Establish a role based skill/ability and willingness baseline for coaching.

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 Bart Fanelli.

An experienced sales executive, field operator and executive advisor with a proven track record of building successful GTM organizations, Bart Fanelli has served in leadership roles with OutSystems, Splunk and BMC Software, leading teams of more than 275 employees and businesses with more than $1.5 billion in revenue. Fanelli was featured in a 2017 Harvard Business Review article and is an accomplished co-author of “The Success Cadence.” His latest venture will be the upcoming launch of Skillibrium, a platform designed to help go-to-market organizations grow together, both individually, as teams and as an organization.

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?

There have been many moments in my career that defined me as a leader, and I’m certain there will be many more.

I remember a specific time in the early 2000s as a young sales rep on a team covering the Southeast territory. At the time, that region as a whole was known to be a top performer within the company. In the particular quarter, no one on the Southeast team had achieved their quota, meaning we hadn’t earned our targeted compensation and weren’t feeling too good about our prospects. However, during the company earnings call, I was surprised to hear that the company had achieved its targets, and while the execs were touting modest growth, it was all good news.

This was the moment I learned about the practice of broad over-assignment of quota in order to “protect” the company. Our earnings were actually far lower than the numbers being deployed in the field, so we weren’t hitting our targets, but the company was. While there’s a need to model deployed quota based on hiring plans, ramp time, attrition rates, etc., there is no sound and defensible reason to arbitrarily over-assign quota to the detriment of employee earnings, and ultimately morale.

This experience, combined with what I learned in a subsequent organization as a more rewarding model, was a catalyst in my pursuit for a better leadership style. I also became enamored with hunting down and confronting hypocrisy in business through leadership. My own leadership mentality of complete transparency in the workplace is a direct reflection of me rebelling against people who acted with hypocrisy over the years. I have very little — actually, zero — respect for those who “make it up as they go” while changing their story to suit their interests along the way.

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 love this quote because it is the antithesis of hypocrisy. Leadership is about setting a vision, supporting the journey to achieve the vision, and transparently guiding those tasked with executing its completion.

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

“Leading” and “managing” are very different. In my experience, “managing” centers on overseeing the completion of a defined set of tasks within a certain timeframe. A manager’s typically myopic focus is making sure their employee completes the expected tasks on time; the manager doesn’t necessarily care or offer coaching on how to get from Point A to Point B most effectively, but they care immensely that the employee gets there because it reflects back on them as the manager.

In comparison, someone who is “leading” looks beyond the defined set of tasks, helping those executing understand why the tasks matter. Then, the leader attempts to improve the skills of the employee through regular coaching. Lastly, the leader raises those improvements to senior leadership for the betterment of the desired outcome. All of this is done in a selfless manner and for the benefit of the team and the organization. If this pattern is supported and repeated throughout individuals and teams, a growth culture is imminent.

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?

My recommendations for leaders…

(1) Be coachable yourself. Otherwise, don’t bother. A good leader cannot coach successfully without the willingness and humility to learn and to absorb something new every single day.

(2) Hire well. Here are some of the general traits I always look for:

  • Role specialization or proven past skill experience in a similar role.
  • The ability to communicate clearly and effectively — with HUMILITY and AUTHENTICITY.
  • Desire, Drive, Coachability.
  • Possibility and positive mindset.
  • No entitlement.
  • Speak in terms of “we” and not in terms of “I”.

Here are some additional traits I look for specifically when hiring a GTM professional:

  • Can display written professional communication.
  • Can describe and execute a documented sales process playbook.
  • Has the ability to describe and negotiate to mutually beneficial outcomes.
  • Understands analytics and can describe daily, weekly and monthly leading indicators that lead to business outcomes.

(3) As you build out your teams, establish baseline competencies for each role. Be consistent and transparent so you don’t change the goal posts on your team members. Each role has specific skills or abilities. This establishes a standard that everyone is measured against and developed on based upon their willingness and skill/ability competencies.

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?

This is really the crux of why I am starting Skillibrium — I’m passionate about companies growing together through a defined coaching framework that’s easy to use and track. A framework that relies on honey, rather than vinegar. I believe people truly want to be their best selves, but they get bogged down trying to interpret their leader’s expectations. That’s why I think coaches need to be extremely transparent.

Skillibrium will offer coaches and leaders a simple framework to define the skill/abilities and willingness attributes that are expected in each role. And when teams don’t live up to those expectations, coaches can have direct and adult conversations about what to do. We remove the guesswork in favor of reinforcing the skills and abilities themselves. The platform is completely agnostic and makes it easy to coach and document progress (or lack thereof). Coaching conversations, if done right and done consistently, should inspire personal improvement, rather than de-motivate, which is what happens when performance evaluations are done in a silo.

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?”

This is a complicated and situationally dependent question. However, the first step in any scenario whether the culture is one of coaching or not is to test the waters prior to diving right in. In the absence of everyone already knowing they are in a coaching culture, and are expected to be both coachable and a coach for others, we must first:

(1) Establish a role based skill/ability and willingness baseline for coaching.

(2) Ask for an outline of the problem in a simple framework such as “current situation, challenges occurring, desired situation”.

(3) Offer to schedule time to “strategize and determine our next actions”.

(4) Let them lead the scheduled meeting and determine the appropriate actions.

(5) Recap the meeting and who is responsible for the next actions and — hold them accountable to the outcome.

Anything less is a directive and does not help the employee problem solve, develop, or feel valued. All situations are different, which begs for the approach to be standardized by the leader in an easy to understand framework. Once this framework has been delivered a few times, the broad team will hear about it and problem solving by way of coaching will be welcomed.

Here’s an example of how we apply …

Successful Go To Market (GTM) organizations are run systematically, and those that are customer facing thrive on knowing what’s expected of them and the financial rewards of doing it right. For this approach to scale, GTM organizations must provide “Day One” onboarding programs with the right training, tools, systems, and reinforcement.

The coaching framework we are establishing with Skillibrium sets the expectation of coaching upfront — there should be no mystery that being coachable is a required part of the job, especially since as humans, we are learning all the time! The people who are on the Skillibrium journey alongside me have spent decades developing, testing, refining, and perfecting a four-box coaching framework, whereby the organization can reinforce both “Skill” (ability) and “Will” (coachability, in this example).

From time to time, even when GTM organizations are transparent about learning new skills and process applications throughout the sourcing and interview process prior to joining the company — inevitably, we do make hiring mistakes. Lack of coachability or willingness to learn new skills and process is the number one reason we release new employees at the end of their onboarding, and it’s their leaders’ responsibility to let them go, and they do.

There’s no way to efficiently scale a high performance GTM team without everyone operating consistently. Those who don’t want to experience the journey of orchestrated success by continuously learning are removed within their probation period. After all, we are in this space to win and grow together during the journey.

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’s amazing to experience working within a multi-generational, highly diverse, and highly complex world. Talent is increasingly decentralized. As leaders dealing with these complexities, we must remain focused on the outcome and not necessarily the individual by trusting experience regardless of age, race, gender, etc. — the desire to improve is universal. The only way this works is if the direction of the coaching is bilateral. Activating multi-generational workforces only works if the environment is completely safe and everyone has the opportunity to learn. Answers to strategy, problems, or achieving an outcome can arrive from anyone on the team, provided we are confident enough as leaders to allow safe collaboration and productive interactions that conclude positively.

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?

(1) Ask for permission, and then (2) actually listen…It’s that simple. We all have choices and if we don’t allow employees to feel heard, contribute to outcomes, and thrive — we will fail.

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

We, us, how, when, why, help… “I” should be sparingly present in a leadership vocabulary. After all, sourcing, recruiting, onboarding, ramping, teaching, leading and remediating performance require a broad team. We could never do it on our own.

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

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Throughout family life, friendships, and business, I’ve learned that everything comes down to the choices you make along the way, and not choosing is a choice itself.

Another one that has stuck with me: “The highest form of intelligence is kindness and integrity.” If a leader takes away nothing else from this interview, this one is possibly the most important — leaders may falter along the way, but if they lead and coach with kindness and integrity, they are more likely to succeed.

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?

Connect with me on LinkedIn. I am pretty active and will post my blogs, thoughts, and updates on that platform. You’ll be the first to learn about the exciting updates to come with the launch of my new company, Skillibrium.

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