You need to have a conversation, and really it should be an ongoing one, in which you’re using your life and work experiences to help expand horizons for your employees. Helping them to embody possibilities that they may have preconceived notions about, or see ones that they’re completely unaware of.
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 John F Bremer Jr.
John is the Chief Technology Officer and Chief of Business Development at LiftedViz. He began his high-tech career working for 10 years as a linguist in the US Air Force and reserve. After earning a BA in Applied Linguistics John joined Boeing Computer Services Artificial Intelligence Center working as a computational linguist helping to develop a computer program that could read and understand tens of thousands of pages of Boeing aircraft maintenance manuals.
John enjoyed a 32 year career at Boeing working as a computer researcher, software architect and developer, and product manager. He shares many inventions and 5 patent applications for his work on production applications including the Boeing Simplified English Checker (Boeing: Simplified English Checker), the Boeing Collaborative Document Reviewer, and the Boeing ATOM Augmented Reality application for MS HoloLens (RAAF uses HoloLens mixed-reality device for C-17A maintenance (airforce-technology.com). John has a Masters degree in Information Technology with a focus on cloud computing.
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?
I guess I realized early on in life that leadership often equates to initiative, and we’re all constantly provided with opportunities to take initiative. I had won our local Thanksgiving 5K run a couple of years in a row, and when I entered middle school, they added a 3-person relay race category, where one person from each grade would compete to participate. I thought that it would be nice to win in my age bracket and also be on the winning middle school team, so I did a little research and found out who the fastest 7th and 8th grade runners were. I got up my courage and recruited them in the lunchroom. We each won our age brackets and we won as a team, but I still remember how nervous I was pitching the older kids the idea of joining my team.
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 listen, I have a great attitude, I work hard and I care. In order to sustain these things, I work diligently at being disciplined and am always ready to plan and pivot, as the next new situation requires.
How do you define the differences between a leader as a manager and a leader as a coach?
I see a more traditional manager role as someone who communicates the rules and expectations of the business, and makes sure that the employees are following those rules and meeting those expectations. I think coaching involves a more individual approach to helping employees develop their talent and grow their careers.
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?
Leaders need to listen and be able to facilitate a conversation that teases out a mutual understanding of the employees experience, strengths, and interests. Leaders need to take initiative to strategize a project management plan with employees, tasks that motivate them, and help them succeed and grow, in order to help the business succeed.
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?
If you can motivate people and create the right environment for them, then the discipline and work ethic takes care of itself, because you’ve helped create a place where people enjoy working hard. You have to create — and sell — a value proposition that both you and your employees can believe in. If you can tell the right story, and you can show people the potential return it offers them, then there’s more incentive to put the work in to accomplish the goal. You’re always trying to make the case of what’s in it for them.
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?”
You need to have a conversation, and really it should be an ongoing one, in which you’re using your life and work experiences to help expand horizons for your employees. Helping them to embody possibilities that they may have preconceived notions about, or see ones that they’re completely unaware of. And to help them understand that by making a plan and executing on it, they can be more satisfied and have a more rewarding career that has a sustainable level of success. Effectively, it’s about teaching people how to plan and pivot. And when you have these conversations, as a leader, you’re prompting AND you’re listening. We believe a certain level of discipline in your work is a super important aspect of a successful organization. And to that end, we root everything in a project management framework. So we’re not relying on the individual to remember or to pull things out of their own experience. We’re providing them with a framework that supports the discipline and organization you need to succeed. This really hit home for me when we got a chance to meet up with our former interns, after they’d been off in corporate jobs, as recent college grads and post-internship. They were experiencing some Imposter Syndrome, being out “in the wild”, with all these new responsibilities, tasks, deadlines, and expectations. They all made the remark that having a project management framework and templatized resources, allows you to approach a problem in an organized and disciplined way, and it gives you a tremendous amount of confidence that you’ll be able to deliver. And they were really thankful that we had exposed that to, and ingrained it in them, because they truly felt like it gave them a psychological and practical edge. Ways in which you can “automate” various tasks or thinking processes, by offloading them to our reptilian brain, is quite the game-changer.
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?
A key part to success in a diverse workforce, multi-generational or otherwise, is having a proactively professional company culture. To me that means communication is respectful and appropriate. It also means some things like politics, gossip, etc., don’t have a place in a healthy workforce. Of course after work, there’s time for you to air your grievances to your support system, but they’re not things to engage in at work. Furthermore, for the sake of the business itself, a good leader is always pushing for an organizational infrastructure that actively works to inhibit reckless behavior. It could even be something as simple as not implementing an intra-company communication platform (like Slack), as it’s been shown to propagate gossip and malcontent. This is obviously in addition to preventing, prohibiting, and taking disciplinary action against things like racism, harassment, and other forms of oppression. As a leader, you must be diligent in hiring this standard of individual. And for those you do bring on, you must also give people opportunities to express themselves and their concerns, where they feel heard and considered. But the moral of the story is you really need to be able to protect your environment, and you should do so proactively.
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?
It’s actually two things I live by… “Listen more, and talk less”; and “Be a glass that’s half full, celebrate accomplishments early and often”!
Words matter. And we’re collectively creating a new leadership language right now. What are the most important words for leaders to use now?
Things that we’ve operated by, and have really worked to our advantage, are:
- No Fire Drills
- Plan & Pivot
- Be Transparent About Being Human
- Trust But Verify
- No Task Is Too Big, Or Too Small, For Anyone
I keep inspiring quotes on my desk. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote,” and why does it mean so much to you?
One that always resonated with me is, “I speak French to men, Italian to women, and German to my horse”. It’s silly, but it just means that you need to view people as individuals, in order to successfully communicate with them. Another that my daughter-in-law recently dispensed on me was, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor” and I found a lot of inspiration and perseverance in that one.
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?
Honestly, I’m not the most active person online, but you can always count that I’m updating our website with the newest, latest, and greatest things that LiftedViz is working on. So check out www.liftedviz.com, or our Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn pages. Or come find me on Facebook, where I’m constantly trying to have more fun than everyone else. It’s like my version of life coaching.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!