Asking managers: “do you genuinely care for your people?” It’s hard to be an excellent leader of people if you don’t care about people. Having genuine care for people is the most important thing that managers can do to become leaders.

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 Asim Hafeez.

Asim Hafeez is the Owner and Operator of Empower Energy Solutions, a company with over 200 million in revenue to date. Solar is their product, but Asim considers Empower Energy a people company, putting employees and customers at the center of everything they do. He is devoted to his wife and son, and enjoys reading for education and traveling the world.

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?

One of the defining moments for me was when I was 18 years old. I was running a small business that was not going according to plan. I had saved up money to run this business, which was going horribly, meaning all the money I’d saved up would just be lost.

I remember this moment in time exactly when my bank account had something like $300 in it, and I wrote a check for $270 to my receptionist because I had to pay her. I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh, I have $300 in my checking account. I’m writing her a check for $270. I have less money in my bank account after I write this check than what I’m paying in her pay.” After she left, I was sitting there in my office on the verge of tears, not knowing what I was going to do.

We ended up turning the business around and had a really good summer. The overall experience was great, but there are a couple of things that really carried me through that process.

I had to remind myself constantly that it’s one thing to talk a big game and talk about caring for your employees when things are going well, but all of that gets tested big time when things aren’t going well. And I remember having to remind myself over and over again that as long as you focus on people — as long as you genuinely care for people — things have a way of working themselves out.

We often hear the adage, “if you take care of your people, everything else takes care of you,” which is great in theory when things are going well. But when things are not going well, it’s hard to get yourself to believe it.

Another thing that I remember from that moment is that I began reaching out to people that I thought were doing better than me in business and asking for their tips. I remember leaving voicemails for people that I never even talked to. I thought to myself, “If I leave a message for three or four people, one of them will return my call.”

I was working crazy hours, 12- to 13-hour days, plus the drive time. I had a 75-minute drive to work and back and began listening to audiobooks. When I listened to them, I started listening to them as if that person, Maxwell or Robin Sharma or Carnegie, was sitting right next to me in my car and coaching me one-on-one. That was an absolute game changer with how seriously I took those audiobooks.

So, the combination of caring for people, reaching out for help, and listening to audiobooks came out of that low moment — lo and behold, we ended up turning things around and having an awesome summer. I was 18 years old and earned a significant profit for a four-month business.

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?

The first parts of the quote are very important, more important than the last part. There are a lot of people that can show the way, but only a few people know the way and go the way. There are a lot of people that can point and say, “go do this,” but there are only a few people that have done it themselves.

I have personally done almost everything that the people in our organization are doing at some point, and I’m absolutely willing to do those things again. One of the easiest ways for coaches to coach others is to have real examples of how we face similar circumstances and work through those circumstances.

Those authentic experiences have allowed me to relate to people at a much higher level, and I’m not talking about the experiences of stories of triumph. I’m talking about the real stories of defeat, of being genuine and vulnerable.

I can look at my people and say let me tell you about a time when I was doing something similar and how I fell on my face, how I was feeling, and how I was on the verge of tears, or how I didn’t get what I wanted when I struggled and I faced rejection. And I tell them about a time when I couldn’t figure something out either. That goes so much further.

A leader that knows the way is so much more important than anything else. Leaders can know the way by rolling up their sleeves, getting their hands dirty, and never being too good to do something. A Founder or CEO may not have to empty the garbage, but they should know how to and be willing to do it. That elicits so much more respect from employees because they know that their leader has done exactly what they do.

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

A manager is just a title, which doesn’t mean much. A leader is separate from a title.

One of my favorite Maxwell quotes is, “Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less.” Maxwell also says that if you’re leading and nobody’s following, then you’re just out for a walk. That’s what it comes down to.

If you strip away the titles — if you didn’t know what title anyone in an organization had and you observe an organization — you’d be able to figure out who the leader was. Leadership is about influence. A manager directs; they tell, command, point, and tell you to go do stuff. But a leader inspires; he or she inspires you to do more, be more, and attain the things that you’re trying to achieve.

Genuinely inspiring people is what separates a leader and a coach from a manager. And, sometimes, it’s inspiration through words. But quite often, it’s even more so inspiration with their own work ethic and attitude.

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?

The biggest thing that a leader needs is genuine care for people. The best leaders genuinely care for their people, and they want good things for their employees’ professional and personal lives. They want to see people do well, build wonderful lives with their families, succeed financially, invest their money wisely, and see their employees set themselves up really well.

No matter how good we are with our words or how great we are with all our skills, people will not respond to you if they don’t feel like you care about them. You can have all of the skills in the world but will have zero influence on your employees if you don’t care about them.

Another skill leaders need to be better coaches is ensuring we have ways to add value to people’s lives outside of work. For example, leaders can do small things as a coach, like dream sessions with their employees.

Think to yourself: “When was the last time I asked them what their dreams were? When was the last time I had them submit a list of their dreams and followed up with them?” This can help you make connections. For example, I can tell an employee, “I remember you wanted to learn how to play the piano; how’s that going?” And if they say they haven’t started lessons, I can say, “come on let’s get you going on those lessons. You’re getting a little bonus. Why not put it into piano lessons?”

That’s where the good stuff comes in when leaders and coaches take a genuine interest in adding value to employees’ outside lives. For instance, your employee may want to learn about investing. Spend the $10 and get them a good investing book, or bring in a guest speaker that can teach them about investing or advise them on putting money into their Roth IRAs or buying rental properties.

The third piece of advice is to have a concrete plan for people to feel cared for. Little things go a long way, like remembering anniversaries, sending them a cake for their birthday, and remembering their kids’ birthdays. Keeping our notes section in our phones for their kids’ names and their significant others’ names. So, when conversing, we pull up our notes and say, “How’s Aimee doing?” Or “hey, how’s Justin doing?” That goes so far in making your employees feel cared for instead of just saying, “how’s your husband,” or “How’s your wife?”

One of the things I have loved doing is asking people their middle names. I save them into my phone and often, I’ll say. “Hey, what’s up, Michael?” And they’re like, “Michael? That’s my middle name! You remembered?” Nobody remembers people’s middle names, so that’s a fun way to do it.

I also keep track of what candies people like. If I’m at a gas station, I’ll check my notes on my phone and grab some of my employee’s favorite candies.

So, little things to make your employees feel cared for go a long way. And sometimes, things get crazy because life is busy, and there are so many things going on in a business, and it’s hard to do everything. Sometimes, you have to put a reminder in your phone: “send an appreciation video,” or “send an appreciation text.”

I know it seems like sometimes we’re exhausted and don’t have the time and energy to show our care. I understand that; I’ve been there. But that’s precisely why it matters to people to get a little message of appreciation.

If you have 100 people in an organization or 1000, you won’t be able to do that for every single person. But that also means we must be coaching our people and our managers. So, even if that touch point isn’t coming precisely from the top every single time, it is coming from someone. That feeling of caring can have a trickle-down effect no matter if the organization grows to 100 people, 1000 people, or 10,000 people.

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?

I’m constantly challenging myself to grow, improve, and share my journey. If people see me challenging myself to grow and improve instead of getting on my high horse or getting complacent they are more likely to do the same.

And it doesn’t have to be just business; it could be in different areas of life, like working out or challenging myself to get into better shape and start eating healthier, or someone who wants to run a marathon or grow in their relationship with their kids.

There are many ways to challenge ourselves, but the key is to continue challenging ourselves to grow. For me, it’s also sharing that with other people so they see that I’m challenging myself to grow instead of just taking the easy route. And then, for others, it could be as simple as recognizing people continuously growing and challenging themselves.

A considerable focus for us is always focusing on who people are becoming through the growth process. Outside of the “work stuff,” who they’re becoming is infinitely more important than what they get out of work or the result they’ll get this one time because who they become gets to stay with them for their entire life. That serves them for their whole life. So, we have a considerable focus on who you become is infinitely more important than what you make or the desired business result.

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 Asking managers: “do you genuinely care for your people?” It’s hard to be an excellent leader of people if you don’t care about people. Having genuine care for people is the most important thing that managers can do to become leaders.

#2 Recognition and appreciation for employees. Everyone likes being recognized and appreciated — even if they don’t show it. Everyone likes it at the core, even if they put on a tough skin or outlook that says, “I’m too cool for this.” They feel good deep down — we all do. As human beings, we all crave appreciation and we all feel good when we get appreciated and recognized.

#3 Constantly focusing on progress rather than perfection. Progress, not perfection, allows our people to make mistakes. Stay focused on that “1% better every day” and you’ll see that it compounds like crazy. Suppose we can recognize and reinforce people making progress, even if they’re 1 out of 100; if they’re two out of 100 the next day, that’s awesome. And the next day, they will be three out of 100. The reality is, in 100 days, they will be at 100 out of 100 in that skill set.

#4 Challenging people in a caring way. As part of being good leaders, we need to be able to challenge our people so they can get to a level that they didn’t think was possible before. And a lot of times, for me, challenging conversations go somewhere along the lines of, “Hey, I’m having this conversation because I genuinely care about you. It would have been way easier for me not to have this conversation. That would have taken less energy out of me, but I’m going out of my way to have this conversation with you because I genuinely care about you.” And when delivered that way, people respond the right way. It’s also about coming from a place of genuine care, so it’s not like I’m just saying those words — it’s genuinely how I feel.

#5 Look at people for who they can become, not just for who they are right now. I think part of leadership is to look at people for who they can become one, two, or three years from now and talk to them in that light and project that vision by saying, “Hey, I think you can become X, Y, and Z,” but look at them for who they can become versus just who they are. If we look at people for just who they are, that means we could be better coaches. A leader’s role is to develop talent — not just to get a finished product.

So, if you’re judging people by who they are right now and saying “this guy won’t cut it,” sometimes that is a reflection of you as a leader because you’re saying, “I have no value as a leader because I cannot develop this person.” Good leaders look at people for who they can become and how they can help coach people into becoming that great person that is within them. Therefore, we should facilitate employee growth and help them develop into their true 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?

This may be an overly simplistic answer, but no matter what somebody’s age, no matter who they are, the question we have to ask ourselves is, “what are things that everyone appreciates across the board?”

It doesn’t matter if it’s gender; it doesn’t matter if it’s age bracket. What do people like? What is important to people? And that goes back to some of the things I’ve already said; genuine care goes a long way. Everyone likes feeling cared for. Everyone wants to be looked at for who they can become, where there is a future projection of who they can grow into.

Everyone that I know likes being appreciated. But, sometimes people get too cute with this stuff where they think, “oh, if it’s this generation, then I have to do this, and if it’s this generation, I have to do that.” When that happens, it’s important to take a step back and remember that we’re all human beings. There are many basic things that all human beings appreciate, and sometimes we get a little too overwhelmed trying to segment everything so much.

We have to be respectful of what somebody’s going to like, and for some things, we may have to make a neutral decision, like music. Maybe we need to play something that’s slightly more neutral, but at the core, it’s the care and appreciation — no matter what cultural and generational differences people have.

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?

The first step is to put yourself in the employee’s shoes emotionally. When you’re having a conversation, too many of us are too busy thinking about our rebuttal or our response to whatever the other person’s talking about. Instead, we should be genuine and present in our listening to stay in tune with how somebody may be feeling or responding to what we’re saying.

Second, a lot of times, our EQ is tested more in moments of adversity than during good times. And often, if I have an initial reaction to something negative, it’s done wonders for me if I just let it sit for 24 hours before saying something or doing something that I can’t undo.

It’s hard to undo certain words, even if you apologize after. One example happened recently. I got some terrible news about a business partnership, and in my head, I was like, “this is garbage. What the heck? You misled, et cetera.” That was my initial thought. The text I sent in response was, “Hey, let me take 24 hours to give this some thought,” because I wanted to make sure I had a rational conversation about this and not let my emotions boil over. I respected the partnership too much and our relationship too much to have a conversation in that state of mind.

So, I took 24 hours. I let everything sink in, I worked out, went to sleep, and woke up the following day. That allowed the emotion to subside so I didn’t end up saying something I can never have back.

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

Words that inspire belief are critical. Saying things like, “I believe in you because…” and knowing our people enough to have genuine reasons why we believe in them.

Some examples of this could be, “I believe in you because… you worked so hard on that last report,” or, “you handled that previous challenging client gracefully; you led a fantastic professional development that people are still talking about; you planned your daughter’s wedding,” etc. Having the ‘because’ and listing off things afterward goes a long way.

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

The Marianne Williamson quote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be?… Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do… It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

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?

Readers can connect with me on Instagram @Asim_360_ I often share motivational stuff on there and things that I’m going through, either good or bad.

Thank you for sharing your insights. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.