… With five generations in the workforce, the challenge of finding developmental strategies that match the needs of each of the different generations can be challenging. Due to the individual nature of coaching, it is a crucial strategy for meeting the specific needs of the individual. A good coach should understand generational differences and target their coaching accordingly. Today’s diverse workforce necessitates bespoke and personalised development tailored to the individual’s needs. It pays to research the diversity in your team and be aware of what each team member needs to succeed and flourish.

The number one leadership initiative in any organisation 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 Lynda Folan.

Dr Lynda Folan is a workplace psychologist and Managing Director at Inspired Development Solutions. She has over 35 years of experience working with businesses and a strong academic background in the psychology of organisations.

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?

My defining moment as a leader happened when I went to Utah to learn from Stephen Covey and his amazing team at the Covey Leadership Centre. I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to attend the Seven Habits, Principle-Centred Leadership and attend the facilitation training for both programs. This changed the trajectory of my leadership journey and transformed my life in ways that I did not anticipate. Part of this process was a requirement to complete a 360 and obtain feedback not only from my colleagues and team but also from my family. During this period, one of the critical realisations was that our most important leadership role is to lead ourselves and attend to the internal work that each of us needs to do. We can never truly lead others if we don’t effectively lead ourselves. This has been a major focus of my leadership journey and my work. It is also the foundation for my Doctorate research and the topic of my book ‘Leader Resilience, The New Frontier of Leadership (2021). Personally, I invest time on an ongoing basis in working on myself and honing my leadership skills. If I am not doing my own internal work, then I cannot effectively support my team and the leaders I work with.

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?

My work focuses on developing and supporting leaders to create effective, resilient team and organisational cultures. This work helps them create a psychologically safe work environment where everyone can thrive and flourish. I am committed to ensuring that anything I teach is something I have fully embraced in my own life and that I can walk the talk on all aspects. The programs that Inspired Development Solutions runs are based on personal experiences and the learnings from my journey of leadership working with teams and organisations across the globe. This is coupled with ongoing research on leadership, which provides a solid psychological foundation for our work. I am tireless in pursuing knowledge and skills that support my work, and I have tried and tested all the tools and strategies we teach in our programs.

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

The leader’s role and the competencies required to deliver organisational results have shifted dramatically in the past decade. In the present business context, with its volatile economic and social environments, the command control leadership of the past is no longer sufficient. Today’s Leadership requires organisations and teams to adapt to the VUCA world (Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). It is not enough to simply manage the outcomes and technical aspects of the organisation through command-and-control strategies. Today’s world needs leaders need to be able to connect with their people, lead them through challenging times and support them in building their capacity to flourish. The most recent research shows that the requirements for leadership have dramatically changed and that we require a new set of competencies to lead in this new world. Some key competencies that leaders need are the ability to coach and mentor, flexibility and agility and the capacity to deal with and manage mental health and well-being (Johnson, Dey, Nguyen, Groth, Joyce, Tan, Glozier & Harvey, 2020). Leaders who choose not to develop these competencies will be unable to lead effectively and will have a detrimental impact on the people they lead, hindering the organisation’s outcomes. These people are not leaders; they are individuals in positions of power, driving their own agenda and choosing to continue using an old-school leadership style.

The Transformational Leadership model clearly outlines the difference between managing people and effectively leading people in times of disruption and change (Bass & Riggio, 2006). In this model, transactional leadership entails the exchange between leaders and their subordinates that involve defining role requirements, offering rewards for action and delivering corrective action when required. This exchange aims to ensure that followers can produce the necessary business outcomes. Many of our managers in organisations never move beyond this level of interaction with their teams, limiting the organisation’s capacity. For many old-school leaders, this style has worked for as long as they can remember, so why change it now? In the VUCA world, this is a recipe for disaster. If we do not move beyond the transactional exchange, we will fail. To create leaders who can respond to the VUCA world, we must develop a different form of leadership. Transformational leadership is the key to unlocking the capacity to lead in the VUCA world. It entails a connection between the leader and their subordinates, including a high level of interaction and engagement. Transformational leaders coach and develop their people and understand them, ensuring they care for each of their teams as a whole person. They inspire their people to achieve greatness and support them to grow, develop, and achieve excellence. Leaders that deliver a transformational style engender trust, loyalty and respect from their followers.

We started our conversation by noting that improved coaching is the number one leadership initiative in any organisation today. What are some essential skills and competencies that leaders must have now to be better coaches?

Some critical skills for a coaching leadership style are empathic listening, being comfortable with silence, observing individual reactions and effective questioning skills. Unfortunately, while these are essential for effective coaching, they are also generally not developed in the years of our formal education. This is, therefore, a key development strategy required for leaders as they evolve their capacity to coach and develop their people.

There are also some essential competencies that leaders must develop to deliver a coaching style. Constructive Thinking and Emotional Intelligence are two fundamental competencies for effective coaching. Constructive thinking enables leaders to constructively assess external and internal stimuli and utilise clear, well-reasoned and balanced judgement in their decision-making. It also ensures they have the capacity to maintain their mental and emotional stability in any context (Epstein, 2014). From an emotional intelligence perspective, leaders with a clear and stable sense of self, healthy psychological functioning, and emotional adjustment can maintain their emotional stability and well-being in any context. Leaders with high levels of constructive thinking and emotional intelligence have the ability to coach and develop their people and support them to flourish (Goleman, 2006). Again, these are not competencies actively developed in our years of formal education, and in fact, they are competencies that are on the decline. Therefore, these competencies need to be a key focus of leadership development to ensure they have the capacity to deliver a coaching style. Without these competencies, leaders will never have the ability to coach effectively.

We’re all familiar with the adage, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” How are you inspiring — rather than mandating — leaders to invest in upskilling and reskilling?

For many years, the age-old question, ‘Are leaders born or made?’ has misled us on what leadership is really about. Leadership is not about whether you have natural talents or whether you have learned your skills; leadership is a choice. When someone decides to lead, they take on the responsibility of ensuring that their actions inspire and guide their people to excellence. They are responsible for obtaining feedback, reflecting, and making the necessary changes to be at their best. After attending the Seven Habits (Covey), I decided that I needed to be responsible for my own leadership impact and ensure that I focused on my growth and development as a leader. Personally, I strive to grow and develop continuously. Key to this is seeking feedback on an ongoing basis. As a consultant, it is easy to get complacent about your skills, and as a result, it is even more important to challenge yourself to develop and seek out feedback. It is our responsibility as leaders to upskill ourselves on an ongoing basis and demonstrate the importance of learning and growing. So much is available nowadays with podcasts, Ted Talks, online learning, books and programs. There is no excuse not to be developing and growing. I can’t ask a leader I am working with to complete a 360-feedback process if I don’t use this tool to build my skills. Walking the talk and demonstrating my commitment to lifelong learning and growth is the most powerful way I can inspire others to invest in their development and upskill themselves.

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?”


One of the critical strategies for developing a coaching leadership style is to stop giving people the answers to their questions. One of the essential things I do with my team is to set the requirement that they must come up with at least one possible solution to each question or challenge they have. We can then debate and discuss possible solutions. In reality, the person typically knows the best way forward and is just looking for support in assessing the options. To start with, this requires a bit of work as people find it easier to let you as the leader, provide them with the answers. However, over time, people begin to solve their own issues. Also, I never answer any question without first discovering the person’s perspective on the issue. When I was in a leadership role in an organisation, I made this change and put up a reminder on my office door that they needed to come up with possible solutions. This had a significant impact, and my team stepped up and started to flourish and grow as a result, and I have always maintained this as an aspect of my leadership.


John Whitmore’s (2010) GROW model is a simple and practical framework that works. This framework is a great starting point for effective coaching. I was lucky enough to come across this model very early in my leadership journey, and it transformed my ability to utilise a coaching style of leadership and gave me a framework that supported the development of my skills as a coach. While I now use a broad range of coaching strategies and tools in my work, the GROW framework still guides the structure of my executive coaching.


Stephen Covey discusses the importance of empathic listening in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (2020). This is fundamental to coaching. Taking the time to hear the meaning underneath the words being spoken is essential to effective coaching. When you are coaching, you need to be able to listen to the things that are not said as much as those that are spoken. Recently I was asked to support a new coaching client. They described their issue as excessive pressure and workload when they first arrived. However, once we chatted, it was clear that the external pressure and workload were not the real issue. Underneath the presenting problem was something that dated back to their childhood. It was the voice of their father telling them they were not smart enough and would never amount to anything. To develop as a coach, you must have the capacity to go deeper than the presenting issue and find the real issue impacting people’s performance. To do this requires highly developed listening skills.


You cannot coach effectively unless you do your own internal work. This requires unpacking everything that is you, including your strengths and weaknesses, personality, motivators, values, life experiences, beliefs and any trauma you have experienced etc. Effective coaches must consistently be working on themselves and developing their capacity to understand how their unconscious impacts their interactions with others and gets in the way of their effectiveness as a coach. I consistently evaluate what I bring to my coaching work and unpack my reactions and actions in this setting. Journaling is a powerful tool for doing this work.


From a very practical perspective, it is essential that you prioritise time for coaching in your diary. Have time booked on a weekly for coaching the members of your team.

We’re leading and coaching in increasingly diverse organisations. 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?

With five generations in the workforce, the challenge of finding developmental strategies that match the needs of each of the different generations can be challenging. Due to the individual nature of coaching, it is a crucial strategy for meeting the specific needs of the individual. A good coach should understand generational differences and target their coaching accordingly. Today’s diverse workforce necessitates bespoke and personalised development tailored to the individual’s needs. It pays to research the diversity in your team and be aware of what each team member needs to succeed and flourish.

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. Seek feedback and make changes to enhance your impact on others.
  2. Self-Reflect and do your own internal work.

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

Transformational leadership

Leader Resilience



Psychologically safe culture

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

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi

This quote challenges me to make sure that I live what I teach and keep developing to be the best version of myself.

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in the world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, they make them.” George Bernard Shaw

This quote challenges me to never get into victim mode. No matter how difficult the situation, there is always a way through. You just have to look for it.

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 sharing your insights. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.