Coaching someone to do their best work requires an understanding of their unique strengths, motivation and goals. Effective coaches help those that they coach identify and leverage their strengths, overcome their weaknesses and develop the skills and mindset needed to achieve their objectives.

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 Bodam Taiwo.

Bodam Taiwo is the Head of Portfolio at Pernod Ricard Western Africa, where she is responsible for creating the overall strategy to build the brands in her portfolio across 6 key markets within Western Africa including Nigeria and Ghana.

During her career, she has managed physical teams, virtual marketing teams and sales teams across Western Africa and leans towards coaching and collaboration as her primary leadership style.

She is the Lead Coach at The Refined Lady’s School which equips women with the skills to become better and more authentic leaders, a Thrive Mentor at The University of Reading and a volunteer mentor at The University of Surrey.

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?

Thank you for having me. A defining moment that shaped who I am as a leader and how I now choose to lead was the example of a former line manager. When I started working in the organization, I observed the loyalty people had to her and I wanted to understand why people went over and beyond to make her happy and to fulfil her asks. Colleagues would start work earlier and work late just to please her.

With time and getting to know her more, I realized that people were fiercely loyal to her because she led with empathy and humanity. She saw more in the people she was leading than they even saw in themselves. When I started working closer with her, I recognized that she did the same thing for me. She called out the gold in me. She challenged me on days when I wasn’t showing up as my best self and was intentional in her praise.

That was it — I said to myself that “when I become a leader, this is the type of leader I want to be. I want to be the kind of leader that builds people up, that sees who people can become and be committed to walking the path with people so they evolve into a higher version of themselves. I want to be the kind of leader that’s able to give constructive criticism, sometimes hard criticism, but for the good of the other person and for the good of the business.”

That experience inherently shaped who I am as a leader.

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 love John Maxwell’s leadership quotes. I think they’re so apt. One of the ways that I embody this as a leader is I don’t send my people somewhere that I’m unwilling to go. I don’t ask people to do things I’m unwilling to do. What this means is if it’s a busy period, if I have to make hard calls, have hard conversations, I will demonstrate that first, so that I tell those who are coming after me that it is possible to achieve certain tasks, even when it’s hard. Essentially, I lead by example, and I am committed to lifelong learning. I read a lot. I read voraciously about my industry, my brand and then I lead by example.

Beyond leading by example, I teach those who are coming after me that this is what I’ve found to work, and this is the end goal. If they have a better way, fantastic! I show them the easiest path I think we can take and then I encourage them along the way. That is what I believe it John Maxwell was talking about when he said, ‘Know the way, go the way, show the way.’

You know the way by learning and by understanding your environment. You go the way by leading by example and you show the way by teaching others how to get there.

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

I believe a leader as a manager is really about execution. It’s about getting things done. It’s about marrying your strategy to your execution. It’s about understanding the goals of your organization and carrying people along to meet that goal. It’s about dotting the i’s and crossing the T’s and drawing lines between the X’s and the O’s. It’s about making a list of priorities for your department or for your organization and ensuring that everybody is walking towards those priorities until they are accomplished. It is aligning your goals in line with the broad strategy mission of the organization and fulfilling them.

A leader as a coach on the other hand is about motivating and supporting people. It’s about choosing to go on a journey with people where you lead them to find answers for themselves to challenges that they’re facing. It’s about committing to really understanding people, your people, and then choosing to develop deep relationships with them.

Being a manager is not easy but being a coach also takes time, dedication, and commitment. It takes willingness and sacrifice. It takes wanting the best for the other person. It takes a desire to have those difficult conversations, a desire to listen more than you speak, a desire to ask the right questions so that you’re leading those who you lead to get the answers that are already encoded on the inside of them. That’s how I’ll define the differences.

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 think the first would be the idea of inclusive leadership! This is critical and it means that leaders must foster an environment where every employee feels like they belong, every employee feels like they’re wanted and every employee feels like there’s something that they can contribute to the organization.

The second will be effective communication which is knowing what to say, knowing how to say it, and knowing when to say it. Communication is not effective unless the other party understands the message that is being passed across. Sometimes when leaders say things like let’s have a conversation and the employee becomes, nervous, anxious, jittery, they don’t know what to expect. The tone just makes it seem so much bigger than it is. Effective communication means that whether it’s a corrective conversation, a coaching conversation, or a directional conversation, the employee has clarity as to what the issue is, what actions that they need and what they need to leverage.

The third thing I would say would be trust. Build an atmosphere of trust and build individual trust with every employee. Coaching can be very personal, and the feedback is not always positive. Therefore, the employee needs to trust that the leader has their best interests at heart. They need to trust that the leader is for the organization and for them. They need to know that the leader does not have selfish motives. They need to know and trust the leader to be able to listen and imbibe what they are coaching them on.

Fourth thing I’ll say is emotional intelligence. I know this is a buzzword right now. However, as a leader who is a coach, you must have emotional intelligence. You need to be able to read the room, read the body language of those that you’re coaching, understand the timing with a particular person and know how to communicate in that situation. Remember we said earlier on that it takes time to be a coach, it does not happen magically so emotional intelligence is key.

Very closely linked to emotional intelligence is active listening and that means ‘not listening to respond, but listening to understand what the person is saying, understand their motivations and what they’re trying to explain.’ Go beyond the surface because when you’re coaching, we are not just coaching on what we see, we are dealing with mindset patterns, behavioral changes, and transformation. We are helping people move from point A to point B, and sometimes that means adjusting faulty mindsets or belief systems that may be standing in their way. So, to overcome those, we must understand what they are, and this is through active listening. Ask questions that elaborate on information they’ve shared so that you go to the root of the issue and then we’re able to address it.

Be goal oriented. Sometimes when we speak about coaching, it could sound very intangible. Let there be goals after every coaching conversation you have with those that you are leading. Be able to set goals with them, milestones that they can achieve, and then follow through to see how they are doing with these goals. The final thing that I’ll highlight is: have a growth mindset. A growth mindset means that even if somebody is in a particular position today, they can get the knowledge and skill to improve and to grow. Even as leaders, we should never think that we have reached our peak — there is always room to grow and become better.

Those are some of the essential skills and competencies that I feel leaders must have in this time so that they become better coaches.

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?

A lot of things stem from conviction. I believe the first thing in inspiring leaders to invest in upskilling and reskilling and in becoming better coaches is by fuelling that sense of conviction. ‘What does it cost us to become better coaches or to become leaders who are coaches? What does it cost us to grow people and to invest in the people who we tend to lead?’

When as a leader you have that conviction, it becomes easier to invest in courses, reading materials and in growing your ability to coach. Another way to inspire leaders more is by having conversations that can lead to a change of mindset and deepening convictions about the need to become better leaders.

Also, highlighting examples of positive leadership examples. Showcasing the success stories of those who have become more, who have changed mindsets, who have grown in their careers because they had a great leader. I think those examples model a world of possibility.

In addition, I offer platforms where I teach and coach leaders on how to upskill. Just last week, I trained over a 100 Academic and non-Academic staff on Integrity and Trust!

Conviction, showcasing examples of those who have been able to rise through conversations, and offering platforms to help people grow their coaching skills are some of the ways that I help and inspire leaders to invest in themselves.

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?”

Coaching someone to do their best work requires an understanding of their unique strengths, motivation and goals. Effective coaches help those that they coach identify and leverage their strengths, overcome their weaknesses and develop the skills and mindset needed to achieve their objectives.

I mentioned this earlier, but I will say it again as it is relevant here. Listen actively as well as empathetically so that you can understand your coachee’s point of view. Understand your direct reports’ point of view. Understand what they’re struggling with, understand what the root cause of the issue is and therefore know how it is to best manage or navigate that situation. This not only helps to build trust within the department or between you and your colleague, it also shows that you’re mindful and concerned about them as a human being, it helps to build rapport so that on the days you need to correct, there’s a baseline relationship there. Now, an example of this would be to ask open-ended questions.

The second big thing I’ll say is setting clear, measurable, specific, time-bound goals and expectations. If our goals are ambiguous, they can be misunderstood depending on who is reading and how the interpret the intent. So, simplify goal setting. ;‘If you do this, this is the metric that I’m measuring, this is the KPI that I’m looking out for, this is the developmental skill I want to see you grow in.’ It is understanding what the employees’ personal goals are, what their own motivations are, what their own character traits are, and how to align that with the organizational goals. It is taking their strengths to achieve the greater good in terms of the overall goals and objectives. Goals should be SMARRT!

I like saying SMARRT with two Rs for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Regularly reviewed, and Time bound. Are your goals specific? What do you want to achieve with what you want to do. You want to move the needle from point A to point B, put the numbers in there. Your goal should be measurable. If a goal cannot be directly measured, that goal is ambiguous, and it could play against you. The third is: is the goal achievable? Can it be done? While you want your goals to be stretching, you don’t want your goals to be unrealistic. Are the goals regularly reviewed? What’s your schedule of reviewing the goals? What’re your monthly and quarterly schedules for the review of your goals? You need to have in place a method that allows you review your goals to monitor your progress. Is your employee on track? Empower them to review their own goals.

Now to being time bound, there must be a start date. There must be an end date by when this goal should be achieved.

The third thing I would say is provide constructive feedback. This one can be interesting because not everybody wants to receive feedback, but as a coach — leader, it’s our responsibility to provide feedback to our employees. Feedback should be timely, actionable, and specific. Go straight to the point as to what the feedback is and what behavior or character trait you’re trying to correct or what competency you’re trying to build.

For example, if someone has given a presentation, and it was great content but they spoke a bit too fast so they lost the room, or the slides were not as engaging, these are some of the things to give feedback on, maybe a day or two after the presentation. Another way to give feedback is usually the ‘sandwich method.’ You start off with something positive, then speak about the area of improvement, and then you end by reinforcing the strength and what they did well or your belief in their abilities..

Linked to feedback, be generous with praise when people do things well, because that way when they don’t do things as well, they trust what you’re saying because your feedback is balanced.

We need to be able to reframe the conversations, reframe the thoughts and the belief systems of those who we are leading. One of the pivotal ways to coach someone for peak performance is by guiding them to develop a growth mindset. That means there is nothing that they need to know that they cannot learn. If they don’t know something today, they can learn it. They can become better. They can birth great things from seed form. They can be more creative. They can grow weaknesses and deepen strengths. That’s a growth mindset. If a direct report comes to us and is speaking of, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that’, adding the word ‘yet’, makes such a difference. Cultivating and developing a growth mindset in those we lead is essential.

The final thing I’d mention here is recognition and celebration. During the anonymous employee surveys, one of the things that come up quite often is “my manager doesn’t recognize the contributions of members of the team”, or “my manager doesn’t celebrate after we’ve hit a significant milestone”. One of the great ways we can coach someone to do their best work would be to celebrate when they do great things and you can do this in seemingly small ways: send an email to key members of the business highlighting the successes of certain members of staff, take them out for lunch or dinner or even buy a little gift. Highlight their specific contributions to the project. People thrive in places where they feel that they are acknowledged, celebrated, honored, and where their contributions are valid. Beyond that, it also gives us room and grace for when we must give hard feedback because we have demonstrated balance with the team..

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?

Coaching a multi-generational workforce requires understanding and respecting the unique perspectives, values, and communication styles of different generations — this speaks to generational diversity!

A few things I’ve found to be helpful:

  • Understand the generational differences: Each generation has its own set of values, beliefs, and communication styles. Learn about the characteristics and preferences of each generation to better understand their perspective.
  • Avoid stereotypes! You know how we make these statements like “Gen Z are unreliable” or “over 30’s are stuck in their ways.’ While there may be some people who fit this mold, let us be mindful about putting people in pigeonholes! Each person is unique, and it’s important to approach people as individuals.
  • Communicate effectively! I mentioned that communication is a superpower every leader must have! You need to understand how to communicate and when to communicate. Also, be mindful because different generations may prefer different forms of communication. For example, older generations may prefer face-to-face communication, while younger generations may prefer instant messaging or video calls. We need to be adaptable and able to communicate effectively with each generation in a way that works for them.

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?

Yes, emotional intelligence plays a very significant role in effective leadership so definitely that’s what I’m referring to. There are two steps I would say every leader can take to demonstrate a high level of emotional intelligence. The first is active listening.

That means really being present with the person, asking clarifying questions as needed, mirroring back what you hear the other person say, trying to get to the root cause, and understanding the reason behind any emotion that’s shown or any statements that are made. Giving feedback as at where necessary. A great way to also demonstrate active listening is by putting away your cell phone when you are speaking to the other person or when you’re in a meeting, you just demonstrate in a non-verbal way that I’m here for you.

The second thing I would say is empathy. Now empathy quite simply is being able to remove yourself from your environment, your thoughts, your body, your emotions, and being able to put yourself in the shoes and the position of the other person.

Empathy is such a seeminglysmall thing but can lead to significant progress in how you choose to teach and lead. It helps us create a positive work environment. Empathy is thinking about the other person: how they’re feeling, what they’re thinking and how they are in that moment.

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

We are to use words that build up the other person. We should be respectful of the dignity of the person or the people that are working with us. We should not use abusive language or derogatory words at those we’re leading. Even when we must correct, let’s be mindful about correction that breaks down or belittles the person as opposed to being issue-focused and factual.

Leaders should use, words that uplift, build up and encourage. We should use words that are pure, that give strength to the others, that recognize the others and are respectful.

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

“Live the life of your dreams! Be brave enough to live the life of your dreams according to your vision and purpose instead of the expectations and opinions of others.” — Roy Bennett

This quote is freeing and at the same time puts the responsibility of your life squarely on you! All too often, we outsource our life choices to others. This quote reminds me that I need courage to become the woman I was created to be. I need courage to go against the grain sometimes in search of the vision I’ve received. I need courage to model possibilities to a generation of young people by shining my light brightly! This is gold!

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?

I usually hang out on Instagram and you can connect with me on @bodamtaiwo @therefinedlady

Join my mailing list for up to-date information from my world!

Check out my YouTube channel (@bodamtaiwo)

Send me an email to [email protected]

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