Set expectations at the A-Player level by expecting everyone to perform their best. Give employees feedback against that standard and never compromise your expectations.

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 Mark McDermott.

Mark McDermott is co-founder and CEO of ScreenCloud, a global digital signage platform helping over 9000 businesses communicate meaningful content using screens. He is based in London, UK and has been building digital products for over 20 years.

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?

In January 2016, I assumed the role of CEO of ScreenCloud for the second time. Our company was founded a year prior, with me serving as the initial CEO. However, after three months, I felt I wasn’t up to the task, particularly in terms of fundraising. I asked a friend from my business network to step in and take over, but after six months, he decided to move on and could no longer continue. This was a defining moment for me, as I had to either sink or swim in my leadership of the company. Thankfully, I swam!

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 don’t necessarily agree with this quote. I have a broad vision for the future of our company, but it is not set in stone. As a leader, my role is to attract, assemble and motivate a talented team who shares that broad vision. Our team should work collaboratively to achieve this vision while remaining open to adapting along the way. Although this quote may have some similarities to that approach, it suggests a more hierarchical and rigid leadership style, which doesn’t align with my philosophy.

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

I believe there are three separate roles when it comes to being a leader. A manager ensures their employees fulfill their job responsibilities by setting clear expectations and holding them accountable to high performance. A coach, on the other hand, helps employees improve by providing feedback and asking the right questions to get them to figure out how to grow themselves. The last is a mentor, whose task is to offer advice and career guidance to ultimately look out for workers’ best interests.

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?

A main skill for successful coaches is asking the right questions, which should be open ended and not leading or influencing responses from employees. It’s important that workers are given the opportunity to discover their own answers. As part of this, coaches should zoom out and help them identify the problem at hand at a high level without getting sucked into solving it directly.

Coaches should also have empathy for employees’ struggles and challenges, but be willing to challenge and push them to overcome those hurdles (e.g. don’t give in to the narrative they have created that things are impossible). Seeing what’s possible for them and pushing them towards that will give workers more belief in their capabilities and potential.

I would also add that everyone needs a coach, no matter who they are. I’d even like to acknowledge my own CEO coach, Tim Porthouse, who has played a vital role in my evolution as a leader and coach.

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?

I believe inspiration comes from setting an example. I have always been a shy and introverted person, and as a child, my shyness caused me a lot of discomfort. As a teenager, I decided that if I didn’t change, I would have a boring and frustrating life. So, I started taking small steps to overcome my shyness, such as speaking out loud in class or taking on a small role in a school play. These small steps gradually built up over time, and now, some people may even consider me an extrovert when I give a talk on stage.

However, I’ve always been open about my struggle with shyness, so people understand it’s not something that comes naturally to me. In 2017, I qualified as a group fitness instructor and now teach classes in gyms in London multiple times a week. I shared my journey with my team as I went through it, and they saw how I overcame fears, setbacks, and insecurities.

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?”

Leaders and managers can attain peak performance from their teams in multiple ways. Here are my top five recommendations:

  1. Set expectations at the A-Player level by expecting everyone to perform their best. Give employees feedback against that standard and never compromise your expectations.
  2. Give workers a seat at the table to set company goals, then have them set personal ones. Make them owners of their goals but feel free to veto or improve them. I feel like this process in particular can be the biggest motivator.
  3. Give tons of feedback — both positive and negative. Be specific by telling them exactly what they did well or need to improve on rather than saying “good job.”
  4. Conduct 1:1’s. As the main forum for coaching, these meetings offer a great opportunity to be candid and hold important conversations, while still maintaining privacy for employees.
  5. Don’t move the goalpost. Challenge your team to meet goals regardless of setbacks and don’t let them off the hook if a goal is not met, but ensure that the goals set forth are clear and static.

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?

My main thought is to take age out of the equation. Coach the person without labeling or making assumptions. You should not get caught up in stereotypes such as Gen Z vs Millennial and instead get to know the individual and coach them based on their personal qualities. For CEO’s, don’t be intimidated by managing/coaching anyone with more experience than you — they took the job, they want to work for you, so own that! Take advantage of their talents and experience, but remember to be the boss.

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?

As I have mentioned above, don’t be afraid to share your own struggles with your team. I am very open about my challenges with mental health — an ongoing personal hurdle. Being open and honest about individual struggles shows a higher level of emotional intelligence and a willingness to connect personally with your workforce. An easy way to begin these types of conversations is by asking the right questions to discuss feelings, for example, “I’m guessing you’re frustrated by this, am I right?”

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

Instead of using management jargon, I want to discuss how I have observed a change in team motivation from being externally driven to internally driven. Intrinsic motivation is when individuals engage in an activity because it is personally fulfilling to them, while extrinsic motivation is when individuals participate in an activity to receive a reward or avoid punishment. My advice is to adjust your communication style to use language that is more likely to tap into the intrinsic motivations of your team members for the strongest and most sustainable success.

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

One of my business heroes is Jim Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape. His “Barksdaleisms” are quite legendary and worth looking into. One of my favorite quotes of his is, “Your job is to run as fast as you can towards the cliff. My job is to move the cliff.” Here’s another that might resonate more during these turbulent times too, “You cannot overtake 15 cars in sunny weather, but you can when it’s raining.” — The late, great Ayrton Senna

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?

Come and attend one of my fitness classes! Otherwise I am active on LinkedIn. Happy to connect!

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