Encourage your team. Use all forms of communication to demonstrate you recognize and see the success they are having.
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 Doug Walner.
Doug Walner is the CEO of Align Technologies, Corp. and brings over 25 years of experience in technology business management to his role. He has led companies in numerous industries including human capital management, CPG , aviation, and media. Previously, he served as Chief Commercial Officer of Row44 (now Global Eagle Entertainment), CEO of PSI Services LLC, and Co-CEO of Stamps.com. He also currently serves as owner and Executive Chairman at New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing Co. LLC, and recently served on the Board of Directors for Levelset, LLC. (Acquired by Procore).
Thank you for joining us to explore a critical inflection point in how we define leadership. 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 believe every CEO needs to lead their business based on the core values they and their team choose early on. It should act as a filter for every decision you make in the business. When contemplating important decisions, I’ll focus on my choices through a “core value” lens. This ensures any decision I make is consistent with the core values of my business and team.
How do you define the differences between a leader as a manager and a leader as a coach?
The distinction between a manager and a coach lies in who is actually solving problem in the business — you or your team members. If you lead as a manager, you’ll often find yourself ideating and implementing some part of the solution to a problem. If you lead as Coach, you’ll do everything you can to stay out of the problem solving process and ask the right questions of your team. Coaches are able to show the way without micromanaging and giving away the answer. A good leader will get their team thinking about how to address the issues at hand, and then encourage them to take the appropriate actions.
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 most important skills for a leader to have are likeability, assertiveness, listening, persuasion, and empowerment.
Starting with likeability, they must be genuine and approachable. They must also be assertive because as a coach, you need to hold your team members accountable and ensure they have the tools to achieve their objectives. Leaders need to be good listeners and cheer leaders — encouraging your team members to develop their own solutions to problems and challenges helps grow them as individuals. Leaders must be persuasive, believable and trustworthy in the eyes of your team members. Finally, they must be able to empower team members by giving them the tools they need to succeed.
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?
At Align, we aim to set a priority for personal development each quarter. We don’t mandate team members take something on individually, but we make the opportunity to grow more apparent and demonstrate that we support their personal initiatives. Our leaders encourage personal development initiatives like reading books, enrolling in a course, or seeking out mentorship from either another employee or outside the organization. We’ve also incorporated personal development into one of our core values, “Grow as a Team,” which we reiterate at our quarterly meetings.
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?”
My top 5 ways that leaders and managers can be effective coaches are:
- Leading by example and being a role model. You can do this by setting up transparent systems where work performance is tracked and visual for the whole team.
- Encourage your team. Use all forms of communication to demonstrate you recognize and see the success they are having.
- Provide support and training. Invest in their growth by spending money on personal development tools.
- Pair them with top performers as mentors — Find the best performers and have them mentor less experienced folks
- Allow time for them to focus on personal goals — encourage them to take time to improve themselves outside of work.
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?
No matter the generation, effective coaching begins with open and honest communication and setting crystal clear goals and objectives. Most importantly, you need to find a way to measure what it is you are asking the team member to achieve. As John Doerr put it, “measure what matters”. This strips away all subjectivity; goals have been set and effective measurement has been put in place to determine whether the desired results are being achieved or not. It must be black and white. At Align we also practice what we preach — measurement of goals, priorities, and implementing KPIs are all part of determining and speaking a language that crosses over any generational gaps.
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?
Every leader can demonstrate emotional intelligence by developing a sense of humility and inspiring others to grow and learn.
Words matter. And we’re collectively creating a new leadership language right now. What are the most important words for leaders to use now?
I think replacing Manager with Coach is a great start.
I have been using the word Team as a substitute for staff, company, organization.
Replace your words “I/Me/ My” with “We, Us and Our”.
I keep inspiring quotes on my desk. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote,” and why does it mean so much to you?
“Luck is the residue of design” — Branch Rickey, GM of The Brooklyn Dodgers. This quote stresses the importance that to some extent, you can control your own destiny. It’s true that luck can be random, but you can also will lucky things to happen by putting yourself in the right position. At some level, a good design or a good plan helps create circumstances that will bring good fortune. I think it defines my own career and life. At the end of the day I feel very, very lucky to be where I am, but it could only happen because my mind was on the rutter steering me in the direction of good fortune and luck.
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?
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.