Set Expectations Together.

When managers involve employees in the goal setting process, the employee is more likely to be engaged in their development journey. It is important that individuals feel that they have a stake in what’s being decided for them. This has a direct effect on their willingness and motivation to actively participate in their growth. Employees who set goals at work feel like their ideas are taken seriously, leading to increased engagement.

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 Jay Harris.

Jay Harris is a vice president of solution strategy, facilitator, and executive coach at Ariel Group. He has worked with a variety of companies across several industries that range from business and education to entertainment & performing arts. Some of his clients include: Procter & Gamble, Berklee College of music, Freddie Mac, Johnson and Johnson, Citi Bank, Brookfield asset management, and many more.

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?

One of the significant moments that shaped the leader I am today, stems back to my time as a learning and development leader at a particular organization in which I was sitting across the table from a potential candidate that was being considered for an internal training facilitator role. I was conducting the interview by industry standard questioning, you know, “tell me about a time at work when…” “in your last role how did you solve for …” and so on until I felt the intuitive nudge to ask this question, “If I were to ask you to live your life by design, rather than default or survival, what would it look like?”

This candidate went on to tell me about how they would use their passion for bringing people together in spaces where people’s voices are usually drowned out by their colleagues, self-sabotaging thoughts, and limited resources to make sure that they could be heard, felt safe and have access to the personal and professional resources they need to tap into the full expansion of their personal lives and careers.

She said, “This type of work gives my life meaning.” This answer, along with the visible conviction she had to her words, stood out to me because isn’t this what most people truly want? To be able to do the work that gives their life meaning? An opportunity to grow in the areas they are skilled in? Connect to an organization that serves a greater purpose?

It was at this moment that I knew that the way in which people needed to be supported by their leaders was beginning to shift and it was going to call for leaders everywhere to put more emphasis, and in some cases, completely shift their focus to being people-centric and maximizing human potential.

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?

Many of us have heard and jokingly said to our close colleagues, “I spend more time at or doing work than I do with my family.” While this is said to share a lighthearted moment of relatability between coworkers, it is the reality and as a leader, it is a reality that I always have top of mind when dealing with and planning for my team.

Research shows that employees want to be able to depend on their leadership to do the right thing and consider their health and well-being as humans, not just “workers”. When people perceive that their personal lives are not being considered by leadership, it reflects the quality of work an individual produces and their lack of fulfillment at the organization; and in the worst case scenario, both. 
When I speak with my team, I understand that they have their own set of personal goals, challenges, and needs. Because of this, I show up as my authentic self in every interaction to encourage them to bring their full selves to the table. Being thoughtful about my presence creates a realm of trust and psychological safety. When my team feels they can have an open conversation with me, they are more likely to reach out and feel comfortable asking for feedback and ways to improve without fear of threat to their job or contract security. 
Lastly, I follow up. It is not enough to just create spaces for people to voice their opinions, there must be a short- and long-term strategy to implement what has been asked for and what is needed. An effective leader has the ability to bring people together and make great decisions.

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

A manager organizes and oversees the completion of tasks to deliver results, a coach drives team performance and helps the individuals within their team to grow and evolve as people and professionals.

I want to be clear; a great leader knows how to use the two in tandem with one another. The key driver here is knowing what each individual and team needs as situations present themselves and being able to implement, or adjust strategies in the moment, again and again.

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?

There are three must-have skills and competencies that leaders should have today. They are the ability to create and maintain relationships, active listening, and emotional intelligence.

The basis of coaching, in addition to being knowledgeable in a specific area, is about relationships. Meaning its efficacy is reliant on continuous goal setting, alignment, and accountability; all fostered by ongoing conversation.

Leaders, especially coaches, must invest time into developing their own personal presence first. They must have the ability to be present and, in the moment, to be flexible to handle the unexpected and apply the appropriate solutions to what is happening in real time. Remember coaching is about people development, not task management. People are not tasks and you must be hyper vigilant about how you handle them to achieve the results you both want.

Secondly, leaders as coaches must know how to actively listen to serve the strengths, values, and life experiences of their coachee. I mentioned earlier that I always consider what is happening in the lives of my team whenever I am interacting with them and planning anything for them. This type of active listening allows me to deeply understand what events are driving an individual’s choices and thought process around different matters. This means you must be attuned to what they say verbally and what they say with nonverbal cues. This competency allows an effective coach to utilize the information received to inform the appropriate approach for development. Sometimes it is a matter of creating a new mental model or the way the individual sees things that may be obstructing their ability to succeed in the area they wish to grow in. Other times, the decision driver is something that is deeply connected to the individual’s core beliefs system and moral convictions. In this instance, the coach must be sensitive to not impede on or try to necessarily change the individual’s belief system as it is directly connected to their lived experiences, which in some cases that lived experience is different from the coach’s lived experiences. The solution will need to gear more towards leveraging rather than removing and replacing. All of this can only be achieved when the coach takes great care and stocks in how they actively listen and respond.

Speaking of responding, this leads me to the next competency, expressiveness, or emotional intelligence. I will talk more about this later, but it’s important to know coaching solves for a deeper level of development. This means that information is constantly being received. I mentioned how coaching taps into the way people think, their culture and lived experiences, as well as their core values. This is highly sensitive, personal, and critical information about the individual and it must be treated as such. Now, I am not asking you to be a therapist, unless you are one and that makes this even better, but I am saying that your empathy radar needs to be in its best condition when coaching. The way you express concepts and solutions can make or break the trust level between you and the individual. Once that trust and emotional safety is compromised, so is credibility and ultimately the success of the coaching itself. Leaders as coaches will need to make sure that their communication is intentional and compliments the way their coachee receives information. Emotional intelligence will allow one to accomplish this.

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?

When it comes to inspiration, my belief is that it comes from people seeing someone live out and practicing what they preach. I share with leaders that you must lead the way. A great coach not only implements strategy, but they live it as well. When you commit to your own growth and development, it undergirds your entire leadership and coaching style in a way that provides impact. You can cater to the nuances of your team and individuals because you are now equipped with a robust reservoir of experiences and developmental options. In short, it makes you more strategically agile. Leaders who want to be at the top of their game and stay there usually resonate with this notion because it supports one to have staying power.

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. Lead with Empathy.

This is the first thing I mention because it will set the tone for the rest of the working relationship between the leader as coach and the individuals of their team. When you are asking someone to take a deeper look at their performance and identify the areas where both strengths and opportunities exist, you must show up in the presence of collaboration. This is not the appropriate time to exercise overt authority or a top-down management personality. This is the time to show that you are working alongside the individual to support them along the continuum of development.

2. Set Expectations Together.

When managers involve employees in the goal setting process, the employee is more likely to be engaged in their development journey. It is important that individuals feel that they have a stake in what’s being decided for them. This has a direct effect on their willingness and motivation to actively participate in their growth. Employees who set goals at work feel like their ideas are taken seriously, leading to increased engagement.

3. Keep the Conversation Going.

I mentioned earlier that coaching is about relationships. It’s ongoing conversations that keep the progress of the goals you have set together on track. Traditionally, performance is often reviewed quarterly, twice a year, or in some instances once at the end of the year. The idea of continuous feedback is to have a touch point weekly, biweekly, and in some cases, even daily if your platform and company infrastructure can support it. By having frequent informal development conversations, employees can receive more feedback and support, allowing them to adjust in real time rather than waiting for the end of the year or quarter before realizing where they can improve.

4. Create Accountability.

Once goals are set, and you have determined the routine and schedule in which you will consistently meet, it’s time to make sure that benchmarks are met. This means that several of the check-ins you have should be used as opportunities to review progress, metrics, the current strategy and personal events and concerns that are happening for the employee outside of work that influence their ability to meet development goals. Individuals who have a specific accountability appointment with someone they have committed to are more likely to follow through with meeting goals than if they were not being held accountable.

5. Empower through Trust.

I will be the first to admit that when I recognize someone’s immense potential, I have the immediate urge to scoop them up and carry them straight to the finish line. However, doing the hard work for them does not serve the coachee in the long run. It is your job to collaborate and co-strategize a plan, but it is up to the individual to carry it out. You are there to support and coach them along.

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?

This is a very good question and the best way to answer this is by understanding the role that generational diversity plays in the overall shift of the workforce. For more than 30 years the workforce and what people perceived as a good job has stayed the same, that is to make a livable wage and be able to take care of themselves and their families, put their kids through college, and later retire, probably to a beachfront or beach adjacent property in Florida. However, research has shown, especially when millennials started entering the workforce, that the definition of a good job for most employees is now having work that is meaningful and fulfilling. The millennial’s influence and the world’s evolving social climate has rewired people across all generations to desire a work experience in which they feel they are growing as an individual and developing in the workplace. Because the workforce is made up of people, when they shift so must an organization and its managers.

My advice to managers coaching a multi-generational cohort of employees is to be intentional about transforming your culture. This means that the Command-and-control way of managing is now outdated, not desirable, and in many cases offensive, which leads to employees disengaging and ultimately finding other places to work. Leaders as coaches need to take the time to figure out what the individuals of their teams believe is their purpose and tie it back to the mission and purpose of the organization where possible. This gives the work your team does meaning and enhances the culture.

Understand that when it comes to coaching, one size does NOT fit all, and you should approach your multi-generational team that way. This gives them the sense that you value each one of their skill sets and individuality, thus it drives greater engagement and productivity without stepping on the proverbial toes of any generation from baby boomers to Gen Z. Much of this can be accomplished through the ongoing conversations and checkpoints I mentioned earlier.

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?

I know I have mentioned empathy a few times, but it is literally the foundation for connection and has everything to do with emotional intelligence. As a coach, you must shift your perspective and messaging to one that is audience centered. This means you are constantly thinking about the individual’s experience. Remember, while you may have great insight, tricks and tips for success, real transformation comes from application, and whatever you present must have the ability to work in the individual’s real life, not a theoretical one.

Secondly, be present. The only way to fully show up with empathy and be able to coach the solution that best fits the individual, is if you are completely in the moment. Set aside any distractions and things that compete for your thought space. This could be putting away your phone or computer, closing out other applications if you are connecting virtually such as email and IM. Remember to reset, take a deep breath, and focus your attention on the individual and their development.

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

The first word that comes to mind is Opportunity. I use this word a lot specifically when I am referencing an individual’s challenges. I refer to these challenges as opportunities instead of weaknesses because that is what they are. Chances are, the coachee is not an overall weak performer; they are usually skilled with many strengths and capabilities. They are here seeking coaching so that they can develop in areas that they may have not put as much focus on before to take their career and personal development to the next level. When coaches use the word weakness it subconsciously signals to the individual that they are not good enough in an area which decreases confidence and motivation.

The next words work as a pair. I borrowed them from the world of theater and performing arts. They are “yes and.” I mentioned earlier that as coaches we must remember to not make it about us. We are here to uplift, guide and support our teams as individuals. We are fostering this development through open and ongoing communication. That being said, there are no wrong answers when it comes to shared and lived experiences. The coachee’s thoughts and opinions are just as valid as the coach’s. So instead of saying “But you’re wrong, that’s not how I see it, thus it’s incorrect” I offer the word “yes” to validate what the person said and assure them I heard them. I subsequently offer the word “And” to contribute more to the conversation and present an idea that also works and can possibly combine with certain parts of the coachee’s original idea.

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

This popular Maya Angelou quote is one that I keep on my desk, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This quote is at the heart of everything I do, say and interact with. I love this work because I am genuinely interested in investing in people at their most authentic level. The only way to do that is to allow yourself to set your ego to the side and fully immerse yourself into people’s stories, their concerns, and their dreams. People can feel when you are genuinely holding space for them to be themselves.

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?

Drop me a note and follow me on my LinkedIn and professional Instagram account. I love expanding my network with like-minded individuals- and am always up for a conversation around coaching. Let’s connect!


Instagram: officialjayharris

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