Let your people know you care about them-Throughout my career, the people who inspired me the most were those that I knew cared about me.

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. Katie Ervin.

Dr. Ervin is a vision-driven, goal-focused leader with a proven history of innovation and achievement. Throughout her career, she has established a reputation as a transformational leader who is driven by challenge, undeterred by obstacles, and committed to furthering standards of excellence.

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?

As I reflect on my leadership, it is something that has always been important to me. Leadership for me is about the people. How can I help people reach their full potential? Early in my career, my eagerness to help got in the way of the work that I needed to do. When I was 24, I was in an ethical dilemma. My boss at the time, the HR Director, would play favorites, reveal confidential information, and the final straw was a clerical error that caused a supervisor to not get their promised vacation accumulation. When it was brought to her attention she said, “don’t say anything, he has not noticed.” That was the point where I had to decide whom I wanted to be as a professional. I called my brand-new husband at the time and said “I have something I have to do.” He encouraged me to do the right thing. So, I went to the Executive Director and shared my concerns. Then I resigned. I still to this day think about the decisions she made and I never want to not do what is in the best interest of the 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?

As a leader, I have to take care of people the way they need to be taken care of. It is important to build strong, trusting relationships with those around me so I can understand what they need to be successful. It is through these relationships that I also help them grow in their career journey. Once we have strong trust, I commit to them to always be kind. Too often leaders are so worried about not being nice that they do not have kind, honest conversations with those around them. If we never tell people the kind truth, they cannot grow and be better. These relationships also allow me to provide stretch opportunities for my people. It is important for them to be able to step up and take on roles that will develop them. With this, it is important to praise like crazy publicly and to coach behind closed doors. If one of my people take a misstep, publicly I will take full credit for the failure. I own it because I have the ultimate responsibility.

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

A manager to me is someone who just focuses on tasks. It is transactional. How can we get more done, quicker? The managers don’t take time to get to know their team and what their team needs. They are also more at risk to micro-manage their team, but not always!

A coach is one who builds strong relationships with their team to inspire them to go all in and grow. A true coach will build psychological safety in their team and allow their people to always be working to get themselves to the next level. With that said, a coach also works with their people to understand their ambition and how to help get them there. Not everyone wants to be promoted to a leadership role so finding ways to keep your people happy and engaged is critical.

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 absolute most important competency of a leader is self-awareness. Without this, they will not be able to grow themselves or to take feedback when provided to them. Integrity and humility are also critically important. Part of the relationship building is being able to make deep connections with those you are coaching. If you are not doing the right thing by them or humble enough to see their success shine, you will do your people a disservice. Finally, I believe commitment and dependability are the responsibility of the leader. Your people need to know that you are there for them. Often, leaders overcommit and cannot give their people the time and energy they deserve. Your team needs to know you are there for them and that you have their back.

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?

Kindness is critical in this area. So often we are afraid of people not liking us so we will not be open and honest with our people. We think that is nice. It is really the opposite. If we don’t share with people their growth opportunities, they will not have the opportunity to improve.

The other important part of this is to model the way. As leaders, we cannot tell people they need to grow and invest in themselves if they are not doing it themselves. I am very open with people I work with about my growth areas and how I am working to build myself. All too often, leaders think they get to a certain level, and they don’t need to do more work on themselves. I believe that is really when you need to take it to the next level. Not only do you still have a lot to learn but your people are watching you.

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 doctorate research was on workplace motivation and employee satisfaction. How can we create an environment where people feel happier and more motivated to do their job? My research and the research of others clearly show that if we do three simple things, your people will be more loyal, and more effective, and in turn, you will have higher profits.

Belonging is the first part of this. People need to feel like they have a community and can come in as their authentic selves. So often, organizations hire for a culture fit. This implies that you have to “fit in” to who you are. Organizations should create a psychologically safe environment where people don’t have to mask who they are at work.

Providing your team with the tools and training to do their job is also imperative. Even the best employee can’t do their job if they don’t have the basic tools to do their jobs. This includes basic things such as functional technology and all the way to how you onboard, train and grow your people.

Finally, your people need trust and autonomy to do their job. There are very few things more frustrating for people than to be hired to do a job and then micromanaged. If you want to see what your people can do, give them parameters, and expectations and then allow them to do the job you hire them to do.

Top 5 ways that leaders and managers can be effective coaches:

  1. Let your people know you care about them-Throughout my career, the people who inspired me the most were those that I knew cared about me.
  2. Accountability-It is important for your people to know that you have standards and expect them to live up to them. These standards need to be realistic and not unattainable.
  3. Model the way-Your people need to know you’re working on yourself as well. If you are inauthentic, they will see through you.
  4. Provide growth opportunities-The benefit of having a coach and leader is to help you grow as an individual. Being willing to take risks and give up opportunities for you people allows them to stretch and have opportunities they might not usually have.
  5. Open your network-When we are coaching, and we will find chances to expose our people to our network. Be willing to make those connections and vouch for your people when they are looking for connections.

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?

Whether it is generational, gender, or background; whatever the diversity it is all about getting to know your people. It is frustrating for me when we put a label on a group and then expect everyone to fit into that stereotype. We do ourselves and our people a disservice if we don’t get to know them and their needs.

Leaders should create an environment of belonging ensuring there is psychological safety on the team and that everyone feels they can be their authentic selves. We all have strengths and growth areas. When we lean into these as a team, we can celebrate differences, learn from others’ experiences, and provide opportunities to all.

Leaders should be always looking for opportunities to be allies for all on their team. We need to look around the room and see what voices are missing. We also need to make sure we take a self-audit. What voices are missing for our growth? We cannot just surround ourselves with people like us. We create an echo chamber where we are not aware of the other voices in the organization. We should be sitting with and surrounding ourselves with people who don’t look like us so we can create an environment of belonging for everyone.

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?

Emotional intelligence is so important for leaders to recognize and share. Step one is taking a simple assessment which can provide us with data on the skills we need to work on. Then next is I openly share my assessment results and what I am working on. As a leader, I invite my team to hold me accountable for the work I am doing. The only way we can grow is to have people around us share when we unconsciously fall into the behaviors.

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 care about you.

I am here for you.

I hear you.

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

I love so many quotes. I will say the foundation for me is C.S. Lewis. “Do the right thing even when no one is looking.”

This means so much to me because I have seen too many managers who believe they have a title or authority and then don’t always do the right thing. Without integrity, what do you have? People cannot trust you if they don’t believe in you. For me, at the end of it all, it is about the people.

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?

They can find me on linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/katieervin/

My website is www.katieervin.com

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