Facilitate Strategy Mapping. While goals provide direction, they simply won’t come to fruition without strategy. Leaders can inspire team members to make serious progress towards their goals by helping them explore how specifically they’re going to achieve their goals, step-by-step.

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 Emily Hirsekorn.

Emily is a career leadership coach for organizations and individuals in professional services industries, certified with the ICF and the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). She is also certified as an Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner, offering iPEC’s one-of-a-kind assessment that quantifies energy level, identifies blocks to success, and teaches a framework designed to help you maximize your success in all that you do. She speaks regularly on leading authentically, confidently, and effectively, while teaching ambitious professionals at all career stages how to establish a fulfilling career without burning out or compromising their values.

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?

Going through coach training myself was definitely the number one most defining moment that shaped who I am as a leader. While learning skills, tools, and strategies to coach other professionals and leaders, I also completed my own immersive year-long coaching program that pushed me to challenge my own limiting thoughts about myself, those around me, and the world. I came out of the experience with a framework to shift my energy up in the moment and long-term and tools and skills to influence others to do the very same for themselves to help them maximize their success, both professional and personal.

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 agree that it is very important to lead by example, walk the talk, and have first-hand experience in whatever it is your teaching. So completing the very same coaching programs I facilitate for my clients was important for me to be able to truly embody authenticity, empathy, and first-hand experience with energy management and career leadership. I also continue to learn from the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC), putting myself in the student seat, ensuring my own personal growth day-after-day, and deepening my understanding and practice of iPEC’s energy leadership® principles.

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

A manager dictates what should be done and how to do it, while a coach helps others come up with their own ideas, solutions, and strategies. A manager will set goals for others, while a coach will guide others through the goal-setting process, offering feedback and helping them see how their individual goals fit into the bigger picture of the team and organization. A manager sees things from a right v. wrong, all-or-nothing perspective, while a coach is open-minded, recognizing the value in team member input. A manager provides only formal feedback that may highlight “strengths” and “weaknesses” but does not invite collaborative conversation around how to grow, nor do they motivate the individual’s success. A coach, on the other hand, is empathetic and validates the feelings of team members, while keeping them on track, and providing regular meaningful feedback that both celebrates success and helps identify opportunities for growth in an encouraging way.

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?

I believe the most important coaching skill is intuitive listening. Instead of jumping into the conversation and turning it to one’s self, a leader using intuitive listening is patient, focused on the speaker, and paying close attention to what’s being said, what’s not being said, body language, and tone. Communication is largely non-verbal, so if we focus exclusively on one’s words, we’re missing out on a lot of the actual message. And if we’re too focused on ourselves and what we want, it’s impossible to remain objective and empowering, with our judgment inserted into the mix. Lastly, every conversation with a team member offers an opportunity to deepen your connection. You must be paying close attention to effectively validate emotions, empathize with their experience, and offer high-level support.

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 love this question! Let’s talk about intentional language. First, if I explain I am “offering” a coaching skills training, from which you can pick and choose what resonates the most, then you will presumably feel like you’re at choice, which is a far higher energy level than feeling forced to do something. In other words, when we feel we are choosing to do something, we are more motivated, engaged, and ultimately successful. Second, I like to seek buy-in by helping leaders explore the cost of not using a coach approach that is more empathetic, collaborative, and empowering than a traditional leadership approach. Effective buy-in increases the likelihood of participation and follow-through.

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?”

(1) Help Team Members Define Success for Themselves. In order to grow, we must establish a baseline for what currently is, then understand personal desires for the future. Instead of assuming we know what’s best for our team members, what they want, and how they can get there, it’s time for leaders to sit back and let their team do the talking! Explore what they think could be better and what their detailed vision of success looks like, probing along the way to help them dig deeper, get to the core of what they want most and why, then identify the specific change that needs to happen to get there.

(2) Reserve Judgment. In the workplace and in human interactions generally, we often bring our personal judgment into the mix more often than not. This is not to say a team member who is dramatically underperforming should be left alone. We want instead to have constructive conversations, presenting facts without judgment about what the performance of concern means and/or why it’s happening. Leaders can inquire gently about what factors might be affecting team members’ performance, ask what supports they need, and help address any blocks to success collaboratively.

(3) Help Team Members Develop Long-Term, Mid-Term, and Short-Term Goals.

Once you know what’s going on and how the team member would like to grow, it’s time to help them develop the right goals. Asking coachees to develop 12-month goals first helps them see the big picture, connect their big goals to personal values and purpose, and align personal goals with organizational goals. Asking them to develop six-month goals next helps them stay on target to meet those 12-month goals with a greater sense of urgency. Lastly, asking them to identify a first, next step towards each six-month goal is critical to ensure they are taking immediate action to move towards their goals and experiencing the powerful cumulative effect of achieving small win after win over time!

(4) Facilitate Strategy Mapping. While goals provide direction, they simply won’t come to fruition without strategy. Leaders can inspire team members to make serious progress towards their goals by helping them explore how specifically they’re going to achieve their goals, step-by-step.

(5) Hold Team Members Accountable. With a goal and plan in place, accountability will help team members maximize their success. While leaders and external coaches can serve as formal accountability partners, especially when it comes to building new habits or optimizing short-term performance, self-accountability is just as important. You can help your team identify self-accountability measures by asking, “When can you block off time to get this done?” “How are you going to remind yourself to do this?” “What might get in your way of completing the task, and how can you address potential blocks?”

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?

Open-mindedness, collaboration, and active listening are all critical for coaching a multi-generational workforce. We want to help teams (i) ask for the opinions, goals, and input of all team members; (ii) intuitively listen to one another to more deeply understand diverse perspectives and develop and demonstrate empathy; and (iii) get creative when developing collaborative solutions. When we focus on being “right,” judge other perspectives, and feel disconnected from team members, our creativity is seriously blocked. Developing and maintaining an optimistic perspective (i.e., we can work together) is the perfect place to start!

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?

The number one habit I encourage leaders to build is a habit of regular reflection. At the most basic level, identify what’s going well, what could be better and lessons learned, and what to focus on for the coming week. Every single experience presents a learning opportunity, but if we’re not paying full attention and reflecting, we’re missing out. A weekly reflection is a simple, yet powerful tool to create higher awareness, identify both your successes and your opportunities for growth, and maximize your leadership potential.

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

Mastery Orientation. Empowerment. Collaboration. Co-creation. Guidance. Resourcefulness.

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

“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.” — Oprah

I believe the perfectionism plaguing so many leaders boils down to a fear of failure. I.e., if we’re not perfect, we’ve failed. If we don’t do things the way we’re “supposed” to do things, we’ve failed. So, when we no longer fear failing, fear loses its grip over us, and we are free to pursue our dreams boldly; go against the grain to live out our values, desires, and purpose; and fulfill our true potential.

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 reach me, receive our latest business updates, and explore support by visiting www.hirsekorncoaching.com. I’m also active on LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/emilyhirsekorn/) and Instagram (instagram.com/hirsekorn_coaching/).

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!