To delegate. It is good not only because it can help a leader coach, but because delegating is one of the core abilities for any manager. To delegate is to be sure that your team can handle extra tasks and responsibility. It means you believe in professionals around you.

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 Daria Leshchenko.

Daria Leshchenko is the CEO and Managing Partner at SupportYourApp and a co-founder of Label Your Data and Outstaff Your Team. She started as a support rep at the age of 21 and managed to grow a separate Support-as-a-Service company and become a CEO three years later. Being in the market for almost 13 years, the company reached the Top-5 customer support providers list, with over 1200+ people on the team and 250+ clients worldwide. This year she was included in the 200 Female Founders 2023 list by Inc. and received the Accomplished Leader Award by CCA.

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?

Along my career, there were several moments that have defined my current leadership style. First was at the very beginning of my path. Back then, I had just become a manager of a support team and started making changes. Our team had all been working together for a while and developed friendships. When I became their manager, I was quite young — only 21 years old. With time, I realized that my approach to team management left much to be desired. Back then, I wanted to maintain friendship with my team and lacked the knowledge to start leading them. As a result, they did not see me as a manager and a leader, but as a friend. They simply didn’t take me seriously, and we couldn’t reach our set goals, and I had to fire everyone. There was nothing else I could do, I had to ensure the productivity of my department and at that time showing a strong hand was my only choice. That taught me the importance of timely and tough decisions.

The second moment was prolonged in time. It was my 6-month-long study in the Kyiv Business School, MIM. When I became a student there, I had almost no prior knowledge about proper team management and leadership. The MIM course gave me an excellent base for everything I know today. I remember being so interested in everything I was learning, I started using the information I was getting right away. And I still use it until now.

The third one was not so much of a moment, but rather an item. A book, to be precise. No B.S. Ruthless Management of People and Profits by Dan Kennedy. That book opened my eyes to a lot of interesting approaches to management and leadership. By the way, SupportYourApp has a corporate book club where every department reads the same book and then discusses it, and Ruthless Management is the most popular book there.

I can say that every day presents me with opportunities to learn, transform, and adapt my leadership style. In 2021, I have graduated from Ukrainian Corporate Governance Academy. Studying there gave me the opportunity to learn new techniques in corporate management. No matter how much I learn, I am happy to use every possibility I get to become a better leader.

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?

Let’s start with ‘knows the way’ — knowing the goal of all our actions and understanding what we are working towards is one of my main questions to every member of my team. During meetings and regular one-on-one syncs, we set short- and long-term goals, analyze what we have reached and what we need to do to exceed our goals and build proper plans for the future. I explain why this is important and ‘show the way’ because if people do not know why they are following a certain path, they may simply stop along the way.

As for “going the way”, I also do what my team does — set goals and take every step I need to accomplish them. And I am proud that my team and I practice the same approach to our goals and tasks. It helps us be on the same page and achieve the results we are aiming for.

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

In my opinion, being a leader as a manager is all about control. There was once a time when I thought this was the best approach to leading a team. But it only works with certain people and when a team’s size and geography allow it.

A leader as a coach is more about nudging people in the right direction and leading by example. It is also based on trust in other people, their knowledge and experience. It may be tough for a manager to relinquish control, but we need to understand two things.

First, we can’t do it all ourselves. The role of a leader requires not only working with a team, but building plans, developing strategy, and establishing and streamlining communication. As time goes, we accumulate too many tasks and have to learn to delegate and show people the way.

Second, when we make a hiring decision, we make sure to expand our teams with just the right people with just the right expertise. We hire professionals with the most fitting education, experience, and background. And more often than not, after showing them the ropes, a manager does not need to control them.

So, for me, the difference between the two lies in the need to control the team and in the level of trust a leader has in those around them.

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?

First and foremost, the ability to listen, empathy, and emotional intelligence. These go hand in hand. In my opinion, the best leader is an empathetic one. Without the ability to understand their team, empathize with them, and show their own emotions, a leader turns into a dictator, and that can have a damning influence on the team’s productivity and morale.

Second, leaders should practice what they preach. If you want your team to, for example, keep on learning, be organized, communicate openly with one another, or, ideally, do everything on the list here — do it yourself and set an example.

Third comes the ability to recognize your mistakes and shortcomings. It reminds your team that you are human, and an approachable one at that. You understand when you make a mistake, and you know how to correct it. You can recognize when you lack experience in or understanding of something. Just remember to develop and remind your team to keep on learning.

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?

There was a time when I was leaning towards vinegar more than anything else. I thought total control was the only way to manage a team. With time, I realized that inspiring and leading by example were far better.

So, this is exactly what I have been doing for the past several years. No matter what, I am learning and promoting self-development within my team. Non-stop learning is actually one of the staples of our team. It is also a good way to spot those who are ready to develop and be the leaders of the future.

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?”

The first way is to delegate. It is good not only because it can help a leader coach, but because delegating is one of the core abilities for any manager. To delegate is to be sure that your team can handle extra tasks and responsibility. It means you believe in professionals around you.

I promote delegation within our entire team. This ensures collaboration and streamlined communication. I think our productivity and the fact that we kept on working and providing uninterrupted services to our clients’ customers during wartime is the best example of it. The team members who were affected by the Russian invasion or countrywide blackouts could delegate a part of their tasks to their teammates, and everything was done on time no matter what.

The second way is to ensure transparency in everything — in company organization, in communication, in team processes, and so on. This will eliminate all questions and provide a solid and clear ground for productive and effective collaboration. This is what we have been doing since SupportYourApp was born. We make everything transparent and clear, which helps us be on the same wavelength and aim for the same goals.

Third is to keep your eyes and your mind open. From that first interview, it is hard to understand who has the ability and capacity to lead their own team. At SupportYourApp, 86% of managers have grown to their present jobs from a position of a customer support consultant. It includes me and the CEOs of Label Your Data and Outstaff Your Team — two SupportYourApp spin-off projects. All this growth and development are only possible because we are keeping open minds and are willing to help other people grow and eventually build their own teams within SupportYourApp.

Then comes constant self-development. The leaders of today and tomorrow need to remember to keep on developing and studying — as cheesy as this may sound, this is the truth.

Last but not least — develop your emotional intelligence, display patience and trust your team. Only a handful of things are better for a team’s productivity than an emotionally intelligent leader who believes in them and stands by their ideas and aspirations. Remember — a good team is a backbone of any leader’s success, so if you feel you can’t trust them, you are definitely doing something wrong. Developing a sufficient amount of trust in your team may be a tough process, but it is undoubtedly worth the hassle. Patience, in turn, is a good strategy to adopt when making decisions — do not speak straight from the shoulder and allow the situation to develop. This allows you to have a cool head and make the right decisions at the right time, which is an art in itself.

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?

Promote open communication — no questions about it. Talking, discussing, and brainstorming can open many doors and result in great decisions every day. My team and I promote and practice this approach regularly. Teams and specialists have regular syncs, participate in a corporate book club, attend face-to-face and online team building events, and even participate in charity sport events and eco-initiatives.

Open communication and the ability to actively listen to each other and understand each other in every situation helps us build personal relationships and stay in contact even outside the workplace.

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?

Employ active listening and support your team. These are, in my opinion, the two steps a leader can take to demonstrate their emotional intelligence.

Active listening is the audio equivalent of reading between the lines, and it allows a leader to get as much information about the people and the situations around them as possible. Whether I am speaking with my team, our clients, or potential partners, active listening helps me every day.

It also helps me support my team as they support our clients’ customers. And I teach the SupportYourApp top managers to, in turn, support their teams. Showing other people that you care, support them, listen to them, and know what to say in any situation is, for me, the ultimate indicator of emotional intelligence.

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

Any words of support and encouragement. Making team communication constant is also a must right now. Present economic turmoil, tech market instability, and global political unrest are sure to reflect on professionals’ productivity. Because of this, leaders and managers should make supportive and encouraging communication a habit. I know for sure — keeping your team in the loop and making sure they know everything they need about a company’s strategies, movements, approaches, and changes can maintain their productivity even in the toughest of times.

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

As was said by ​​Howard D. Schultz, “Success is best when it’s shared”. As much as I like it, I would add another part to it: ‘Success is best when it’s shared and the sweetest when achieved together’. These are the words the leader should remember when developing a collaboration strategy and taking steps when achieving new milestones.

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?

Here is the link to my LinkedIn profile: I am happy to connect with new people and talk about all-things-tech.

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