“Go first.” When you want people to trust you, trust them first. When you want people to be vulnerable, open yourself up. I see this as an integral part of “Leading by example.” Stephen Covey also mentioned this in his book “7 habits of highly effective people” as habit 5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I don’t think this needs any further explanation.

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 Erwin Wils.

Wils is a mindset and business strategist at Millionaire Life Strategy. His Profitable Passion Program™ empowers female and tech entrepreneurs to boost their business and themselves so that they can confidently deliver their added value to the world without feeling like an imposter. As a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering by education and certified professional hypnotherapist, master Soulkey therapist, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and IEMT (Integral Eye Movement Therapy) practitioner by training, Wils brings 25+ years of experience to show his clients how they can use their talents and expertise to make a positive impact in the world and make a good living doing it. In April 2022, Wils launched “Follow your Passion Podcast” in which he interviews clients and fellow entrepreneurs who followed their passion and are making a good living doing so.

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?

That’s a great question! First thing that comes to mind is when I started to compete in Judo. I was about 10 years old. It taught me commitment, determination, perseverance, how to push myself, strive for success, accept loss gracefully and learn from it, self-confidence, self-control, self-respect and respect for others, and I guess the list can go on and on.

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 like that quote a lot! For me, being a leader means walking the talk and talking the walk. It doesn’t necessarily mean I know the way, because when you’re growing your company, you haven’t been there yet. For me it means with all the information at hand, I know which way I want to go, and reminds me to keep flexibility to change course down the road when necessary, because I don’t want to run full speed into a dead end street.

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

Referring to the quote you shared in the previous question, that would be my definition of a leader as a manager. A leader as a coach adds something extra: to get the best out of his/her employees, to make the employees excel in their role. As a manager and leader, you can be a great inspiration for your employees and they will follow you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you are capable to improve their skills and get the best out of them. That’s the addition of the coaching skills.

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?

That’s actually a hard question. I’ll give you some skills and competences that I believe are essential, but please note this is not a complete list. First of all, one should have empathy. You need to be able to understand and share the feelings of another. When you can empathize with a person, you know how to guide them.

Having a positive focus will also be beneficial. Focus on the positive things, on the opportunities. Don’t focus on the negative things, the obstacles. See the potential in your employees, not their shortcomings.

What a lot of people don’t think about, yet is also very key in my opinion, is that you need to be open to receive feedback. You want to lead by example and when you’re not open to receive feedback, how can you expect your employees to get feedback from you?

Very close to that is you need to be able to create a safe environment, so that your employees are willing to be honest and open. When your employees are afraid to vent their heart and talk about their struggles, you cannot coach them to greatness.

Thinking about it, most of these skills and competences, if not all, are related to developing your soft skills.

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?

For me it’s a combination of the “7 habits of highly effective people” from Stephen Covey and my personal favorite WIIFM. Habit 2 (Begin with the end in mind) and habit 4 (think win-win) are most important in this, added with people’s favorite radio station WIIFM — What’s In It for Me. You need to tune into their radio station, what’s in it for them. So, to be effective, you have to find out how the other party will benefit from it. When you get that, inspiring others is easy.

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?”

I knew this question was coming! There had to be a top 5, of course. Here are my tips:

  1. “The feedback you get is the result of your behavior.” This is an NLP quote that I live by. When you follow this quote, you take full responsibility for what’s happening around you. When you want to bring a message across, and the feedback you get is that the other party doesn’t get it, you need to change your own behavior until you get the feedback that the message is received correctly. I started my entrepreneurial journey back in 2015 as a hypnotherapist. Let’s assume you came to me to get rid of your fear of dogs. I said, ”Great, I’ll put you in a trance and we’ll transform that fear,” and whatever I did, you didn’t go into a trance. I might have said, ”I’m sorry, it’s not working. Maybe we need to make another appointment, or forward you to a colleague, but you’re just hard to hypnotize.” If that would be my reaction, you would leave my practice with two problems: 1) you’re still afraid of dogs AND 2) you’re hard to hypnotize.

Now let’s assume the setting is the same and I would follow the quote, my answer should be, “I’m sorry, I haven’t found the right entrance to put you into a trance.” That way, I take full responsibility for the fact you’re not going into a trance. By the way, when I do a hypnotherapy session, putting my client in a trance is never my intention. My intention is to release the client from his or her problem and as long as I get the feedback the problem still exists, I have to change my approach, thus my behavior.

2. “The map is not the area.” Another great NLP quote I like to use. And it makes perfect sense. A map is a representation of the reality, it is NOT the full reality. Why this is important is that everybody has their own map of the area, and we tend to explain things using our own map. Let’s say that I’m walking down the street, you stop next to me with your car asking for directions to a certain hotel. I might answer, “Yes, I know where that hotel is. Just drive straight ahead to the traffic lights, turn left, second street to the right, second traffic lights to the left again, keep following the main road and after about 2,500 meters turn left again and you’ll find the hotel at your right-hand side.” For me, that would make perfect sense, because that’s my map of the area. You might think after turning left at the first traffic lights, “Did he say the second or third street to the right?”

A better reply would be: “Yes, I know that hotel. May I know how you got here?” And you would answer that you left the highway, turned right at the McDonalds restaurant, passed centra station, turned left at the fire station and now you’re here. Now I know your map of the area, you use visual marks to remember your route. Now I can reply in your map: “Thank you for that. To get to the hotel, go left at the next traffic light, turn right when you pass the Apple store, turn left at the traffic lights after the flyover, follow the main road and turn left again at the fire station and you’ll find the hotel at your right hand side.”

3. “When giving feedback, use the sandwich method.” Start with giving the employee a compliment, followed by constructive feedback and end with a compliment again. That way, your feedback gets across much smoother and your employee is more likely to accept, instead of getting into defensive/blaming mode. I want to compliment you on the progress you have made so far. When you can focus a bit more on the most important tasks, I know you will hit your goals with ease. So keep up the good work, you can be proud of yourself. See what I mean?

4. I already mentioned this one, and I believe it’s so important, I’m more than happy to repeat it. “People listen to their favorite radio station WIIFM, What’s In It For Me. When you want to be effective, tune into their radio station, What’s In It For Them.” How will they benefit? One of the biggest fears of people is speaking in public. People worry what the audience will think of them. You don’t want to make mistakes, look like a fool, etcetera. Yet when you remember that the audience is listening to WIIFM, you know they couldn’t care less how you looked, they just want to be rewarded for their presence. So your focus should be on your audience, how can you add value to their lives, to reward them for their presence. People don’t go to Tony Robbins and pay a lot of money to be there because he’s such a nice and kind person. They go to Tony Robbins, because he transforms lives and inspires people with his knowledge, skills, wisdom and experience, or at least that’s what they’re hoping for.

5. My fifth, and last, tip is “Go first.” When you want people to trust you, trust them first. When you want people to be vulnerable, open yourself up. I see this as an integral part of “Leading by example.” Stephen Covey also mentioned this in his book “7 habits of highly effective people” as habit 5: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I don’t think this needs any further explanation.

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?

I always say that every person is unique and is here for a reason: to develop and add value to the world. So I would advise to treat everybody as an individual, don’t generalize. Focus on the strengths of every person and create teams of people that complement each other. Somebody that is already working for the company for 10–15 years will have a lot of experience, while a recent graduate might know the latest trends and techniques. You can combine those two persons perfectly to exchange knowledge and help each other grow. Just make sure their personalities match.

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?

Demonstrating a higher level of emotional intelligence is hard because it’s relative. Higher than what? How do you measure it? As a leader, in my opinion, you can only show you have emotional intelligence. The more you use it, the more it will grow. One big step you can take to demonstrate you have emotional intelligence is to develop your nonverbal communication observation skills. When you master your nonverbal observation skills, you will notice whether someone is congruent with the answers they give you. And when somebody is not congruent, you can show your emotional intelligence skills by going a bit deeper, showing your empathy and offer your support to help, all depending on the situation. Sometimes, you don’t even need to take action, just be there for them.

Another step you can take, is showing you truly understand your conversation partner, by asking check questions and anchoring their feelings. I mean questions like “It sounds like…”, “It feels like…”, “It seems like…” “Do I understand correctly that…” You will undoubtedly be wrong a few times in the beginning and that’s okay. Their response will tell you exactly how they feel and you will learn from that. And after a while, you’ll get skilled in it.

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

You already used a lot of words that I recommend, so you already have a head start! Let’s inspire the readers and make them aware of some important words:

  • “And.” What I advise, is to replace the word “but” by the word “and.” “But” diminishes everything you have said before it. By replacing that word with “and,” your sentences become more powerful and your communication indicates you take full responsibility for what you’re saying. Just compare the following sentences:
    “Yes, but…” (‘Yes’ just lost its value) vs. “Yes, and…”
    “I know, but… (looking for an excuse) vs. “I know, and…”
  • “How and What.” Both words are great question starters. They create open questions (versus Yes/No answers which are closed questions). “How and What” require conversation partners to solve an issue or challenge.
    “How will you know this will become a great interview?”
    “What results do you want to achieve so that this meeting will be time well spent?”
    “What would you do in my situation/ How can we make the best of this situation?”
  • “Because.” When you ask somebody to do something and you follow up with “because,” they are more likely to agree. When you give people a reason, you will be much more effective. Ellen Langer did a great experiment back in 1978 to prove this (Langer, E., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of “Placebic” Information in Interpersonal Interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(6), 635–642.).

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

“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” A great quote from the late Napoleon Hill, best-selling author of “Think and Grow Rich.” As a mindset strategist, I love this quote. It keeps me motivated to proceed the entrepreneurial journey I’m on. Whatever journey you’re on, it all begins with the right mindset. When you have set your mind on something, and you are determined to make it happen, you will find a way to achieve it. Like the saying “Where there’s a will, there is a way;” or my improved version which employs my last name: “Where there’s a Wils, a better way will be.”

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?

Of course they can go directly to my website millionairelifestrategy.com or connect with me on LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/erwin-wils. And when they want to be inspired by other entrepreneurs, they can listen to my podcast “Follow your Passion” (follow-your-passion.biz and on all major platforms).

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