No Ego, Amigo — That’s one of my favorite phrases from a Peloton instructor I train with, but I think it also applies to being an effective coach. Coaching isn’t about YOU being a good coach, it’s about getting the best out of your players. So, sometimes, you need to check your own ego and needs at the door, and focus on your team and their success.

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 Eric Mochnacz.

Eric Mochnacz currently serves as the Director of Operations at Red Clover, a NJ-based strategic, transformational HR consulting firm. After 15 years of optimizing processes and driving change in Student Affairs programs throughout New Jersey, Eric made the critical decision to pivot into human resources and put his years of people and project management expertise to good use with small businesses. After starting as a Consultant, Eric has progressed through the ranks of Red Clover to his current position, where he guides the firm’s clients and internal team towards growth and impactful change.

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?

When I reflect on my time as a leader and people manager, there are probably two critical moments that influence how I lead, both from my Higher Education career. I worked in University housing since 2005 before I made the switch to HR Consulting in 2018, and I had been exposed to a number of different leaders (and their leadership styles) and also had the privilege of leading and managing a number of teams, professionals and paraprofessionals during my time.

In my first job after college, I had a manager who always acknowledged my contributions and when I met my goals. And then he would challenge me to set new goals, and often encourage me to do better the next time. Without fail, he would always ask “What would you do differently or better next time?” It really helped me focus on becoming a better leader, with a focus on continuous improvement. His attempt to push me to do better was based on his confidence in my ability to do the basics of the job, with the goal to encourage me to always do more and find a new problem to solve. He wasn’t a very emotional leader; he was very direct, which at that point in my career, I needed. He pushed me to strive for better outcomes for myself and my functional area. And as we grew together as manager and direct report, he gave me more and more independence over my work and how I accomplished my goals. I integrated his approach in my supervision with the staff I had at that university, and brought those lessons with me as I moved into a position with greater responsibility at the second stop in my higher ed leadership journey. And, some of that approach has made its way into how I supervise my current team.

I have softened my approach a bit compared to his, because although I value continuous improvement, sometimes we just need to be happy with accomplishing something as is. So although I challenge my team to always do better, there are other times where we are satisfied with the outcome, and I don’t ask “What would you do differently next time.” Because in that moment, our effort and outcome was exactly what the situation called for.

That experience crafted me into the leader I want to be, where I have an experience that reminded me of the leader I don’t want to be. In my second university position, where I was a member of the central leadership team, the Vice President had selected a new department Director, despite my concerns that were clearly outlined after I sat in on one of his interviews. After he had started, within a week or two of working together, he said something that implied he believed me to be a drug user. After I confronted him about it, he apologized, and said he would work harder to maintain appropriate boundaries and only speak professionally to me and the other members of the team. And then he proceeded to continue to say inappropriate things in one-on-ones, leadership meetings, and departmental meetings — but then still insist we show him the respect becoming of his title, even though, based on our brief experience together, he wasn’t acting in a way that required respect. And, as time went on, it became apparent that he didn’t have the necessary knowledge, skills, experience — or quite frankly, the aptitude — to actually complete the basic tasks of his job. So, he began to focus his attention on the rest of the department — and on me, specifically — as the reason for his failures and shortcomings. When I left that toxic environment, I swore to myself I would never lead a team in the way he did, and would always take ownership of my responsibilities and actions — and understand my role in making a team successful while also acknowledging when something I did or didn’t do let the team down.

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?

It may seem cliche, but generally, I don’t ask someone on my team to do something I wouldn’t do or I haven’t done. For example, as a consulting firm that focuses more on HR strategy then on HR admin, there have been client engagements where we’ve been asked to run payroll. And, in that case, I’ve had to skill up pretty quickly on different payroll systems and processes. Now, as I guide the team on developing proposals for clients and working on engagements, I’m helping them adjust to working on some of the more “mundane” HR tasks, not just the fun strategy stuff we all like to do — and it’s because it supports the overall value we deliver to the client, and it’s something I did — so it’s normal for them to have to learn it and do it as well.

We are a culture and core values driven firm. When someone has bought into the core values, you just know! So, every day, I strive to embody our core values in the work I do with the team. As someone who has grown with the company, with progressive responsibilities, and more senior titles — it’s because I consider the values in everything I do. The rest of the team sees that — and believes I do my best to work with the core values in mind — so they know what “good looks like.” In turn, they respect me, because I’ve gone the way and shown the way — and they’ve developed trust in my leadership style.

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

A manager tells people what to do and expects things to be done their way. A coach guides people in their decision making and expects things to be done in the best way, even if it’s not their idea or preferred approach. Whereas a manager expects all information to flow upwards so they can be the gatekeeper, a coach allows information to flow throughout the team, and may need to serve as a gatekeeper of information when 1) the team isn’t able to make a decision or 2) someone with greater responsibility or purview is expected to make a decision, deliver it, and own the outcomes. I would also argue that a leader as a manager, where their way is the only way, leads through fear and micromanagement. A leader/coach leads with trust, respect and admiration, and gives the team the opportunity to succeed or fail on their own, but stepping into coach when absolutely necessary.

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?

Although I am sure we will talk about this later, and it seems to be a common theme among some of our discussion, is leaders must have well-honed EQ, or emotional intelligence, to be an effective coach. When I think of EQ, I define it by way of our assessment partner, TTI Success Insights. When we partner with them to do EQ assessments of our clients, they focus on the 5 dimensions of EQ –

Self-Awareness — Your ability to recognize and understand your moods and emotions — and their effect on others

Self-Regulation — Your ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods and the propensity to suspend judgment and think before acting.

Motivation — A passion to work for reasons that go beyond the external drive for knowledge, utility, surroundings, others, power or methodology and are based on an internal drive or propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence.

Social Awareness — Your ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and how your words and actions affect others.

Social Regulation — Your ability to influence the emotional clarity of others through a proficiency in managing relationships and building networks.

It is critical for an individual who wants to be successful as a coach to understand and regulate their own emotions, while also understanding their emotions have an impact on others. And generally, as a coach, you don’t center your emotions and feelings, but try to center the emotions of those around you in order to help them achieve goals. Again, I’ll go back to the idea that being a manager is all about you — and when you shift to being a coach — it becomes about everyone else.

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?

It’s critical to allow your teams to influence and decide how they want to grow. Sure, when you’re upskilling/reskilling a team, there are certain things you need to prescribe in order for them to meet certain required milestones in their job. For example, at our firm, anyone who joins the team as a Consultant is required to pass their certification exam from an accredited HR certification organization.

However, beyond that initial requirement, we then open up the discussion with each individual about what they want to do next, and how they best see themselves serving the firm. We have consultants who are particularly strong when it comes to understanding and communicating compensation, so they may identify a certification or learning opportunity that further supports their grown in that area. They may also identify how they think their areas of strength can help them carve out their own niche within the organization, and how that niche interest connects to our career ladder.

Our team has an active say to how they see themselves growing as an overall professional — but also within the firm. This inspires people to lean into their strengths and carve their own path — especially because they are actively contributing to their future with us.

If you’re committed to only managing your team, you create a prescriptive plan that everyone needs to follow in order to be successful and move up, regardless of each individual’s different definition of success. It doesn’t take into consideration each person’s goals, aspirations, and areas of strength.

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?”

No Ego, Amigo — That’s one of my favorite phrases from a Peloton instructor I train with, but I think it also applies to being an effective coach. Coaching isn’t about YOU being a good coach, it’s about getting the best out of your players. So, sometimes, you need to check your own ego and needs at the door, and focus on your team and their success.

Actively Listen — Teams thrive when they know they are being heard. Conversely, teams shut down when they know they aren’t being listened to. I’ve worked with a few managers who believed they were attentive listeners, but at the end of the day, their team meetings and one on ones were performative, because regardless of what was discussed in these meetings, they still insisted on doing it their way. I asked myself “Why ask these questions if you actually don’t care about my answers?” A coach gives their team members the opportunity to provide feedback, actively listens to what they have to say, and takes action where they can on the feedback. If you’re going to ask the question, be prepared for the answer, and be prepared to follow up on what you did with the information.

Stop, Start, Continue — As a coach, you are there to help your team improve. But, you’re also a professional who is looking to improve your own performance. Whether it be through formal or informal performance management channels — are you, as a coach, asking your team for feedback to improve your performance? One simple way we do it at the firm is by devoting time during our quarterly performance management discussions to ask the team what they want us, as leaders, to stop doing, to start doing, and to continue doing. It demonstrates that we recognize we also have a path to improvement, and our teams are active contributors to our professional development, so we can be better coaches for them. We create a system where feedback is a two way street, and we’re all working to be better, together.

Be Genuine — Choosing to move from command and control to coaching and collaboration frees a leader up to be more genuine. There’s a lot of pressure, when the expectation is to command and control, to have all the answers. There is this compulsion — and potentially a requirement from your managers — to always be on, always be right, and solve all the problems that are placed in front of you. However, choosing to be genuine as a coach, it gives you the freedom to say “I don’t have the answer for that right now, can I get back to you on that?” When you’re a manager, who operates from command and control, you expect perfection from everyone, and you yourself need to be perfect — because it’s the only way you know how to operate. By shifting to being a coach, it provides more grace to be imperfect. You don’t always need to know the answers all the time. You aren’t the only person responsible for solving a problem the “right” way. And by allowing yourself to be genuine, as a coach, you lessen the pressure on yourself, and your team, to be perfect.

It’s All Going to be Okay — Honestly, most of our careers don’t put us in life or death situations. Obviously, in this situation, I’m not talking about EMTs, doctors, surgeons — etc…But outside a few of those critical roles, our decisions don’t have deadly consequences. And more often than not, most problems are fixable. If someone’s paycheck is inaccurate, there’s a solution — and once we figure out the solution — we communicate it to the person so they know they will receive what is due to them. People may come to you, saying a situation like this is a company-ending crisis, but it’s really not.

Too often, commanding and controlling managers treat every situation that arises as a crisis. Anything that doesn’t go the way they had planned is urgent and needs immediate attention, and a solution as quickly as possible — and they want you to drop everything else to address it. But, if we all took a collective breathe, embraced the pause, and said to ourself “It’s going to be okay” — we have clearer minds to address the problem. It also allows us the space to triage what is urgent and what isn’t. We can better prioritize — and be better coaches — when we recognize where and how we give our attention. And, since we are doing some of the mental triage ourselves, we aren’t forcing our teams to handle every situation that arises as a crisis that needs immediate resolution We are relieving stress on ourselves, but also on our teams.

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?

Acknowledging the generational differences is truly the first step in activating the collective potential of a multi-generational workforce. You have all this tribal knowledge and rich history that exists within your older workforce, especially if they’ve been with the organization for quite some time. Their stories and experiences have build the company to where it is — and that shouldn’t be taken for granted. They are great examples of hard work and loyalty, and their work has set a strong foundation for the company and its success.

Mix that with the fact you now have a new generation of workers who challenge the status quo and want to do things differently — there’s great potential to still operate in sound, proven business principles while also taking the risk to innovate.

As a coach, who listens, you have the unique opportunity to really understand each generations’ lived experiences, and figure out a way to connect them so your younger workforce and your older workforce can find commonality between their different approaches to work. I’m sure the 50ish year old VP did something early in their career that their leaders or industry peers considered disruptive — but it was successful. Helping them see that, within the lens of the 20ish year old new hire. They acted in the same way, but the era in which they did it was different.

The question is “How can we be the most effective team together?”

You aren’t going to be able to make someone younger or older, and generally, it’s very difficult to change someone’s mind or approach to work, especially if they’ve been successful in the past working that way. But, as a coach, you work with a team to understand the inherent differences but help people understand their commonalities for mutual success.

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?

As mentioned before, understand your own emotions and how they impact the people around you. And then, be able to recognize and understand the emotions of the people around you, and act accordingly. Your ability to be a successful coach is tied to your ability to manage your own emotions and be aware of the emotions around you.

When I left my last position in Higher Education, my resignation occurred at the start of the business day. Before I left campus, I informed my staff that I had left and wished them luck. They let me know that the organizational leader had made the announcement and then ordered lunch as a “celebration” of my departure, but had masked it as an opportunity to community build, offer support, and discuss the staffing change. To me, that was an example of poor emotional intelligence.

The staffs’ routines were disrupted by my exit. And, they had learned about it first from me. It was evident that the leader had attempted to deliver breaking news, and had reportedly responded negatively when he realized he couldn’t drop a bomb! And the last thing anyone wanted to do was to celebrate with some take out fried chicken — they had work to do — and they probably wanted answers on who was going to be stuck with my responsibilities in my absence.

In this case, this manager made it about him and his emotions. He tried to control to narrative by centering his feelings and making it all about him. He didn’t display emotional intelligence. He neglected to recognize and adjust his response to the emotions of the people around him. They couldn’t trust him to think about them and their emotions first, because he had again demonstrated that this management style was all about him. A critical member of your leadership team just departed the organization, and your focus is on celebrating, rather than planning for the short term and long term coverage of work and success of the department in the absence of a key player. That’s an example of really poor emotional intelligence — and someone who wasn’t approaching his leadership role as a coach, but rather as a dictator.

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 when we acknowledge what our teams are saying with “I hear you” or “I see what you’re saying” or “I am validating where you’re coming from” goes a long way to in shifting to that coach mindset. And when we don’t immediately deliver a solution — or jump to defend the organization — we are showing our teams that we are shifting our mindset as leaders.

We can also ask key questions when our teams come to us with concerns or problems, especially ones where we don’t see a solution. For example, when I first started working as a consultant, I would sometimes experience conflict with our internal partners. Our communication styles were different, and I felt like despite my best efforts, I wasn’t meeting the goals of the engagement — because someone wasn’t taking my solutions and enacting them. At times, there can be pushback on our ideas and approaches.

So, during my check ins with my supervisor, I’d vent out of frustration. My concern was that I was hired to drive change within an organization, but I was facing resistance at every avenue. The majority of the time, my supervisor would respond with “What’s the solution?”

To me, that is a coaching mentality. I clearly had a problem, but my boss was empowering me to work towards a solution with her, rather than telling me what to do. And at the end of the day, our ability to remain in business is directly related to our ability to retain clients. So, the solution wasn’t to end the client relationship. But, the solution, from my manager, who approaches leadership as collaborative and from a coaching perspective, brought me into the conversation and wanted to know my thoughts, feelings and ideas about how to solve a problem that impacted the firm and me. I had direct input into how I addressed a situation that was impacting my productivity.

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

Early in my Higher Ed career, I needed to remind myself “What I do is important, but it isn’t the most important thing in the world.” Having worked for dictatorial managers throughout my higher ed career, who treated everything like a crisis, I was made to feel like every roommate conflict, every parent concern, every student issue was a life or death situation. When, in reality, it wasn’t. Every problem had a solution, but I had people who had to report to the President’s Cabinet or the Board, so they worked urgently to make sure those people never heard about the issue. And rather than encourage proactive, systematic change — we needed to be reactive in order to address the “crisis” situation at hand.

So, the mantra above often kept me centered. And when some of my team were panicked or nervous about not moving fast enough to address an issue — or were so anxious about a problem, they found themselves paralyzed by indecision — I reminded them that what we do is important, but it’s not the most important thing in the world. And sometimes, in order to address the truly critical situations, I needed to remind myself that as well.

Even now, in my HR Consulting career, my manager has reminded me that everything is fixable. We ultimately have a great responsibility to our clients to deliver the best HR support we can — and at times, it can be fraught with legal risk — but if we treat everything as a crisis, we lose focus, and can actually make more errors when we aren’t thinking clearly. To go from being on call 24/7/365, where the slightest inconvenience to a student was treated as a crisis (because again, we had dictatorial leaders who needed to exert control at all times), to work at a firm where we are collaborative coaches — it really gives me pause and the allowance to address issues at my own pace — and acknowledge most things aren’t truly a crisis.

I’m reminded of my mantra — what we do for our clients is important, but it’s not the most important thing in the world.

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?

Feel free to follow me on LinkedIn and follow the Red Clover company page to learn more about the work we do to drive business innovation for entrepreneurial small businesses, with a focus on their people and HR processes.

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