Lead by Example — At one time or another, many of us have heard the saying “The further up the corporate ladder you go, the less work you should have to do.” Though as leaders we should be properly delegating workload to our direct reports, the task of coaching should always be on-going. For me, I regularly look for opportunities to offer up best practices with my peers and direct reports. Whether it is on a conference call, team meeting, touch base or administering a performance review, I always take advantage of the opportunity to share the strategies that have helped me succeed, in hopes it will help my team members succeed.

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 David Rey.

David Rey is a distinguished leader in the Asset Protection/Loss Prevention industry, having spent seventeen years overseeing the security operations at several internationally renowned flagship retail locations in New York City, including Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, Bloomingdale’s, and Brooks Brothers.

It is however, from his time at Macy’s Herald Square, that he has decided to chronicle his experiences in a memoir titled “Larceny on 34th Street: An In-Depth Look at Professional Shoplifting in One of the World’s Largest Stores.” Scholastically, David is currently pursuing his graduate studies in Government at Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education.

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 are many who might attribute their defining moment in leadership to a joyous time when they accomplished a particular goal. For me, the pivotal moment that shaped who I am as a leader, was the joy I took in someone else’s achievement.

I had the privilege of taking part in an Executive Development Program for recent college graduates at a previous employer. I was chosen as a mentor for the program and assigned a mentee. My role as a mentor was to provide hands-on experience, education and encouragement in hopes of preparing the mentee for a future role in leadership. Only the best of the best mentees were offered positions within the company after the program was completed, so there was a sense of pride we took in knowing that our mentee made the cut under such competitive circumstances. When it was all said and done, not only did my mentee get offered a position within the company, he also achieved advancement, becoming a District Manager the next year and eventually VP of Leadership Programs and Recruitment at his current organization. In my view, true leadership is the ability to unlock a person’s potential to become great.

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?

On my first day leading the security team at one of my previous employers, I decided to do something I was certain had not been done before. After being introduced to the staff at our morning meeting, I proceeded to display the most recently published crime statistics from our local police precinct. I focused on data relating to theft figures and highlighted that those stats were on the rise. I encouraged everyone to think about ways we can protect our business from these crime trends and emphasized that we as a team will be committed to creating successful action plans to address shoplifting. I did not hesitate to set the tone with my staff and by the looks on their faces, they were buying into it.

As a leader it is critical to establish credibility with our workforce if we are going to inspire and eventually “show the way.” But before we can “show the way” our workforce must first trust that we “know the way” and are capable of “going the way.” In Jordan Belfort’s book “Way of the Wolf,” he discusses the concept of the “Three Tens.” To close a sale the customer must first trust the product, trust you and trust your company. In terms of our workforce, our staff must trust we satisfy a knowledgeable component in our field, must trust we have a reasonable plan and can trust we will guide them to achieving the objective.

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

For me, I think of Project Managers when we speak of leaders as a manager. These leaders are responsible for the planning, execution and completion of a particular assignment. In my line of work, it may not be a particular project that we are managing but instead, we may be rolling out a certain company initiative or attempting to get the buy-in from business partners when it comes to a new protocol we might want to implement. In this case, the goals of a leader as a manager usually involve certain concrete and tangible efforts.

When taking a closer look into leaders as coaches, I believe this involves the ability to make a special connection with your workforce. Coaching becomes more personal as a leader, with the objective shifting to a focus on how to best develop the skills of your employees and enhance their productivity. I have seen some Department Heads who are very talented in their field but are not effective when it comes to training and developing their direct reports. Organizations make this mistake consistently. They promote someone who demonstrates high performance in the statistical metrics of their field but fail to consider whether this individual would serve as a successful mentor for their staff. Being good at what you do does not always mean you are destined to be a good coach. It is one of the reasons we often do not see Hall of Fame sports athletes make the transition into coaching. More often than not, the best sports coaches did not have successful playing careers. Developing plans to help people confront challenges and improve their performance requires efforts with a particular depth and substance.

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 my memoir I discuss a difficult situation I encountered when I started my first role at Macy’s Herald Square. I was tasked with leading a team of undercover store detectives. The problem was, I had never been an undercover store detective so I found myself trying to figure out on the fly, how to best lead this team to successfully do a job I had never done. After a bit of trial and error, I decided the best course of action was two-fold. First, it was imperative that I understand what metrics the organization looks at when evaluating the performance of myself and my staff. Second, I did not want to change what was not broken, so I encouraged the meets and high meets expectations employees to continue to perform their craft while I took on the role of a coach and proceeded to forge meaningful dialogue with those who were not meeting expectations. Being able to have these kind of interactions with your direct reports is an essential skill. I may not have been familiar with their line of work but I certainly knew how to foster healthy discussion with my employees. I was able to see their points of view while being empathetic and understanding to what their passions were. In order for leaders to become better coaches, they must nurture a positive vision and give their employees a platform to have their voices heard, all while being mindful of what the department’s objectives are.

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?

Some companies utilize an IDP (individual development plan) as a meaningful way to construct a roadmap that will get their employee to where they aspire to eventually be. I truly believe this tool can help inspire many of those within our workforce if done right. What I love about it is that it deviates from the top-down approach of having a leader mandate to the employee what they need to do to succeed. Instead, an IDP empowers the employee to become a part of the plan development process. As a leader, I want my workforce to share their visions with me and sell me on what their ambitions are and what they feel they need to do to get there. This inspires employees because they value the fact that their advancement strategy involves a partnership between them and their leader, instead of being compelled to commit to a performance plan that they had no say in.

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?”

  1. Passion for Teaching — I recall a time at a previous employer when a business partner of mine announced her resignation during a team meeting. After getting over the initial shock of the announcement, I proceeded to have a private conversation with her in my office in hopes of getting the real truth behind her desire to leave the company. During this conversation, she did not hesitate to share her contempt for her current boss, with her most critical feedback being “I just accepted the fact that I was never going to learn anything from him.” These words always stuck with me. Regardless of our professional level, most of us desire to have a leader who we consider to be a trusted counselor and guide. The previous bosses I hold in high regard are the ones who I was able to take inspiration from. In order to be effective coaches, leaders must strive to be teachers of their craft.
  2. Lead by Example — At one time or another, many of us have heard the saying “The further up the corporate ladder you go, the less work you should have to do.” Though as leaders we should be properly delegating workload to our direct reports, the task of coaching should always be on-going. For me, I regularly look for opportunities to offer up best practices with my peers and direct reports. Whether it is on a conference call, team meeting, touch base or administering a performance review, I always take advantage of the opportunity to share the strategies that have helped me succeed, in hopes it will help my team members succeed.
  3. Ability to Make a Personal Connection — At one of my previous employers, the performance of our direct reports was evaluated based on statistical metrics. Those who were not meeting the statistical expectations of their role were put on counseling and eventually managed out if their performance did not improve. While evaluating one low performing employee in particular, I decided to take a different path and connect with him on a personal level. Instead of managing the employee out of the company, I proceeded to sit down with him in hopes of gaining a better understanding into who he is as a person. I asked one particular question that does not seem to get asked very often, “Generally in life, what makes you happy?” By making this connection, I was able to uncover his true passions and as a result, found a different job within the department that he was better suited for. Effective coaches understand that we should not be in the business of getting rid of good people.
  4. Identify How Success is Measured — Throughout my career, I have managed for companies who measure the success of their employees quantitatively, qualitatively and for some, a combination of the two. Effective coaches are able to identify which evaluation method their company subscribes to and in turn, ensure their workforce understands this as well. Some employees may be convinced they are performing at a high level because their accomplishments can be seen quantitatively but in fact, are not meeting expectations because they are lacking in qualitative areas such as interpersonal skills or time management. In order for leaders to be able to coach their teams for peak performance, the leader and the team must understand how their organization measures success.
  5. Elicit Feedback From Your Direct Reports — I have been a part of organizations who utilize “Employee Engagement Surveys” in an effort to gain feedback from their workforce on issues ranging from how employees feel about their job, their boss and overall feelings about the company. During my time at a previous employer, I recall one particular Department Head who was notorious for receiving poor engagement results from members of his department. His consistent response to this feedback was to dismiss it and as a result, the department became a revolving door of managers. One of my favorite quotes is “we do not see things in life the way they are, we see them the way we are.” Accepting feedback, especially from those whom we are responsible for leading, is critical if we as leaders expect our workforce to do their best work. Our workforce must have the peace of mind of knowing that their voices will be heard and their concerns will be addressed. If those concerns consistently fall on deaf ears, high turnover will become commonplace.

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?

One mistake I have seen People Leaders make is to manage every member of their team the same exact way. One reason this never works is because of the multi-generational aspect of our teams nowadays. Many of us have teams comprised of older direct reports who have been in the business 20+ years and younger direct reports who are just getting their feet wet. It is important for a People Leader to acknowledge this generational diversity and tailor their approach to coaching each direct report accordingly. Nothing is more frustrating to a long- tenured employee than to be treated as if this is their first rodeo. Our development plans for each employee should be different yet compatible with their talent level and experience. The ability to provide a fair and well-matched performance review for each member of your team, is the key to activating the collective potential of a multi-generational workforce.

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. Self-Management — We are all familiar with the term “sh*t rolls downhill.” I have seen leaders, who under a tremendous amount of pressure, allow their emotions to negatively influence how they interact with their workforce. Some leaders are not good at receiving critical feedback and tend to take it as a shot to their ego. The common way they cope with this pain in hopes of “taking back their power” is to transfer the criticism to their direct reports. As leaders, we must manage our emotions in a healthy way. Sun Tzu said “appear strong when you are weak.” I feel this should also apply to our emotions as well. Once we leave that meeting or conference call, we must remember that the curtains have opened and we are on. We have teams that we must inspire and guide and they deserve our most positive support.
  2. Social Awareness — One thing I have learned in life is that empathy is not for everyone. Some people are great at understanding someone else’s perspective but there are others who struggle mightily at it. As leaders, we must work on perfecting the art of putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, especially those in our workforce. Those who struggle to understand one’s experiences usually have a kneejerk response to people’s actions by saying “I will never understand why someone would do this.” Leaders should be mindful not to respond in this way and instead get in the habit of imagining themselves in that other person’s situation. It is easier said than done but those who can train themselves on being more empathic will foster better relationships with their teams.

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 of the most effective business structures I have been privileged to be a part of involved a system of “Horizontal Leadership.” When we think of leadership, we are usually conditioned to envision a business arrangement in which information passes along in a hierarchical manner. However with “Horizontal Leadership,” leaders throughout an organization can foster more of a team-focused paradigm. A business model where each business leader can successfully collaborate and innovate together. Instead of a top-down type of approach such as having a Department Head lecturing and preaching how to meet objectives, in this system my business partners were encouraged to play an equal role in creating some of the most important best practices. Each leader played the role of both leader and follower, which then empowered each individual to influence key decisions that are made within our organization. It certainly is a very effective way to boost a team’s productivity and I would love to see this system become more commonplace.

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

“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

There were several factors that served as motivation for writing my memoir. One of the main drivers was the desire to be the first to do something that has not been done. Nobody in my industry had gone so far as to publish a memoir about Organized Retail Crime in an effort to bring this crime trend to the public consciousness. With my dream becoming a reality, I am able to pave the way for others in my field to keep the momentum going and continue to bring our world to the public spotlight. As leaders, we must resist the temptation to follow the path already taken by always searching for ways to be innovative.

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?

Verified Twitter — @realdavidrey

LinkedIn — linkedin.com/in/davidrey819

Linktree — linktr.ee/DavidRey

Instagram — @therealdavidrey

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.