Active Listening: A leader who coaches effectively must possess exceptional listening skills. Actively listen to your team members, pay attention to their words, emotions, and non-verbal cues. By fully understanding their perspectives, concerns, and aspirations, you can provide more targeted and valuable guidance.

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 Lori-Ann Duguay.

After a successful career of over 20 years with the same organization, she had come to understand the opportunities and limitations that came with bearing the golden handcuffs of a good pension and benefits. This experience was the inspiration for her upcoming book The Happiness Factor: How to Create a Positive and Productive Workplace and has fuelled her to work with organizations and help them create a highly motivating workplace laced with highly productive and meaningful employee experiences. Lori-Ann combines her career experiences as an HR strategist, talent development expert, professional coach in dispute resolution practitioner with her in-depth understanding of talent management and employee engagement to help organizations and leaders adopt a people-powered approach to leadership, talent development, and conflict resolution.

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?

The defining moment that shaped me as a leader wasn’t necessarily a moment, but rather a collection of missed opportunities. During my career of over 20 years with the same organization, I was subjected to both good and poor leadership. The bad leaders found it more valuable to keep me itagnated n the same position and not provide me with opportunities for growth than to promote me and have to go through the headache of recruiting for the position and training someone up to the same level of knowledge and experience.

The collection of missed opportunities and this exposure to poor leadership fuelled me to leave the safety and golden handcuffs of a good pension and benefits of a government organization to do better for the future generation of workers. I decided to start my consulting venture so I could contribute to a positive shift in the world of work. When organizations understand the 10 basic employee needs that when met, will result in happier more productive employees they can then take control of creating the workplace culture that provides them at every stage of the employee’s experiene. We help them take that information and create a highly engaging and motivating workplaces where people want to work.

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 embody that quote as a leader by walking the talk. I make sure that when I’m working with clients and organizations, I’m educating them and helping increase their self-awareness on an individual level as leaders, and on an organizational level. I help them recognize how they can do better for their employees, how they can improve and make it much more exciting and fulfilling for them by providing for those basic employee needs.

It’s not a title that makes you a leader, it’s your ability to see potential in others and then to hold up a mirror to help them recognize and reach it. Your job as a leader is to empower them and provide them with the level of confidence they need to step into that full potential. You help them develop stretch goals and then support them in defining the path to achieving them. Finally, your role is to help them troubleshoot challenges, coach and cheer them on along their growth journey.

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

A coach manages people while a manager manages work. The leader as a coach takes its cues and leads from the employees. They start by taking the time to map out and understand every employee’s needs and then curates the developmental plan according to identified preferences and needs. A coach will help them stretch beyond what they thought was possible. They help them recognize their full potential and coaches and encourages them, not only as a cheerleader, but also as an accountability partner.

A manager will give the answers while the coach will support and guide the individual in finding their own solutions. Telling the answers seems a lot less time-consuming and gives you the ability to feel like a hero because you’re giving them the answers the solutions they seek. However, you are contributing to a decrease in their self-confidence, and you’re creating a dependency on you as a leader. Every time they encounter a challenge, they will start to believe they are not capable of generating their onw solutions so they will come directly to you to provide them for them.

Alternatively, the coach will help them unearth their own solutions and continuously build-up the team member’s self-confidence everytime they successfully figure out their own answers. Believe it or not, we have the solutions to most of our problems, we just tend to get in our own way and allow limiting beliefs to blur our true potential. The coach holds up a mirror to help them recognize and acknowledge what they are truly capable of. The coach walks the team member through the critical thinking journey required to mitigate the challenge.The next time they encounter that challenge on their path, they are likely to apply that same critical thinking before running to you for an answer.

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?

The leader themselves must understand and be aware of their own biases (both conscious and unconscious) at play when guiding and coaching their team members so that they can pre-empt some of those blind spots. Self-awareness and high levels of emotional intelligence are key when it comes to embodying being a leader as a coach, but when it comes to coaching it’s important for leaders to develop their active listening skills.

When we talk about active listening, we’re talking about listening to understand as opposed to listening to respond. Often, because leaders tend to be extremely busy, managers will listen to give an answer while leaders as coach will listen to understand. They will use reflective listening questions, paraphrase, and summarize to hone in and understand what the coachee is trying to express.

Some essential skills leaders as coach possess include active listening, first-rate communication skills, and curious questioning, which is understanding how to question a person to guide them towards a solution. I see the coach as a guide who is supposed to lead the individual through that critical thinking journey.

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?

Once you start to help leaders understand the value of coaching versus commanding, you don’t need to mandate. They are normally inspired because one of the reasons they tend to take on that command-and-control approach to leadership is due to a lack of awareness and understanding of any other form of leadership.

Once you help them see the costs of the command-and-control approach, the benefits of the leadership as a coach approach, and train them to develop the skills and knowledge to confidently step into that role, it’s usually enough to inspire them. You don’t need to mandate that leadership style. In fact, madating has absolutly no space in a Leader as coach approach. It is not about commanding and controliing but rather about guiding along their discovery and helping remove obstacles along the way. More often than not they themselves (the employee or person being coached) are the greatest obstacle they will encounter.

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?”

To get better at coaching as a leader, there are several key skills and attributes you can focus on mastering. To zero in on what makes a good coach GREAT I would say these are the top 5 skills Leaders and Managers should master:

Active Listening: A leader who coaches effectively must possess exceptional listening skills. Actively listen to your team members, pay attention to their words, emotions, and non-verbal cues. By fully understanding their perspectives, concerns, and aspirations, you can provide more targeted and valuable guidance.

Powerful Questioning: Skillful questioning is a cornerstone of coaching. Learn to ask open-ended, thought-provoking questions that encourage reflection, self-discovery, and help reveal new insights. Thoughtful inquiries can stimulate critical thinking, challenge assumptions, and empower individuals to find their own solutions.

Emotional Intelligence: Cultivating empathy and emotional intelligence is crucial for a leader-coach. Empathy allows you to understand and relate to others’ experiences, while emotional intelligence helps you manage your own emotions and effectively respond to others. These qualities foster trust, rapport, and a supportive coaching environment. I always say that high IQ might get you in the door as a leader within an organization, but it is high EQ that will get you up the ladder and into senior leadership roles.

Goal Setting and Accountability: A leader-coach should assist individuals in setting meaningful stretch goals and hold them accountable for their progress. Help team members define specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals. Don’t let them settle for easily achievable objectives, help them get comfortable with discomfort to achieve greater growth! Establish regular check-ins to monitor progress, provide guidance, and celebrate achievements. Encourage individuals to take ownership of their goals and actions.

Feedback and Feedforward: Effective coaches provide constructive feedback and feedforward, focusing on both past performance and future growth. Learn to deliver feedback in a balanced manner, highlighting strengths, addressing areas for improvement, and offering actionable suggestions. Supportive feedback fosters continuous learning and development.

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?

When it comes to coaching, I think it’s important to understand the candidate you’re coaching and to take the time to understand their preferences and needs because generational differences are 100% a real phenomenon.

For example, when it comes to the more seasoned workers, they tend to have been brought up in a generation where they were extremely independent and don’t want too much coaching and advice. They are apt to misinterpret it as micromanagement. Make sure to frame that conversation in a way that they recognize that you want to assure their success and help them along the way.

Millennials were raised in a generation of instant feedback where they would post a picture and wait for likes and comments. It doesn’t mean that as their leader, you need to be providing that feedback day in and day out because that would be onerous. You should ensure that your workplace culture and the way that you build that employee experience not only facilitates the flow of feedback but facilitates this coachee-coach relationship at all levels. It doesn’t necessarily have to fall on the leader’s shoulders to take on the role of coach.Many different people can take that role on within the company

Make sure that you have systems and programs such as mentorship and job shadowing where you’re matching the more advanced workers with the younger workers to assure knowledge transfer and facilitate connection. This system normalizes coaching and the 360 flow of feedback. You are allowing people to connect and work collectively towards the broader organizational purpose and achieve these collective results as opposed to creating an individualistic culture.

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?

That’s an easy one! They can increase their own self-awareness. I referenced this earlier, start to recognize where perhaps they have some blind spots or some stretch growth opportunities themselves and plan to develop those less comfortable spots or skills. Then take the time to map out and understand the preferences and the needs of every individual team member. One person’s recognition preference can be opposite to the next person. For example, take the time to ask them, “Are you good with public accolades?” or “Would you prefer a private one-on-one e-mail?”; “How do you want to be recognized because ultimately, I know that recognition is important to everyone, so I want to make sure that I’m doing it in a way that’s meaningful to you?”

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

People-Powered, yes, it’s somewhat self-serving, but also understand that your greatest asset is not a building or a location abroad; your greatest asset is not the services, programs and products that you offer; your greatest asset is the people who are offering those services to your clients. Make sure that you’re building the systems and using the language that empowers them to be able to step into the best version of themselves as workers within your organization. Certainly coaching, collaboration, cohesion, and a lot of the softer skills have become paramount moving forward and adapting to this new world of work. Hybrid work must become a norm as work-life balance needs are important, and we need to normalize having a life outside of the job, moving away from this hustle culture.

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

I have it on a poster on the wall. It’s “If you don’t like where you’re at, then move! You are not a tree.” It’s important to me because it speaks to the importance of continuously assessing where you’re at, tuning in when you’re feeling misaligned and figuring out what needs to happen for you to feel aligned again. If after you’ve tried different ways to find alignment within your existing circumstances and you’re still unable to do that, it’s time to move on. If a door does not open for you more than once, it was probably never meant to be your door and you need to accept that there’s a bigger plan out there. You need to think about one thing you can start today to get one step closer to that next chapter.

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 encourage them to subscribe to my podcast People-Powered Solutions. They can also connect with me on LinkedIn and check out my website where they are welcome to book a discovery meeting and continue exploring synergies with me.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!