Empower through Autonomy: Positive psychology coaching underscores the importance of autonomy and self-determination in enhancing motivation. In one scenario, I empowered a creative team member to lead a project, aligning with their passion and skills. This autonomy boosted their engagement, confidence, creativity, and overall performance.

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 Catherine Plano PhD, MCC.

Catherine Plano PhD, MCC is an internationally recognized executive coach, leadership development expert, and transformational thought leader. With over two decades of experience in organizational psychology, she is dedicated to empowering individuals and businesses to unlock their full potential through innovative coaching techniques. Her groundbreaking work in shifting organizational cultures to embrace a coaching mindset has earned her a reputation as a catalyst for transformation, making her a highly sought-after speaker, coach, trainer and consultant across the globe.

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… It came, surprisingly, not in the boardroom or an office, but at home, following the birth of my son. His arrival sparked an epiphany: I had to lead by example, to be his guiding light, illuminating the path of truth, authenticity, and heart-centered living.

Standing in my truth and being authentically myself, I realized, was a far more powerful lesson than any words could ever convey. It was this realization that transformed my perspective on leadership, setting the foundation for the leader I am today.

Becoming a mother was a journey without a handbook, a path with no predetermined course. It was a journey that required me to be a collaborator by heart, open to new perspectives and learning from each interaction. I often said to my son, “We may not have a manual for this, but together, we can figure it out.”

In fact, it was this mother-son collaboration that became a metaphor for my leadership style. I don’t profess to have all the answers. Instead, I listen, get curious, and invite others to share their insights. When resistance arises, I delve deeper, seeking to understand the underlying thoughts and feelings — a way to uncover, challenge, and shift paradigms.

My journey as a mother has taught me to lead with empathy, authenticity, and collaboration, forging stronger connections and nurturing growth. And just like that journey, my leadership is a constant evolution, a commitment to growth and learning, from leading my son to leading teams.

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?

John C. Maxwell’s words resonate deeply with my philosophy of leadership. I view it as a journey where I am both the guide and the traveler, constantly learning, evolving, and paving the way for others to follow.

Knowing the way requires a combination of wisdom, insight, and an eagerness to learn. I’ve dedicated my life to personal and professional development, honing my skills and expanding my knowledge. Still, I am a passionate advocate for lifelong learning. I don’t just rest on the laurels of what I know, I relentlessly pursue what I don’t, and I find joy in sharing these discoveries with those I lead.

Going the way signifies action — it’s not enough to merely understand the path, one must also walk it. I aim to embody the values I advocate for — authenticity, heart-centeredness, collaboration, and truth. Each day, I strive to lead by example, standing in my truth, and showing up as my most authentic self, inviting my team to do the same.

Showing the way is about guidance and empowerment. As a leader, my role isn’t to dictate the path, but to illuminate it, to enable others to walk it themselves. I place great importance on nurturing potential, fostering an environment that encourages self-discovery, growth, and collaboration. I’ve always believed that leadership is less about having followers and more about creating leaders.

In essence, this quote encapsulates my leadership philosophy — a blend of knowledge, authenticity, and empowerment. I strive to embody these principles daily, leading not from a position of power, but from a place of heart-centered collaboration and shared growth.

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

The landscape of leadership presents us with varied styles — a leader in the guise of a manager and a leader as a coach. They each offer unique perspectives, but both have their places within the leadership tapestry.

A leader embodying the manager role is often reminiscent of an older, command-and-control style of leadership. Here, the leader is at the helm, directing the ship, overseeing the workflow, and ensuring the achievement of goals. This style carries a mantle of authority, with a strong focus on efficiency, results, and organizational structure. It is akin to standing at the front, leading the pack.

Contrastingly, the coaching style of leadership embraces a new paradigm, one that places the heart at its core. This leader is less a commander and more a facilitator, nurturing individual strengths and fostering personal growth. They are not positioned at the front dictating the way, but rather leading from behind, much like the lions with their packs.

In this role, the focus shifts from ‘telling’ to ‘asking’, from ‘directing’ to ‘empowering’. It’s about seeking to understand, rather than to be understood. As a passionate advocate of the coaching model, I believe in the transformative power of leading from behind, encouraging self-discovery, and cultivating an environment of collaboration and open communication.

However, it’s the ability to artfully merge these two approaches that makes a truly effective leader. Balancing the command of the manager, when necessary, with the empathetic understanding of the coach. For me, this is the essence of transformative, heart-centered leadership. Leadership that doesn’t just direct, but guides. Leadership that doesn’t just control but empowers. Leadership that doesn’t just command but inspires.

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?

In this new era of heart-centered leadership, the shift towards coaching is indeed the foremost initiative within organizations. To truly excel as a coaching leader, there are several essential skills and competencies one must cultivate.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is the art of asking thought-provoking questions. Instead of providing answers or solutions, a coaching leader encourages self-discovery by stimulating insightful conversation. It’s about asking open-ended questions that inspire introspection and self-reflection. This approach not only promotes independent problem-solving but also helps individuals gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their unique perspectives.

Secondly, active listening is crucial. When we ask these thought-provoking questions, we must also create the space for responses to be heard, seen, and valued. Active listening goes beyond merely hearing words — it involves understanding the underlying emotions, needs, and motivations. It’s about empathizing with the individual, demonstrating that their perspectives matter.

Moreover, emotional intelligence is integral to effective coaching leadership. This involves recognizing and managing one’s own emotions and understanding the emotions of others. Emotional intelligence promotes empathy and builds stronger, more meaningful connections.

A coaching leader must also be comfortable with ambiguity. They must empower their team to navigate through uncertainty, providing support and guidance while encouraging them to find their own path.

Finally, patience and persistence are key. Change and growth don’t happen overnight, and coaching leaders need to support their team members on this journey, regardless of the time it takes.

In essence, to be a better coach, a leader must cultivate a curiosity to understand, the patience to listen, the empathy to connect, and the humility to lead from behind. It’s about nurturing an environment where individuals feel safe to explore, grow, and ultimately, to flourish.

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?

Absolutely, the wisdom encapsulated in the old adage “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” is very much alive in the realm of leadership. Rather than enforcing mandates, I firmly believe in the power of inspiration as a catalyst for leaders to invest in upskilling and reskilling.

My first step is to nurture a culture of continuous learning where self-development and growth aren’t merely encouraged but regarded as indispensable components of the leadership journey. I frequently emphasize to leaders the transformative potential of learning and how it can unlock not only their potential but also that of their teams.

Furthermore, I’m a firm believer in walking the talk. Through my commitment to my own growth and by sharing my learning experiences, I strive to demonstrate, not merely proclaim, the profound value of lifelong development.

A significant facet of inspiring others is understanding their unique motivations. What are their aspirations? What challenges do they face? By engaging in meaningful dialogue and posing thought-provoking questions, my aim is to help them see the link between their personal growth and their effectiveness as leaders.

Another significant element in this equation is acknowledging and addressing the six human needs — certainty, variety, significance, love/connection, growth, and contribution. These needs serve as a compass, guiding human behavior. When leaders perceive how upskilling and reskilling can satisfy these needs, they are naturally inspired.

The need for certainty can be met by providing clarity on the benefits of continuous learning, showing how upskilling and reskilling can lend stability and predictability to their career trajectory. For the need for variety, offering a diverse array of learning opportunities can keep their journey stimulating and invigorating.

Addressing the need for significance, leaders can see how continuous learning amplifies their value within the team and the wider organization. The need for love/connection is fulfilled when they realize that upskilling and reskilling can improve their ability to engage with and influence their team positively.

The need for growth is directly addressed through the process of learning itself. As leaders commit to upskilling and reskilling, they inherently satisfy their need for personal and professional growth. Lastly, the need for contribution is met when leaders recognize how their personal growth can magnify their impact on their team, their organization, and beyond.

By creating an environment where learning is esteemed, curiosity is cherished, and growth is applauded, we can inspire leaders to undertake the journey of upskilling and reskilling. The goal is to help them realize that upskilling isn’t a task, but a rewarding path of personal and professional evolution. It’s not about enticing flies with honey or vinegar; it’s about creating a space where they are naturally attracted to the sweet promise of continuous learning and growth.

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?”

Coaching someone to do their best work and inspiring peak performance involves a profound understanding of the individual, fostering a sense of empowerment, and creating an environment conducive to growth. As a big proponent of positive psychology coaching, I emphasize focusing on individuals’ strengths and potential to enhance their wellbeing and performance.

Here are my top five ways for leaders and managers to be effective coaches, each illustrated with an example:

Encourage Strengths-Based Development: Positive psychology coaching advocates for a focus on individual strengths. Instead of correcting weaknesses, we should highlight and leverage strengths. When coaching a team leader who excelled in strategic thinking but was less confident in public speaking, I didn’t press them to become a public speaker overnight. Instead, we strategized ways to capitalize on their forte, enabling them to contribute effectively to the team’s goals.

Master the Art of Powerful Questions: Is like igniting a spark of introspection, enabling individuals to dig deep and unlock their inherent wisdom and resources. When faced with a team leader overwhelmed by a formidable challenge, instead of offering direct advice, I posed a question: “If you were to gaze at this situation with fresh eyes, what new path might you tread?” This nudged the leader to step back, swap lenses, and ponder innovative solutions. The result? They unearthed a fresh approach they’d initially overlooked.

This encapsulates the magic of thought-provoking questions — they open doors to fresh insights, foster self-discovery, and empower individuals to take the reins of their growth and development. As leaders and coaches, we’re not here to serve all the answers on a silver platter. Instead, we inspire individuals to navigate their own path, fueling their journey towards reaching their full, resplendent potential.

Create a Safe and Positive Environment: This approach encourages psychological safety and a positive mindset. It’s essential to establish an environment where it’s okay to make mistakes and learn from them. When a team member once approached me, apprehensive about a project risk, I reassured them, “Remember, it’s alright to stumble as long as we’re moving forward and learning.”

Empower through Autonomy: Positive psychology coaching underscores the importance of autonomy and self-determination in enhancing motivation. In one scenario, I empowered a creative team member to lead a project, aligning with their passion and skills. This autonomy boosted their engagement, confidence, creativity, and overall performance.

Practice Active Listening: Being an effective coach requires truly listening to understand, not just to respond. During one-to-one sessions, I focus on the person in front of me, making sure to understand their perspective fully. Once, a team member was struggling with workload. By actively listening, I was able to understand her challenges and help her prioritize tasks effectively.

Coaching is a highly personalized process, it’s not a one-size-fits-all process. It’s about understanding the unique needs, strengths, and potential of each individual and guiding them to unlock that potential. By integrating the principles of positive psychology, we can foster resilience, wellbeing, and peak performance in our teams. It’s about leading with empathy, inspiration, and a deep-rooted belief in each individual’s capabilities.

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?

Coaching in the beautifully diverse landscape of today’s organizations calls for adaptability, empathy, and a deep appreciation for every individual’s unique experience and perspective. When it comes to generational diversity, this becomes even more pertinent. Each generation brings its own wealth of wisdom, skills, and viewpoints shaped by different societal, technological, and cultural contexts.

My advice to anyone coaching a multigenerational workforce is to embrace the beauty of this diversity. Seek to understand before being understood. Remain curious and open-minded, and always strive to create an environment where every voice is heard and valued.

As a coach, it’s not about forcing a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s about customizing your style and methods to resonate with each generation’s unique needs and preferences. It’s about communicating effectively, appreciating different perspectives, and leveraging each generation’s strengths.

To activate the collective potential of a multigenerational workforce, create an atmosphere of mutual respect and collaboration. Encourage cross-generational mentoring, where each generation learns from the others, fostering a culture of continuous growth and knowledge sharing. Encourage each generation to embrace their unique strengths and talents while learning from others’ experiences and perspectives.

Diversity is our greatest strength. By appreciating the unique wisdom each generation brings and fostering an environment of mutual respect and learning, we can unlock the collective potential of our multigenerational workforce, enabling each individual to flourish and our teams to 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?

Indeed, emotional intelligence is a cornerstone of effective leadership, and there are two key steps I recommend for leaders to elevate this essential skill.

Firstly, Self-Awareness: This is the starting point for emotional intelligence. Leaders should consistently practice introspection, being aware of their emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and triggers. It’s about understanding your own emotional landscape, its impact on your behavior and decision-making, and how it influences those around you. Keeping a journal, practicing mindfulness, or simply taking a few quiet moments each day to check in with yourself.

Secondly, Empathy: This is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, which is at the heart of emotional intelligence. Leaders can demonstrate empathy by genuinely listening to their team members, acknowledging their feelings, and validating their experiences. It’s not about agreeing or disagreeing; it’s about understanding and letting them know that their feelings matter. One effective way to do this is through active listening — focusing fully on the speaker, seeking to understand their perspective, and responding with empathy and respect.

These two steps — cultivating self-awareness and practicing empathy — form the foundation of emotional intelligence. By integrating these practices into their leadership approach, leaders can foster stronger connections, improve communication, and build a more supportive and collaborative work environment.

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

Indeed, words have immense power. They shape our thoughts, influence our emotions, and guide our actions. In this transformative era, as we are co-creating a new leadership language, certain words stand out for their ability to inspire, empower, and connect.

Firstly, “Empathy” is paramount. It reminds us to step into others’ shoes, understand their perspectives, and validate their experiences. It fosters trust, connection, and collaboration, making it an essential term in the new leadership lexicon.

Next, “Collaboration” is crucial. This word moves us away from the hierarchical, siloed structures of the past, and towards a more inclusive, team-oriented approach where everyone’s input is valued.

“Curiosity” is another vital term. It invites us to keep learning, asking questions, and seeking new perspectives. It encourages us to embrace the unknown and step out of our comfort zones.

The word “Resilience” holds immense power in today’s dynamic, ever-changing world. It calls on us to embrace change, overcome obstacles, and persist in the face of adversity, all the while maintaining our wellbeing.

Finally, “Authenticity” is key. It underscores the importance of being true to ourselves, standing in our truth, and leading with integrity.

As we continue to evolve our leadership language, these words — empathy, collaboration, curiosity, resilience, and authenticity — serve as guiding lights, leading us towards a more compassionate, inclusive, and effective style of leadership.

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

One quote that I keep close to my heart and return to often is by Rumi: “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

This quote resonates deeply with me because it beautifully encapsulates a transformative truth: our greatest challenges often serve as our greatest teachers. It’s through the process of facing and overcoming adversity that we uncover our strength, resilience, and innate wisdom.

Our wounds, our struggles, and our setbacks are not indicators of our weakness; instead, they’re the birthplaces of our growth, self-discovery, and enlightenment. They’re the cracks that allow the light — the light of wisdom, self-awareness, compassion, and growth — to permeate our being.

This quote is a constant reminder for me to embrace the journey, with all its ups and downs, knowing that every challenge is an opportunity for growth and transformation. It encourages me to lead with empathy, resilience, and an unwavering belief in the human capacity to evolve, adapt, and thrive amidst change and adversity.

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?

Absolutely! I’m deeply passionate about fostering personal growth, transformation, and leadership, and I truly cherish every opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals.

To stay abreast with my latest discoveries and insights, I invite you to visit my website at www.catherineplano.com. You’ll discover a wealth of resources there, including articles, podcasts, and a rich tapestry of content centered around leadership, coaching, personal development, and empowerment.

For those who thrive on social media, you can join me on LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, where I’m continually sharing fresh insights, stirring content, and snippets from my own leadership journey.

Dive deeper into the world of personal and professional growth by subscribing to my newsletter. It’s a space where I share more intimate reflections, as well as practical tools and strategies for nurturing both personal and professional growth.

For corporations seeking to shift towards a coaching culture or those of you looking to become accredited coaches, I highly recommend visiting www.riseandthrive.com.au. It’s a platform dedicated to empowering organizations and individuals alike to foster a coaching mindset.

And lastly, for those seeking to transform their life or leadership approach, do feel free to get in touch with me directly through the contact form on my website. I look forward to exploring the myriad of ways we could collaborate to ignite your potential and turn your aspirations into reality.

Let’s never forget, we are co-creators in this remarkable journey of life and leadership. So, let’s stay connected, learn from one another, and together, we’ll grow and thrive!

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