Create a psychologically safe space that empowers and encourages the leader and mentee to be vulnerable.
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 Dr. Bina M. Patel.
Dr. Bina M. Patel is the principal of Transformational Paradigms dba Bina Consulting LLC providing conflict resolution consultative services. She is an independent, neutral conflict resolution practitioner who provides an informal and confidential forum to all employees to help address workplace concerns. Dr. Patel’s experience ranges from establishing alternative dispute resolution programs in the private sector and extends to working with public agencies and non-profits as a conflict resolution expert and an ombudsman. She is an avid publisher and trainer on conflict resolution-related topics such as communication, multiculturalism, diversity, equity and inclusion, and more.
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?
Leadership is one of my favorite functions because of a leader’s impact on a mentee. I find this role to be forever evolving. I have had many opportunities to learn what leadership is, and with each experience, I have shaped my leadership style through mentoring, training, and teaching. I have never forgotten how my mentors shaped me, providing me with opportunities every step of the way. I carry this forward with individuals I have had the privilege to mentor today. Every experience has been an opportunity to grow my leadership style.
A particular moment- As a Graduate Research Assistant, I worked for a couple of professors who gave me valuable — life-changing guidance. They encouraged me to spend a few years in corporate America to gain practical experience. After that, enroll in the doctoral program. They advised that going straight through school would hinder my success in my career. I took their advice. I worked a few years in corporate America, enrolled in school full-time for my Ph.D., continued working, and never looked back. Working and attending school have helped me maximize my time and build strong organizational skills. This combination has further made me realize my potential. In each experience, I have learned to apply theoretical concepts to everyday situations. This has essentially trained me to bridge theory with the concept, which I carry on today in my work as an ombuds and conflict resolution expert. I also teach this to my mentees.
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?
This is a great quote. A leader does not always know the way, but a good leader finds the way. In the command-and-control leadership style, the individual is trained to control and command. This leadership style may have worked back in the day, but today, where opinions and collaboration are needed to create a better outcome, command and control do not work. Command and control is a haven for managers who have controlling personalities. They will direct their teammates to do the work and micromanage to the degree that feeds their controlling personalities. Such a leadership style dehumanizes employees and creates toxic workplaces that lead to low morale, unsafe spaces, and high turnover. Talent will move on!
Nevertheless, the command-and-control type of leadership has taught us a few suitable lessons. We have to be grateful for it. Such a leadership style has taught us that workplaces need humanization. Humanization should come from leadership, which includes seeing employees as individuals and not an employee ID number and recognizing that you cannot lead without them. A leader who finds a way to work in uncertain times and gray areas is needed today. I realized early on in my career that I get a thrill from working in the unknown. I embrace change and changing situations. This is why I am fortunate to have found my career in the ombuds profession. In my role, mitigating issues translates to continuously working in gray situations. I love the challenge and thrill of dealing with emotions, people, and situations. Working in gray areas allows me to think quickly on my feet to find the way and show others the way as well. This is how Maxwell’s quote embodies my leadership.
How do you define the differences between a leader as a manager and a leader as a coach?
This is a great question and something that I often share in my role as a conflict resolution expert and organizational ombuds. The difference between leadership and management include,
- Management: manages the day-to-day operations, including administrative duties. Management establishes the structure and social norms set by leadership. Social norms are acceptable and normalized behaviors.
- Leadership: influences, motivates, and executes the cultural attributes, also referred to as social norms, that support the organization’s success. A leader motivates and inspires with coaching.
- Coach: teaches individuals how to improve a skill and/or subject with a Socratic mindset.
Anyone who steps into a leadership role must balance management with leadership. But they must first be a leader with coaching skills. I have worked with leaders who should not be in leadership positions for various reasons. Holding a position in leadership is a privilege and should not be taken lightly. Hence, being open-minded and willing to learn from your mentee is vital in the growth of a leadership position. A leader should be willing to learn.
We started our conversation by noting that improved coaching is the number one leadership initiative in any organization today. What essential skills and competencies leaders must have now to be better coaches?
In my professional experience, a coach is someone who has mastered the skill and job and can help their employees become better at the skill and subject than themselves. The latter is done in conjunction with leadership skills. Coaching skills are similar to leadership skills. These include a growth mindset, psychological safety and empathy, effective communication skills, emotional intelligence, and character. Character includes consistently leading with values, morals, and ethics while motivating, influencing, and establishing healthy organizational cultural norms. A good leader should be willing to learn from their employees while giving credit to their work when it matters most, especially when working with major players in their organization. Coaching is guidance and advisory. When a leader coaches, they influence and motivate. They build confidence in their mentee by guiding them to make strong decisions.
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?
It starts with accepting that we ALL are human — we all have flaws that complement our exceptional skills. This effectively means putting aside one’s ego, leading with humility, accepting that we must continue learning, and growing our skill sets, specifically if the function’s scope expands over time. An individual cannot lead with a stale skillset and a massive ego. It is a privilege to lead in any capacity, especially mentees. Therefore, I teach my mentees everything I have learned while continuing to share resources, techniques, and tools to help them grow. In my leadership, I take a backseat, allow my mentee to steer the chariot, and guide as needed. Despite my efforts and contributions, I lead with integrity and give credit to them. This is vital to the growth of the mentee’s confidence and development of their skillset and helps them make thought-out decisions. More importantly, I know it is never about me when I serve as a leader. It is about them and their success.
I am a learner at heart — I read many books and case studies regularly and incorporate the concepts into my work. As such, I show my mentees how to apply theory with practice and bridge it with the differing situation. Concepts are great, but they are better when applied. For example, foundational conflict resolution skills can be applied to international conflicts, family conflicts, workplace issues, etc. The point is understanding how to apply the techniques based on the environment and the evolving situation. What I have incorporated into my practice is exactly what I teach.
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?”
Recently, I had the opportunity to serve as a mentor. I recognized this individual who was thirsty to learn but did not receive the appropriate training to succeed at their job. I partnered with them on a high-visibility project. There was a lot at stake here, and it was the perfect opportunity to show them the complexities of navigating such a project. The Ombuds position is learned with hands-on training; it cannot be learned from a textbook or a week-long course. I shared my ideas, requested theirs, and we collaborated. Throughout the months, I served in the assistant role, taking notes and helping with the analysis while my mentee stayed in the forefront and led the project. It was rewarding to see my mentee become comfortable and confident in their style while posing thought-provoking, non-leading questions and conducting solid analyses from a neutral perspective. I sincerely appreciate how well I saw them bloom within a few weeks. Together we created a solid product to be delivered to the appropriate parties. The experience was a learning opportunity for me as well. My mentee taught me a lot about techniques, tools, and different thought processes. More importantly, I had the opportunity to give them the space to brief higher leadership, which can be nerve-wracking for the first time. They did an amazing job!
Let’s get to the “Top 5 Ways That Leaders and Managers Can Be Effective Coaches?”
- Create a psychologically safe space that empowers and encourages the leader and mentee to be vulnerable.
- Get comfortable playing a back-seat role. This is not about you but about your mentee. How well they do is an attestation to your mentorship.
- Pose questions to help them discover their answers. This requires patience and thought. And requires you to hold back criticism. Good feedback is about telling your mentee how well they are doing and providing suggestions for improvement on a going and continuous basis. This will give them every opportunity to improve along the way. Remember, you are also learning from them. While you may not agree with their thought process or way of doing things, the result will be the same, if not better. So let them go with it.
- Allow your mentee to breathe. Give them room to incorporate the subject matter into their personality.
- Remember, this is a team effort. Give the credit and more to your mentee. This is about them, not you. Put your ego aside!
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?
I currently work with all generations. Learning about each generation and the social norms they bring into the workplace is significant. With multi-generational workforces, we are also working in a multi-cultural environment. It is vital for all leaders, specifically business components that serve the workforce, to become culturally intelligent. If you choose to be culturally incompetent, you cannot lead and should not be in a leadership position, PERIOD! Understanding cultures empowers you as a leader to see each individual for who they are and why or how they do things a certain way. For example, people from different cultures sometimes write differently than how you were professionally trained to write. Avoid being critical and accept that they did not receive the same training as you did. Be open-minded without judging. Additionally, leaders must always be neutral. Managers must be neutral parties as well. And if you cannot be neutral, your biases will impact how you lead and work with a multigenerational, diverse workforce. It comes down to wanting to care about people enough to want to understand them.
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?
Emotional intelligence, also called EQ, is a great concept. It can be easily misunderstood and misconstrued. EQ is necessary to connect with your workforce. This begins when a leader can be empathetic, placing themselves in the other person’s shoes. This means listening to listen, listening to understand, and listening to clarify. And listening to NOT respond. A good leader has sharp listening skills and strong empathy. Without any of this, EQ is just a theoretical concept.
Words matter. And we’re collectively creating a new leadership language right now. What are the most important words for leaders to use now?
Well-being. Collaboration. Empathy. Integrity. Transparency. Humanize. Collaborative Decision-Making.
I keep inspiring quotes on my desk. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote,” and why does it mean so much to you?
This is my favorite quote. I firmly believe an individual’s true character is how they treat another person. “You can easily judge a man’s character by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” Johan Wolfgang van Goethe. I firmly believe this and incorporate it in my everyday practice. I have worked with amazing leaders who go out of their way to make the lowest-ranking employees know they matter. I have also worked with mid-ranking individuals in non-management and management positions who treat those of lower rank rudely. The other day, I witnessed an individual with a higher position speak curtly to someone of a lower rank. They did not realize I was standing behind them. They changed their tone when I took a few steps forward and stood near them. It made me angry, and my first thought was to speak to the lower-ranking individual to ensure they were okay. No one, and I mean no one, deserves to be spoken down to.
No one can forget that everyone matters and no one deserves poor treatment. If you think for a minute that you are above them in any way, remember that position and rank are temporary. If you think you are above anyone, let karma show its presence.
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?
It would be wonderful to hear from our readers.
Instagram & Twitter: @binapatelphd
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!