Platinum rule, not Golden Rule. The Golden Rule to treat others as you would like to be treated is wrong. At least it’s a low bar. Instead, treat others as they would like to be treated, which may be different from what you would want.

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 Dr. Carol Kauffman.

Dr. Carol Kauffman is the Co-Author of Real-Time Leadership, How to Find Your Winning Moves When the Stakes are High. She was ranked #1 Leadership Coach from the MG100 and top 8 by Thinkers 50. She’s on faculty at Harvard Medical School and Henley Business School and an Advisor at Egon Zehnder. She received a $2,000,000 grant to launch the Institute of Coaching and has over 40,000 hours of experience coaching C-suite executives.

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?

A number of years ago I was given $2 million by the Harnisch Foundation to become the Founder of the Institute of Coaching. I dove in determined to make my donor, Ruth Ann Harnisch, proud. For the first year or two I was in constant high determination mode. I led from the front and saw myself as the one pushing the boulder up the hill, no matter what, and annoyed when others didn’t seem to gut it out. Unfortunately, that also meant pushing others beyond their limit, and not hearing their distress. This went on until my team challenged my way of leading. It wasn’t pretty, but their courage to take me on changed my life.

For me, like many others, it took a jolt to see myself as others did. It allowed me to pivot to a very different way of leading. Coaching and Collaborating is far more effective and rewarding.

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?

With great difficulty! As a leader, it is no longer about you. Like it or not, you have to shift from your individual identity to what I call “entity identity.” Where you embody your organization and the needs of the many outweigh your own.

In our book: Real Time Leadership we identify three, inextricably linked dimensions of leadership.

#1: What do you need to Do? To know where your organization needs to go requires clarity on what demands you are facing. And how these are changing, often day by day.

I often need to connect with others and not listen to my first reactions.

#2: Who do you need to Be? To be able to be clear, you need to overcome your ego and ground yourself in your values. I ask myself this question many times a day.

#3: How do you need to relate? To bring out the best in others you have to free yourself from your own preferences. What I try to focus on is increasing the psychological safety of my team. We need to acknowledge and affirm others.

If you can do that, you can become a great leader who walks the talk.

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

No one says this better than Peter Drucker:

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things

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?

Coaching in a nutshell:

Victor Frankl shared the idea that between every stimulus and response there is a space, and in that space, we find our freedom. That’s the overarching theme of our book, Real-Time Leadership. It is at the heart of being a good leader, a good coach, and a good person.

Being a good coach begins inside of you.

Get centered enough to create space for you to overcome your automatic reactions, to rush in, to withdraw, to jump in or hide. Open up to the other person, invite yourself to be interested in who they are. Create a place of psychological safety. Do this for yourself as well.

Think about what you hope for them, if they could step into their best self, who could they be.

Ask yourself, “how could I be of the most service to them, right now.”

Bring the coaching spirit to the conversation.

Be curious, ask them questions first — What do they think, or feel, or want to say. What do they want to accomplish and why it matters to them. What have they already done right?

But you’re not their coach, you’re their leader or colleague

How do you integrate the coaching with the leading?


Let’s say you need to give them guidance or advice or direction or a directive.

Think of that as your “offer.” You can then flip it back to a coach mode by asking some version of:

Does that sound right to you? What do you think can work?

The heart of coaching isn’t your specific skills or competencies. It is a philosophy and a way of life and is a strong foundation for many kinds of conversations.

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?

Many need to appreciate their impact on others, as I needed to do.

I often kid that I learned everything I needed to know about leadership when I heard the joke: A thousand pound gorilla walks into a crowded bar. Where does it sit? Anywhere it wants.

If you impact someone’s career, income, access to resources, you are the gorilla. And you always are, even when you know you’re a chimp in a big suit. You still have power. It is then your job to harness it for good.

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?”

In Real-Time Leadership: find your winning moves when the stakes are high show us.

When the pressure is on, coach don’t just push. But how?

#1 Focus on the Future not the past.

When beginning a project, focus on “if this went well, a 10 of 10, what would it look like?”

Paint the picture of the future, it’s harder than it looks.

A president was about to present to an angry board. He was nervous. I asked, what if it went really well? If it were going to be a 10 of 10, what would it look like? A positive future scenario was enough to increase his optimism, and the presentation went well.

#2 Focus on what’s gone right, not what’s wrong.

A report is describing a project that didn’t go as well as either of you would have liked.

Ask: on the scale of 10 of 10, what would you give yourself?

They say 7 (you think 2, don’t criticize it. You think a 9, don’t reassure. It’s their number.)

The question everyone asks? What could you do to get to that 10?


Instead ask: What did you do right that you weren’t’ a 6 or a 6.5?

A Global COO was proud of his 1–10 ratings each of his teams used to debrief on their performance every week and how to raise themselves a point or two. When I said, try what did they do right, he nodded. A month later I remembered that and asked what he’d thought of it. He looked surprised at my question. Oh — I implemented it right after our conversation. 60,000 teams a week are using it, and it’s great!

You need to leave your ego at the door then:

#3 Olympic level listening, not just active listening

Listen with the pores of your being, giving them your full attention. If someone feels really heard they’ll get up in the night for you. If not. They won’t.

Gina the director of social media was flagging and tired. Her boss listened with all her energy. When Gina was done talking her eyes had brightened. Weird, I’m not so tired anymore. Neither was her boss. Olympic listening creates the kind of connection that is energizing.

#4 Platinum rule, not Golden Rule

The Golden Rule to treat others as you would like to be treated is wrong. At least it’s a low bar. Instead, treat others as they would like to be treated, which may be different from what you would want.

James the super extrovert was giving his somewhat insecure report a pep talk, but it seemed to be backfiring. He then remembered our “Platinum Rule” conversation and downshifted his energy, lowered his voice. When he gave this person space, things shifted.

#5 Be Agile, not one way forward, but four.

Be an Options Generator: We don’t just need willpower, you need Waypower. In any situation you want to have at least four pathways forward. Lean in: actively engage. Lean Back: go for the data and overview. Lean With: lead with caring. Don’t lean: have the discipline to do nothing. The power of pause is an overlooked path.(e.g. comfort with silence).

Victor Frankl, the concentration camp survivor tells us that between every stimulus and response there is a space, and in that space is our freedom. Creating a moment to even just think through these four options opens up that space so you are more likely to find the optimal solution

These 5 ways to be a better leader-coach will help you, especially when the stakes are high.

When circumstances need you to lead from the front — use them at that time as well. If you can, you will become someone able to be a great leader in Real-time. Better. And frankly, a better person.

Try this at home.

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?

It comes down to respect and overcoming your automatic assumptions.

Get rid of stereotyping and be attuned to your unconscious biases.

They are like blinders that narrow your vision and limit your capacity to make breakthroughs.

This is an area where team coaching and offsites where people talk about their formative experiences, their crucible moments and highlights, break down barriers and help people connect.

We are all more similar than we are different. Look at what you can learn from someone different from you.

The more you can be inclusive, the more others will include you.

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?

Recognize the emotions of others. Learn to read them so you can respond to others in a way that allows for a balance of acceptance and excellence.

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

Words do matter. Voice tone matters even more. Research shows that a critical/contemptuous voice tone is a powerful toxin. It gets under your skin and can erode your sense of self. Think of the power of a sneer to silence you, make you feel uncertain or furious.

The words that matter now are about unlocking talent — collaboration, community, and healing organizations. At the same time, we need to be bilingual. Balance these with the words of the corporation — numbers, outcomes, or profit.

The challenge is to align them. No matter what we need to accomplish, the way forward is Humanocracy.

That said, my favorite mind-candy word? Swarm Leadership.

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

What helps me the best when overcoming great odds is my own mantra.

I’m not in charge of my destiny, I am in charge of my probabilities. So, find ways to increase them. That is the success you can count on.

I actually came up with this many years ago…about dating! But it has served me ever since in more ways than I can count.

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?



Email: [email protected]

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