You are the beacon of hope: There’s a reason the most iconic moment in every sports movie is the coach delivering a motivational halftime speech! That moment captures the role of a coach: believe in your team and believe in an outcome. As a manager, your team is looking for that same belief in them. It might be your single most important job.

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 Dave Sieburg.

Dave has been driving creative content for over 20 years, from broadcast networks to brands like Google, Hyundai, and Seagate. As an award-winning scriptwriter and editor, Dave’s career developed into directing commercials and documentaries. In his spare time, Dave devotes himself to post-disaster relief in places such as New Orleans, Haiti, and the Philippines.

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?

Opportunities to lead are all around us. My mom raised me with the best advice: treat every job as if I owned the company. She didn’t mean with a sense of entitlement. She meant that regardless of my position, I should take pride in the company as if it was mine to improve… How can my position be more efficient? What processes can be streamlined? What would enhance the work culture? If you approach every job with these types of questions in mind, then you will be noticed…and quickly! For my career, it didn’t matter whether I was working at an Italian restaurant or the Department of Defense. My “pride of ownership” consistently led to the same cycle of leadership roles. The more problems you solve, the more complex challenges you are given. Guess the most complex challenge of them all… managing people.

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 don’t think a leader, or anyone for that matter, knows the way. How often do we hear that failure is the path to success. But I understand the intent of the quote. People follow leaders who passionately believe in their vision and pursue it with confidence. There’s a similar quote about fatherhood that’s hanging on my wall, “My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived and let me watch him do it.” (Clarence Kelland). Leading by example is the only way to lead. Nothing could be truer in the workplace and I hold myself accountable to be that type of leader.

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

I am happiest when I’m on the field coaching youth soccer. I love it. I’ve learned that all successful coaches are addicted to the same thing: potential. Coaching is the art of recognizing and developing the unique potential in each player.

Think of all the potential in sports… Mental potential to master the dynamics of the game. Physical potential to push your body to new limits. Emotional potential to harness the rollercoaster of highs and lows. And the most important potential…Team potential to take a collective of very different individuals and unite them with synergy.

Managers in the workplace should be equally addicted to recognizing and developing the potential in each player of their team.

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?

“Those who can’t play, coach.” On the surface it sounds like an insult. But the underlying message is critical to leaders in the workplace. When you become a leader, you need to stop playing the sport and start coaching the team. But that goes against everything we know! We spend our careers working to become the best at a trade or craft. Maybe you’re an engineer, investor, marketer, designer, or writer. You become so great at what you do, you get promoted to manage a team. Therein lies the problem. Most new managers are fantastic technicians who have very little experience managing people. The first skill you need to learn is how to step away from the hands-on execution (“stop playing the sport”) and transfer your knowledge to your team so they can grow and learn (“coach”).

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 believe in inspiring all employees, not just managers, to invest in themselves as leaders. We’ve had lots of young employees at our small advertising agency. Conventional wisdom would suggest not sharing company finances with entry level employees. But why? Interestingly, I’ve learned that most parents take the same approach with their children and shield them from family finances because “they’re too young to understand.” I couldn’t disagree more. I believe strongly in full transparency, especially with young employees. I want them to understand the cost of doing our business with insurances, taxes, contractor rates, and profit margins on projects. I want them to feel like a manager of the company. (Sometimes they feel too much like a manager and you need to bring them back to reality!) The more an employee is brought behind-the-curtain of a company, the more vested they feel in supporting its success. That’s the first step to feeling like a leader.

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?”

  • Don’t set the bar too low: I interviewed Gary Guthart, the CEO of Intuitive Surgical, for a documentary about his company. I asked him, “how did you go from a small team of engineers to a global enterprise leading the world in robotic surgery?” He replied without missing a beat, “I don’t burden my team with too low of an expectation.” It took me a minute to understand what he meant. Leaders naturally have high expectations for their team, but what if your team is capable of more than you could imagine? Your “high expectations” might inadvertently become a ceiling that holds them back.
  • Create learning moments that are above your employee’s paygrade: We had an intern several years ago who was interested in sales but had no professional experience. He was eager, intelligent, and full of questions. Rather than describe what I do, I started bringing him to our biggest client pitch meetings. (This was completely unnecessary and outside of his comfort zone). He would sit next to me during the pitches and try to keep composure under the pressure. Even I was nervous at those meetings! Years after he left our company, he reached out to thank me for doing that. “I had no business being at those meetings,” he said, “but you made me believe I have what it takes.”
  • Encourage your team to validate each other: Our company holds an annual summit meeting for the team to reflect on the past year and set goals for the upcoming year. We also like to hand out small bonuses to boost morale. One year I had an idea to make the bonuses more meaningful. I gave every person one thousand dollars in cash. I said, “Here’s a thousand bucks, but it’s not your money. You will give each of your teammates $100 compliments.” What happened next was extraordinary. We went around the table and gave each other heartfelt, meaningful compliments (followed by handing over a one-hundred-dollar bill). There were tears, laughter, and genuine love and respect. I learned something that day… nothing is more powerful in the workplace than coworkers hearing their value from other coworkers.
  • Don’t force team building, focus on a team mindset: I’ve never liked the phrase ‘team building.’ It makes me think of trust falls and awkward get-to-know-you exercises. I focus on the mindset that creates a team in the first place… shared objectives, overcoming adversity together, meaningful interactions, honest communication, and potentially the most important: belief in each other. As the coach of your workplace, always keep the team mindset at the forefront of your daily meetings and interactions — and you will never have to make them do a trust fall!
  • You are the beacon of hope: There’s a reason the most iconic moment in every sports movie is the coach delivering a motivational halftime speech! That moment captures the role of a coach: believe in your team and believe in an outcome. As a manager, your team is looking for that same belief in them. It might be your single most important job.

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?

My ten-year-old loves to call me a “Boomer” (any person who seems old to a young person). All of us “Boomers” love to pick on Millennials. They’re entitled. They’re impatient. They have no work ethic. Right? It’s easy to target generational differences as flaws. I just interviewed a group of teenagers from the Youth Liberation Movement who are trying to reform the education system. One of them said, “The challenges for my grandfather are different than the challenges for my father which are different than the challenges for me.” THAT is exactly how we should be thinking about a multi-generational workforce. Too many companies are trying to assimilate the younger generation into old methodologies. But things have changed. Just look at the remote/hybrid workforce post-2020. Collective potential is only achieved when leadership is flexible to the challenges of younger generations and blending them with long standing ideologies.

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?

Read the room. A good leader always observes the mood of the team. Are they tired, bored, enthusiastic, chatty, or a mixed bag? Like a coach on the field, your job is to recognize how your players are feeling and bring them to where you want them to be.

Be real. People are drawn to authenticity. Leaders are allowed to have emotions too. The more your team knows who you are as a person, the more they can support you.

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

One word, “We.”

Always use “we” instead of “I” when describing anything you or your team accomplishes.

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

My favorite quote is, “There’s so much talent in the world.” I am endlessly impressed by the talents people have. And there are so many kinds of talent! The best part about spending twenty years in videography is getting to film one talent after another. I’ve documented engineers, activists, artists, actors, scientists, athletes, musicians, designers, entrepreneurs, educators, dancers, programmers, inventors, performers, fabricators, comedians, painters… the list never ends. People are incredible.

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.

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Thank you for sharing your insights. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.