Celebrate along the way — Celebrate the good times! Part of being an effective coach is being the cheerleader. Be the cheerleader for small wins, big wins, and milestones. When you celebrate and recognize it creates motivation, makes someone feel good, reinforces a desired behavior, and creates a sense of camaraderie between you (the coach) and your team.

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 Aura Telman.

Aura Telman is a culture and employee experience expert, celebrated for her mindful approach to leadership and commitment to building thriving communities in the workplace. With a BBA in Human Resource Management, over a decade of HR experience, and expertise in mindfulness practices, she helps leaders and organizations create positive and impactful employee experiences. Aura is the Founder of Thirteen Thrive and a Culture + Experience Director. Recognized in Nasdaq, BRIT+CO, Create & Cultivate, DisruptHR, and Amazing Workplaces, Aura is a passionate advocate for mental health, community and fostering inclusivity in professional environments.

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?

A defining moment that shaped me as a leader was when I realized that my sensitivity is my superpower, not a weakness. Before I embraced this superpower, I used to say that I cared too much, that I absorbed and held onto too much from others, that I was too empathetic — over time I realized this is what made me a good leader, made me good at my job and later in business. My ability to listen, to look for subtle cues in body language and tone shift, to observe in a meeting (rather than speak up), to deeply think about a tough conversation before it takes place, or to put myself in the feelings of another, is what helped me become a good leader that people trust and feel comfortable opening up to.

I think for a long time we heard the message that business is business and at work there’s little room for emotions and “softness”, and so I saw my own softness as a detriment to my success, and in recent years we’ve made a big shift in the workplace and in leadership towards authenticity, vulnerability, flexibility, empathy, the things that were equated with what I call softness. Recognizing this superpower was key to embracing it, and then complementing it by adding other skills such as people-data, data analysis and embracing people/human capital technology.

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?

I embody this quote by focusing on two things, first leading myself and being self-aware, and second by being curious about how things get done, what it takes to do them, doing the research and planning, and then bringing in the team. Knowing the way takes awareness and understanding of your vision and values, going the way takes hard work and an ability to humble yourself and learn, and showing the way takes an understanding of what you’re trying to show and more importantly who you’re showing it to, an understanding of the other person (their goals, vision, and values).

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

There are a few key differences between leaders as managers and leaders as coaches.

Authority v. Empowerment: Managers typically lead by authority and provide direction, set goals, assign tasks, and evaluate performance. While they focus on supervision, coaches don’t always have given authority and instead focus on guidance, empowerment, strength-development and encourage teams to own their journey to achieving set goals.

Manage performance v. Build relationships: Managers mainly focus on managing performance, driving productivity, and achieving set goals (usually short term). While both the manager and the coach want to achieve the same end goal, the coach focuses on relationship building and connection to achieve the goal. Coaches provide guidance, mentorship, and often personalized leadership. Productivity is important to both the coach and manager, but they take a different approach to increase it.

Company goals v. Growth goals: Managers tend to focus on company goals and mandates, while coaches tend to focus on individual growth, identifying strengths/areas of improvement, and helping people focus on each of those areas to get the best out of them. In turn individuals and companies can grow in tandem.

It’s important to note neither approach is better than the other, the approach a leader takes is often dependent on their vision, goals, timelines, and their team. A combination of these approaches is best or using them at various times while leading.

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?

I believe these essential skills are self-awareness, curiosity, empathy and listening.

Being self-aware means having a conscious understanding of your own motivations, thoughts, emotions and how your behavior impacts others. I believe this is the building block of improved coaching as a leader. This one skill is essential for personal growth, emotional intelligence and for building healthy trusting relationships between coaches and their teams.

You can develop self-awareness by — doing reflection and introspection, doing self-assessment exercises, seeking feedback, being honest with yourself, identifying your values and motivations, and having mindful practices such as meditation, breathing, exercising, and cultivating presence (being in the moment without distractions).

I also want to highlight curiosity because it’s a skill that can be developed at any stage of the leadership journey, whether you’re a new leader or have been for years, you can always become more curious. Curiosity really means asking questions, going into situations without bias and asking for more to gain full understanding. Curiosity really does go hand in hand with both listening and empathy.

You can develop curiosity by — asking questions, fostering a learning culture, embracing new perspectives, trying new experiences outside of your comfort zone, and embracing new ideas.

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 don’t use the word inspire, I instead use support and understanding. I want to understand why a leader is moved to upskill or reskill and once I gain that knowledge, we work together to create an upskilling plan.

Change in terms of leadership style or development of a leadership skill is not always as easy as learning a new software, some of these changes are massive changes and take a long time to develop, increasing self-awareness, listening, empathy — these are life long skills, and so I like to focus on the journey of how we get to the end goal of “being a better listener” and the motivation behind the goal.

I ask questions like… “What’s the why behind wanting to be a better listener as a leader? What impact will it have on your, your life, your team?” That “why” is what will drive the intrinsic motivation to upskill/reskill.

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?”

Leaders can coach for peak performance by taking a collaborative approach to goal setting. Empower people to build their own roadmaps to achieving goals and support them along the way through helping them identify their own strengths and gaps, offering continuous feedback, regular 1:1 coaching check-ins focused on specific behaviors and outcomes, providing resources and mentorship, and celebrating milestones together.

Top 5 Ways Leaders Can Be Effective Coaches

  1. Define personal values and motivation — Effective coaches support people to define their own personal values. Understanding your personal values provides clarity and direction, think of it like a compass that guides your decisions, actions, and priorities in life and at work. Values allow people to align their goals with what’s most important to them, leading to more fulfilment and better decision-making. You can help people define their values by guiding them through value exploration exercises or asking questions about how they usually make decisions and finding the common factor in their decisions (integrity, respect, balance, authenticity, growth, quality time etc.).
  2. Focus on what people like to do versus what they want to do — We all aspire to be a certain person and reach certain goals, and we all also experience those times at work where we spend hours on something not even realizing how much time has passed, and when we complete that thing (whether there’s recognition or not) we feel so good and fulfilled. Leaders can be effective coaches by helping people focus on the things they like to do, because that’s usually where the passion and strengths lie.
  3. Set goals that are meaningful and stretching (but not impossible and overbearing) — Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals is important but what I find even more important is setting meaningful goals that people are passionate about and are intrinsically motivated by. Now when it comes to stretch goals, stretching outside of the comfort zone is great, but the minute a goal becomes “another thing you have to do on top your existing work” the motivation and fulfillment will disappear, and people will start resenting the outcome of the goal. Setting meaningful goals takes a tremendous level of curiosity and understanding of what is meaningful to the other person, a skill a coach must develop.
  4. Give them ownership — Give people ownership over their work, this means not just goals, but how work is done, when it’s done, where it’s done, and with what tools. Giving people ownership empowers them and creates self-accountability. As a leader becoming an effective coach, letting go and giving power of the outcome to another person can be difficult, but with building trust, frequent communication, and coaching check-ins you can strike a good balance.
  5. Celebrate along the way — Celebrate the good times! Part of being an effective coach is being the cheerleader. Be the cheerleader for small wins, big wins, and milestones. When you celebrate and recognize it creates motivation, makes someone feel good, reinforces a desired behavior, and creates a sense of camaraderie between you (the coach) and your team.

We’re leading and coaching 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?

There are several strategies to coach and activate the potential of a multi-generational workforce, and based on your team and company culture you can use a combination of the following:

  1. Inclusion: All employees (regardless of generation) should feel seen, heard, and meaningfully included. Prior to the start of any coaching relationship, view inclusion as the base foundation of a home, upon which everything else is built. To effectively coach you need a person who is open to being coached, which requires a high degree of trust. Trust in a coaching context is built on a person feeling safe to be themselves knowing there will be no consequences for this. Creating an inclusive workplace will naturally foster a high level of safety, trust, and freedom of self-expression. Individuals from various generations will express themselves, build relationships and value inclusion differently — it’s important to keep this in mind when you’re coaching various generations.
  2. Customized coaching and flexibility: A multi-generational workforce requires a customized approach. People respond differently to coaching techniques — let’s look at communication alone, some may prefer frequent/infrequent communication, formal/informal communication, face-to-face approach/virtual, and some may embrace technology more when it comes to goal tracking. When coaching, focus on relationship building and get to know what coaching approach an individual prefers. If you’re coaching a multi-general team, have a kickoff meeting and create a team philosophy document that lays out coaching preferences, communication norms, common values, technology usage etc.
  3. Strength-based development: Focus on the unique strengths and expertise of everyone, recognize the diverse skills, experiences, and perspectives that each generation brings to work, and how they can contribute to the organization. This is also important if you’re coaching a multi-cultural team. While everyone has gaps, highlight the strengths of each generation, and create a culture of knowledge sharing around strengths, versus gaps. Cross-mentorship is a beautiful and fulfilling way to focus on strengths development and knowledge sharing.
  4. Cross mentorship: Cross mentorship empowers employees to mentor and coach each other — people from various generations have valuable experiences and knowledge they can share through Work Mentorship Programs.

Step 1. Identify the learning and coaching needs of each generation.

Step 2. Identify the expertise and knowledge of each generation.

Step 3. Identify the mentors and mentees in your organization.

Step 4. Create a program based on matching mentor/mentee expertise, needs, and mentorship status.

5. Flexibility and work-life balance: Today’s generations have different views on flexibility (of how, when, and where work gets done) and on work-life balance. When you consider your coaching approach think about offering flexible work arrangements and supporting your people in achieving a healthy work-life integration that works for them. Get to know people and what’s most important to them before you decide on a customized coaching approach.

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?

Step 1. Learn to manage and regulate your own emotions effectively and develop strategies to stay calm and composed in difficult situations. Today’s leaders are facing increasingly more complex and challenging situations at work that ask them to step outside of their comfort zone or own experiences. Improving emotional regulation is a great step for leaders to take. By staying emotionally balanced they can be better listeners, have more empathy and become more curious.

Step 2. Start asking more questions and expand your own learning and experiences. Expand who you learn from, how you learn, embrace new technology and changes in the workplace. Listen to your people and become curious by asking questions all the time, focus on getting to the deep understanding on why people want change at work, why they’re demanding different leadership.

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

“Impact” — People want to be a part of something bigger than themselves, they want to be a part of companies and teams that have a positive impact on the world, companies that meaningfully include people, and they want to see their work make an impact in their own lives and in the world.

“Openness” — Openness between a leader and their team is key, openness leads to expression of self and people feeling safe to be themselves. This allows you (the leader) to meet people where they are, meaningfully support them, and create an environment where you can receive honest feedback when you need it.

“Connection” — Connection to self, to others at work, and to the work itself. Genuine connection to one, two or all three of these factors is key to a good employee experience and effective leadership. If you’re a leader that’s reading this and you’re not connected to yourself, your people, or the work you’re doing — start there and understand your lack of connection first.

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

One of my favorite quotes is “You can’t be hesitant about who you are.” — Viola Davis. I love this quote because it reminds me of how important it is to know myself and be myself, even in situations where I may be tempted to be someone else to “fit in”. This quote also reminds me to stand by my values and use them as a guide throughout life, at work and in my leadership.

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?

They can connect with me on LinkedIn (Aura Telman) and through my website www.thirteenthrive.com.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!