms, pouring over datasets and trying to extract every drop of insight, but it was much more important to see the big picture that we needed to work together and collectively succeed to achieve our mission to build the best recommender system products for our users. I focused on fostering a sense of teamwork and collaboration within our group. I also encouraged open communication and worked to create a more inclusive and supportive work environment that focused on learning and growth, and not just on achieving short-term goals. My team felt more energized and engaged, and we made remarkable progress in increasing positive user experiences through our work. It was a defining moment that taught me the importance of collective teamwork and collaboration for driving success and the power of creating a positive and supportive work environment.

John C. Maxwell is credited with saying, “A leader is someone who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” How do you embody that quote as a leader?

Different leaders may embody the above quote above in different ways, depending on their specific role, goals, and style. As a technical engineering leader, I think it’s about taking a holistic approach to leading a team.

First, I build a deep understanding of my field and industry, as well as the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for my team and the organization. I use this knowledge to guide my actions and decisions and help develop a clear vision, scope, purpose and goal for my team. I strive to create an atmosphere where everyone feels empowered to contribute ideas and solutions as I have found this allows for more innovation in problem solving.

Second, I’m willing to take calculated risks and embrace change as needed, while being transparent and communicating effectively to inspire my team even in the face of uncertainty. I help facilitate cross-functional communication and collaboration so my team can explore different opportunities and have all the resources needed to perform at their best.

Finally, I strive to foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement. By providing regular feedback and setting achievable milestones, I encourage my team to continually evaluate our progress and look for opportunities to improve. This helps the team stay focused on our goals and have a positive impact on their work, while encouraging personal growth and development.

How do you define the differences between a leader as a manager and a leader as a coach?

A leader as a manager and a leader as a coach are two distinct roles that involve guiding, directing and supporting the development of individuals and teams. However, they differ in their approach to leadership and often have different goals and outcomes.

A leader as a manager tends to prioritize the execution of tasks and the achievement of specific goals or objectives. This often means they may be more directive and hands-on in their approach. They may provide specific guidance and direction to their team to achieve better efficiency and productivity.

On the other hand, a leader as a coach typically focuses on the growth and development of individuals or teams they work with. They are generally more nurturing and supportive in their leadership approach. They may provide guidance and feedback in a way that empowers their team to develop their own skills and capabilities and prioritize learning and improvement.

We started our conversation by noting that improved coaching is the number one leadership initiative in any organization today. What are some essential skills and competencies that leaders must have now to be better coaches?

Coaching is no longer just about providing basic guidance or even acting as a mentor. Rather, it requires a deep understanding of human behavior, strong communication skills, and the ability to foster collaborative team dynamics.

Active listening is an essential skill that leaders need to become better coaches as it is crucial to build trust and rapport with team members. It’s about paying close attention to the team’s suggestions and feedback, both in terms of the words spoken and the underlying emotions and meanings. Leaders should actively seek out their team’s thoughts and opinions, ask thought provoking questions, and be open to feedback from their team on how they can improve. This allows for two-way communication that allows both parties to learn from each other and grow in their respective roles. In my personal experience, actively listening to my team members has allowed me to identify subtle cues and concerns that weren’t immediately obvious and help address those issues in a timely and effective manner. This also demonstrated that I was focused and open to team members’ perspectives, which resulted in stronger and more trusting relationships.

Empathy is another skill leaders need to have to become better coaches. It involves putting yourself in the shoes of your team members and having a sense of compassion and understanding for their experiences, perspectives, challenges and needs. Empathetic leaders tend to provide more targeted and effective support to their teams, leading to a more inclusive culture. Being empathetic, recognizing and appreciating the diversity of perspectives within my team has helped me foster a culture of respect, trust and collaboration that has led to better outcomes and greater impact from my team.

We’re all familiar with the adage, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” How are you inspiring — rather than mandating — leaders to invest in upskilling and reskilling?

The proverb “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” encapsulates the idea that positive reinforcement and encouragement are often more successful in achieving desired outcomes than strict mandates. So when it comes to inspiring leaders to invest in upskilling and reskilling their employees, the key is to be persuasive rather than coercive.

At a basic level, I focus on helping leaders get a clear picture of how investing in upskilling and reskilling benefits both the employees and the company. This can be done through tangible business metrics like increased job satisfaction, higher employee retention rates, better financial results, etc. On the other hand, it’s also good to alert leaders to potential risks of not investing in these initiatives, e.g., outdated skills, disengaged employees, high recruiting costs, and potentially reduced productivity.

I also strive to create a culture of continuous learning within my team by regularly giving team members time to engage in professional development activities. This includes accessing online courses, attending conferences or seminars to discuss relevant research papers, etc. By creating an environment that encourages learning and growth, leaders can ensure their employees feel valued and motivated to keep up with the changing times.

Let’s get more specific. How do you coach someone to do their best work? How can leaders coach for peak performance in our current context? What are your “Top 5 Ways That Leaders and Managers Can Be Effective Coaches?”

  1. Promote continuous learning: An effective way to coach someone is to create a positive and supportive environment that encourages learning and development. By providing opportunities for career advancement, such as for example, implementing team-wide knowledge-building initiatives and encouraging skill development through conferences and workshops, leaders create an environment conducive to growth.
  2. Foster a sense of purpose: People are more likely to perform at their best when they feel their work is meaningful and aligned with their values. As leaders, we can accomplish this by helping team members connect their day-to-day projects to the broader goals of the organization and the positive impact they are making.
  3. Empower team members to take ownership: When team members feel that they are in control of their work and are trusted to make decisions, they are more likely to be motivated and invested in their projects. Leaders should give team members the autonomy to approach projects in their own way and take on leadership roles within their projects.
  4. Encourage risk-taking and experimentation: It’s important to promote a culture that openly embraces and celebrates failure as part of the process. In our machine learning teams where most initiatives are inherently experimental and risky, we encourage teams to take risks and try new ideas as keys to unlock innovative breakthroughs.
  5. Support pursuing challenging goals: Leaders who want to coach their teams to achieve excellence should ensure they support team members to set and pursue meaningful, challenging goals that align with their strengths and passions. By encouraging team members to set ambitious goals and providing them with the support and resources they need to achieve those goals, leaders can help the team reach its full potential.

We’re leading and coaching in increasingly diverse organizations. And one aspect of workforce diversity on the rise is generational diversity. What advice would you offer about how to effectively coach a multi-generational workforce? And how do you activate the collective potential of a multi-generational workforce?

It is important for leaders to understand the different values, working styles and experiences of team members from different generations. For example, employees of one generation may have extensive industry knowledge and a strong work ethic, while team members of another generation may have a strong sense of social responsibility and be adept at using new technologies. By appreciating and leveraging each generation’s unique strengths, we can form a more cohesive and effective team.

I believe in order to activate the collective potential of a multi-generational workforce; it is important to encourage team members to learn from each other and work together. This can take the form of formal mentoring programs, cross-functional project teams, or simply encouraging team members to look for opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other. We also celebrate our team’s diversity by hosting team building activities that bring together multi-generational team members or by providing opportunities for team members to get to know each other on a personal level. Creating an inclusive environment where all team members feel valued and respected, regardless of age or generation, ensures everyone has equal opportunities to contribute and thrive.

You’re referring to emotional intelligence, in a sense. What are two steps every leader can take to demonstrate a higher level of emotional intelligence?

One of the ways to demonstrate emotional intelligence as a leader is to actively listen to team members and show that you value their thoughts and feelings. You can repeat what someone said to make sure that you get their perspective and ask clarifying questions if necessary. By showing that you are truly present and engaged in conversations, you can help build trust with your team.

Another important aspect is to lead with empathy by understanding and sharing the feelings of others. Leaders should take the time to truly understand team members’ challenges and struggles, show compassion and support when they are going through a difficult time, and be there to listen when they need to talk. By leading with empathy, you can create a more positive and supportive work environment and foster stronger connections with team members.

Words matter. And we’re collectively creating a new leadership language right now. What are the most important words for leaders to use now?

  1. “What do you need and how can I support you better?” — As a leader, it’s important to be attuned to the needs of your team and be proactive in addressing any gaps or challenges. By proactively asking team members what they need to succeed and how you can support them better, you can show that you are invested in their success and development.
  2. “What do you think?” — It’s important to encourage team members to think critically and share their ideas. By asking open-ended questions and inviting team members to share their thoughts, leaders can create a more inclusive and collaborative work environment.
  3. “What can we do differently?” — Encouraging team members to think creatively and consider new approaches can foster a culture of innovation and continuous improvement. By asking team members for their ideas and being open to trying new things, you can help your team stay agile and adapt to changing circumstances.

I keep inspiring quotes on my desk. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote,” and why does it mean so much to you?

“The true test of leadership is how well you function in a crisis” — Brian Tracy.

This quote speaks to the importance of rising to the challenge and leading effectively in times of adversity or uncertainty. It emphasizes the importance of resilience and adaptability in leadership, which are key qualities needed to excel. As leaders, our ability to function well in a crisis can be particularly critical as we are often responsible for leading teams working on complex and high-stakes projects. In such situations, our ability to remain calm, focused, and decisive can be the key to success. This gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our value and impact in times of crisis, which can be a powerful motivator for team members who are passionate about making a positive difference in their work.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation. What’s the best way for readers to connect with you and to stay current on what you’re discovering?

You can connect with me on LinkedIn. I share my thoughts there sometimes and love reading feedback, so feel free to get involved! You can also reach me via email listed on my personal website.

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.