Two senior leaders resolved a long-standing rift: After attending a Coaching in the Moment course together, two senior leaders who headed up divisions used the Untying the Knot approach to coaching that they learned to talk about the knots they were experiencing between themselves and their divisions that were keeping them from working effectively together. They were able to resolve their differences to the point that their relationship and the relationships of their respective organizations improved markedly.

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 Dianna Anderson.

Dianna Anderson is the Co-Founder and CEO of Cylient, and the creator of Cylient’s unique approach for instilling Safe and Seen coaching cultures. The Coaching in the Moment® approach that Dianna created has enabled thousands of people, worldwide, to integrate coaching approaches into any conversation with anyone, at any time, in order to build connections and co-create new ways of thinking and working together.

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?

After coaching individuals for a few years, I realized I was constantly coaching people to take a coaching approach to everyday challenges so they could achieve their desired results. A defining moment for me was when I realized that everybody needed coaching skills in order to be effective leaders, and frankly, fully-fledged human beings. That’s when I decided to create Cylient’s Untying the Knot® approach to “in the moment” coaching and feedback, which is the foundation of what Cylient does.

At the time I decided that, most people thought that coaching had to be conducted by professional coaches in expensive, private, hour-long conversations. That made me a pioneer in the creation of coaching cultures. I was determined — and still am — to help every human being learn coaching skills to so we can support each other to be the best possible expression of ourselves.

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?

When it comes to instilling coaching as a leadership style at scale, we are truly forging a new path. I do my best to take a lead in this by speaking and writing about the positive benefits of taking coaching approaches to leadership and life, for individuals and organizations. I strive to embody a coaching worldview of being curious, compassionate and courageous in everyday moments, which hopefully inspires other people to want to do the same.

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

We talk about this quite a bit at Cylient. A leader as manager focuses on the tactical and technical elements of getting things done: things like organizing, prioritizing and evaluating in order to meet specific outcomes. A leader as a coach, then, is focused on supporting people to realize their greatest potential by learning from the day-to-day challenges that occur as they are getting things done. So often process challenges result from disconnects that happen between people. Leaders who take a coaching approach view those kinds of situations as opportunities to coach people to engage more effectively with others. In that way, these two approaches to leadership complement each other. Another way of saying this is that leaders as managers manage processes, while leaders as coaches support people through the human side of any kind of change.

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?

The first competency people need to learn is the ability to be present in the moment. If you can’t stop and give someone your full attention in a conversation, you can’t coach. Next is your ability to be curious and shift gears from an evaluative to a curious mindset to take a fresh look at whatever challenge is before them. The final skill in this starter set of coaching skills is the ability to use coaching approaches like asking questions, sharing observations, and using metaphors or analogies to ignite insight. This skill is key in learning the difference between advocating your point of view and igniting insight in others to motivate them to choose to change.

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 frequently talk with leaders about how taking a coaching approach to our complex challenges we’re facing today is the best — and only — way to begin to find potential paths forward. I wrote this piece on the business case for evolving how our organizations collectively learn to gain resilient competitive advantage. Rather than telling people “you have to do this,” I tend to show people how their lives and their organizations will be more competitive when we choose to use coaching approaches in everyday interactions.

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?”

Our sole focus at Cylient is instilling “in the moment” coaching as a leadership style. Through the years clients have shared stories with us about what they have done different as a result of what they learned our Coaching in the Moment and Feedback in the Moment courses. Here are a few stories that resonated with us, shared using pseudonyms:

  • Jamie took a coaching approach with a direct report: Jamie had a direct report, Bill, who was in charge of training. Bill sent some communication to shift managers was not clear. Bill knew he had trouble with written and verbal communication, so Jamie took a coaching approach to the conversation. Rather than telling him where he went wrong, they walked through it together. Jamie said, “Walk me through what you were thinking when you wrote this email. How do you think other people read this email?” That question helped Bill change his perspective on the issue. Then, Bill was able to detail what he should have done and how he should’ve been more specific with what he wanted people to do.
  • Valerie took a coaching approach to free up time in her own job role: Her department directly helped customers, so Valerie would get a lot of questions about specific situations where an employee didn’t know what the best solution was. They would then ask Valerie what they should do. Instead of giving them the answer, she started to ask, “What do you think we could offer them? What are some suggestions you have?” And then they will come up with some possible solutions. People are now asking her less questions, because they realize, with Valerie’s coaching, that they are empowered and independent enough to come up with their own solutions.
  • Natalie took a coaching approach with her manager: To measure the successes (or failures) of call center employees, this company had a standardized “scorecard” that mapped out a Performance Improvement Plan that was used whenever a mistake was made. Natalie noticed there were many outstanding Performance Improvement Plans that weren’t being acted upon, and as a result, issues that were not being addressed. After she took the Coaching in the Moment workshop to learn how to integrate coaching approaches into day-to-day conversations, she had the confidence to talk with the call center manager regarding her concerns about the scorecard and how it was being used. She approached the conversation with genuine curiosity, seeking to understand her manager’s perspective using coaching questions. Her non-judgmental approach to the conversation facilitated an authentic exchange. Natalie and the manager worked together to revise the scorecard and develop a coaching approach to implement it, a solution that worked for everyone — Natalie, the call center manager and the call center employees. This coaching approach ensured the intention was to make the employee as successful as possible, rather than focusing on discipline. Without Coaching in the Moment, Natalie said she might have “relied on a peer for advice on how to address the issues or not brought the idea up at all.” The new process resulted in significant change in the call center: retention improved, overall morale increased, and there was a stronger focus on the customer. Rather than rushing through a conversation or simply getting the customer a quick answer, the call center employees are now having meaningful conversations with customers, making the customer feel like they’re truly taken care of.
  • Two senior leaders resolved a long-standing rift: After attending a Coaching in the Moment course together, two senior leaders who headed up divisions used the Untying the Knot approach to coaching that they learned to talk about the knots they were experiencing between themselves and their divisions that were keeping them from working effectively together. They were able to resolve their differences to the point that their relationship and the relationships of their respective organizations improved markedly.

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?

Multi-generational challenges are primarily challenges people are experiencing in understanding the worldviews of those who are different than themselves. In our flagship Coaching in the Moment workshop, we teach people how to appreciate the worldviews of others. When everyone has the capacity and skillset to understand and appreciate different worldviews, we can find ways to connect and more compassionately work together. In a multi-generational challenge, that might mean a younger person appreciating the apprehension that baby boomers might have about learning new technology because they didn’t grow up with it. While baby boomers might gain a deeper appreciation of why newer generations are highly purpose driven, given the expanded worldview of the world that they grew up with.

As a side note, this applies to not just generational worldviews but all kinds of worldviews. One of our clients recently shared that they are using Coaching in the Moment to successfully support their neurodivergent team members to adapt to their new roles. We have also had clients use our approach to understanding worldviews to support the implement of their DEI initiatives.

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?

A core element of emotional intelligence is the ability to read your own emotions and appreciate the emotions that others are experiencing. To do this successfully, leaders must learn how to get themselves into a centered place. where they can recognize when they are approaching others from a place of judgment rather than with the curiosity that is needed for a meaningful coaching interaction. If you can’t do that, you can’t coach.

Another step leaders can take is to learn to recognize the many different faces of fear. Often, people only recognize fear in others when it looks like how they themselves react to fear. The more expansive your understanding of the many expressions of fear, the more effective you can be to coaching others to navigate fear effectively. These are two foundational steps in becoming a better coach and leader.

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

Some of my favorite coaching phrases are:

  • “Tell me more”: Be ready to use that phrase all the time. This helps keep you in a curious place of learning more.
  • “What’s concerning you the most about ________?” This tends to get to the heart of the issue very quickly, instead of jumping to a conclusion.
  • Switching from thinking, feeling or saying something is “right” or “wrong” to “what’s possible?” This opens up your and others’ thinking to new possibilities.
  • “Yes, and…” This phrase builds upon other people’s ideas without shutting them down.

In general, these phrases promote inclusivity and curiosity, and they tend to break the barrier of people feeling like something or someone has to be right or wrong; or good or bad.

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

I have an inspirational quote and perhaps a cautionary quote. 🙂 My inspirational quote is: “We’re all just walking each other home,” by Ram Dass. That quote sums up how we need to help and support each other in all facets of life.

And my cautionary quote is, “Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours,” by Richard Bach from the book Illusions. While cheeky, I feel like it’s a great reminder to stay open to learning, rather than arguing for old habits that feel comfortable, even when they are no longer effective.

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?

You can find all of my written work on our website, Feel free to follow Cylient on social media, where we post our most current thoughts. You can find us @cylient on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. If you have any questions about our Coaching in the Moment or Feedback in the Moment workshops, don’t hesitate to reach out to [email protected].

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