Accountability: Encouraging accountability by using words that promote responsibility, ownership, and commitment to results can foster a culture of accountability within the team or organization. Holding oneself and others accountable for their actions, decisions, and outcomes can lead to increased performance, quality, and success.

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 Mary T. O’Sullivan.

Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach (ICF-PCC), Society of Human Resource Management Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP). Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. She has Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego, and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM. Mary is also an ICF certified Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner, a Certified Hogan Assessor, and a Certified EQi-2.0 and EQ360 Practitioner. Mary is also the author of the book The Leader You Don’t Want to Be, recently published on

Mary O’Sullivan has over 30 years’ experience in the aerospace and defense industry, working with major Fortune 500 Companies. In each of her roles, she acted as a change agent, moving teams and individuals from status quo to new ways of thinking, through offering solutions focused on changing behaviors and fostering growth to improve performance and productivity. In addition, Mary holds a permanent teaching certificate in the State of New York for secondary education and taught high school English for 10 years in the Syracuse, NY area. Today, Mary dedicates herself to helping good leaders get even better through measurable positive behavior change.

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?

Often, leaders emerge who have no title. In my experience as a new hire at a major aerospace and defense company, exerting power and influence was needed to complete a project I was hired to develop, based on a similar project I successfully completed at two other similar companies. I was met with resistance at every level and had to become unrelenting and dogged in my pursuit to make the project a success. It seemed everyone was waiting for me to fail. This experience was a major inflection point in my career and learning how to manage others to get things done. The determination I felt was a defining moment in how I was shaped 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?

One of the most important lessons leaders need to learn is the need to be transparent and align their behavior and decisions with the company mission, vision, values, and goals. Good leaders walk the talk. They are models and examples of what the company expects in leader behavior. I was once in a meeting where I was being told not to report a schedule delay by a vendor. I approached the manager leading the meeting and asked him “What company value does that action reflect?” He smiled sardonically and did not answer the question. If we want employees to be engaged, leaders must behave in a way that inspires people. Being phony or hypocritical only inspires bad morale and cynicism. I believe in my core values, and execute them in all my dealings with clients and other leaders:

1. Integrity: I uphold the highest standard of integrity both for my clients and the coaching profession. Integrity is “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. Adherence to honesty and moral principles includes strict confidentiality.

2. Excellence: The excellence I strive for is best-in-class delivery of service. I set and demonstrate standards of excellence for professional coaching quality and competence as established by the International Coaching Federation (ICF).

3. Collaboration: I value the special connection that occurs through collaborative partnership and co-created client achievements.

4. Respect: I am inclusive and value the diversity and richness of all stakeholders. I put people first, without compromising standards, policies, and quality. I always demonstrate high regard for clients, partners, and all ICF certification and qualification requirements.

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

Many managers are not leaders, but merely place holders to fill a slot. These managers take direction from upper levels of management and their principal responsibility is to carry out upper-level commands. There is no leverage with these managers because they only do what they are told and nothing else. If they are told to give an employee a poor review, even though they don’t believe the person deserves it, they will do it anyway. Ethics in this way escapes them. If they worry that permitting an employee to attend a conference will be rejected by their bosses, they won’t approve the travel. If they encounter an out-of-date rule, they will impose it anyway, because they don’t want to rock the boat. Sadly, often these types of managers are put in place exactly because they will do whatever they are told, without any push back. These are weak managers, and they kill morale and destroy engagement. When a leader includes coaching into their leadership style, they understand that employees need to be supported in executing their duties. As a professional coach, I ensure that employees’ values are aligned with their company’s values. I explain my reasoning to my team and help them see the logic behind my decisions, regardless of how foreign the ideas may seem to them. I work with the cynics to get them on my side by challenging their thought process, asking what they think the benefit to them may be, comparing pros and cons. It’s important to stick to coaching type questions, so I can get the best, most creative responses. I ask, “How would you do that differently?”, “What do you gain by going in that direction? What does the company gain?”, “Who can support your effort?”, “What’s the time frame for completion?”, etc. By coaching people, I get the best ideas to move forward with a project, rather than demanding we all follow my plan without input from anyone who must work in the environment.

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 number one essential technique I advise is to ensure strict confidentiality. People want assurance that there will be no repercussions or retaliation for their honesty. In addition, ethics needs to be brought into the equation. Without ethics, there is no guarantee of conflict of interest, as in directly benefiting from the conversation with a client. I’ve been asked to sell other people’s products during my coaching time. This would be a direct ethics violation and an obvious conflict of interest. The coaching conversations I have with people are a learning and growth opportunity so that the ideas presented in the conversation can be embraced and further explored by the person. I treat my people with respect and listen carefully without interruptions. I like to reframe their statements just to make sure I completely understand what they are saying. By using these specific techniques, the person feels heard and is more willing to accept and adopt the ideas we discussed.

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?”

People possess the innate ability to do their best work; they only need to recognize that they are capable. A good coach helps people realize their best qualities by asking probing questions, such as “What would it be like for you if…?” When people are put into a state of realization or visualization of their futures, they can imagine themselves being at their peak performance. The same is true in sports psychology. My son was a great wide receiver in high school. He hardly ever missed a catch. When I asked him how he could be so accurate every time, he told me he visualized it every night before bed. He put himself in that place of success and imagined catching the football perfectly right into his hands without effort. Appealing to visualization and imagination works to help people in their quest to improve whatever it is their goals are.

Wise leaders always look to the future. When leaders are looking for peak performance from employees, coaching toward the future employees that envision for themselves appeals to their core beliefs. With recent changes in the workplace, remote work, hybrid work, or no office work, it’s even more important to engage people on their personal visions and for their place in the organization. Without personal involvement from leaders, in our current unique work context, people will stray. People need to understand that they are important and crucial to the business’s success, and they need to grasp why business success equals personal success.

Top 5 Ways Leaders and Managers Can Be Effective Coaches:

Managers and leaders need to change their focus from “problem thinking” to “advocacy thinking.” Focus on Helping People Turn Their Thinking Around — It’s a mindset thing.

  1. Instead of asking, “What is the biggest problem here?”, ask, “What are you doing when things are working well?” Eliminate the defensiveness of the question. Focus on the positive.
  2. If you’re tempted to ask, “Which obstacle causes the most trouble?”, ask, “What’s the smallest change that could make the biggest impact?” Don’t try to get people to tackle huge problems all at once, ask for small changes that can lead to a bigger achievement.
  3. It’s not a good idea to ask, “How do we fix this?” Instead, ask “What possibilities exist that we have not yet considered?” Again, take the emphasis off the employees, personally, and ask what they think about what options are open that you may not even know about.
  4. If you’re used to asking, “Which issue surfaces the most often and why does it keep happening?”, ask, “Tell me a story of when you were at your very best, when you performed really well.” Adding the element of “story” into the conversation stimulates people to want to talk. You want to hear what they think they are doing or have done well and capitalize on it.
  5. Always ask employees, “What goals would you like to set that will help you realize your vision or picture of success?” Focusing on goals for success brings people into a success mindset. They will think of how to be successful for themselves and for their organizations.

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?

There are numerous studies on the multigenerational workforce and the differences that can lead to hard feelings and lack of respect. According to the Harvard Business Review, “learning how to collaborate with and appreciate the unique preferences, habits, and behaviors of colleagues who grew up in different times…” is the key to harmony among the generations in the workforce. In coaching a great span of generations on a team, one challenge would to be establishing how we communicate with each other. Older generations prefer phone calls, while younger generations are going to text their messages rather than call. One solution would be to pair up members of the generations and teach each other the technology that they each prefer. In a recent report by CBS news, once the older generation learned the mysteries of the iPhone from their younger cohorts, they were delighted to text. The potential of the multigenerational workforce is in the value each brings to the table. Older workers should be paired with younger workers for mentoring and advising, while the tech savvy youngsters can demonstrate the benefits of learning details of new technology. Encouraging communication brings the generations together, which can add up to 5 or more generations in the same workplace. As a coach, I would encourage leaders to arrange casual social events to break down barriers and bring people together.

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?

Two steps that every leader can take to demonstrate a higher level of emotional intelligence are:

  1. Cultivating Self-Awareness: Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence. It involves understanding and managing one’s own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and triggers. Leaders can take steps to cultivate self-awareness by regularly reflecting on their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, and seeking feedback from trusted sources, such as mentors, coaches, or colleagues. Engaging in practices such as journaling, mindfulness, or self-assessment tools can also help leaders gain deeper insights into their emotions and reactions in various situations.
  2. Practicing Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand and relate to the emotions and perspectives of others. Leaders can demonstrate empathy by actively listening to others without judgment, showing genuine concern for their emotions and experiences, and validating their feelings. This involves putting oneself in the shoes of others and trying to understand their emotions, needs, and perspectives. Empathy helps leaders build trust, foster positive relationships, and create a supportive and inclusive work environment.

By cultivating self-awareness and practicing empathy, leaders can elevate their emotional intelligence and positively impact their relationships with team members, colleagues, and other stakeholders. These steps can enhance a leader’s ability to navigate complex emotions, handle conflicts effectively, make informed decisions, and build a positive and inclusive work culture.

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

In general, some important words for leaders to use now, or in any era, include:

  1. Empathy: Demonstrating empathy by using words that convey understanding, compassion, and concern for the emotions and experiences of others can help leaders build trust, foster positive relationships, and create a supportive work environment. Empathetic words can help leaders connect with their team members on a deeper level and show that they genuinely care about their well-being.

Words that demonstrate empathy convey understanding, compassion, and concern for the emotions and experiences of others. Here are some examples:

  1. “I understand how you feel.”
  2. “I hear you.”
  3. “It sounds like you’re going through a tough time.”
  4. “I can imagine that this is difficult for you.”
  5. “That must have been really challenging for you.”
  6. “I’m here for you.”
  7. “I care about what you’re going through.”
  8. “I want to support you in any way I can.”
  9. “I can see that this is important to you.”
  10. “I appreciate your perspective.”

Using these words can help leaders show empathy towards others, validate their emotions and experiences, and create a supportive and understanding environment. It’s important to remember that empathy involves not only using the right words, but also actively listening, being present, and genuinely seeking to understand others without judgment. Authentic empathy can foster trust, build positive relationships, and enhance overall team dynamics.

2. Collaboration: Encouraging collaboration by using words that promote teamwork, inclusivity, and collective effort can foster a culture of collaboration and cooperation among team members. Using collaborative language can also help leaders empower their team members, inspire creativity, and foster innovation.

Words that demonstrate collaboration promote teamwork, inclusivity, and collective effort. Here are some examples:

  1. “Let’s work together on this.”
  2. “We can achieve more by collaborating.”
  3. “I value your input and ideas.”
  4. “We’re in this together.”
  5. “How can we collaborate to find a solution?”
  6. “Let’s pool our resources and knowledge.”
  7. “Your perspective is important to me.”
  8. “We can leverage each other’s strengths.”
  9. “Let’s brainstorm and come up with a plan as a team.”
  10. “I appreciate your collaboration and contributions.”

Using these words can encourage a culture of collaboration where team members feel included, empowered, and motivated to work together towards common goals. It’s important for leaders to foster a collaborative mindset and actively promote an environment where diverse perspectives are valued, and team members are encouraged to share their ideas and insights. Effective collaboration can lead to improved creativity, innovation, and problem-solving, as well as enhanced team cohesion and performance.

3. Vision: Sharing a compelling vision for the future and using words that inspire, motivate, and align team members towards a common goal can help leaders create a sense of purpose and direction. Visionary words can also help leaders communicate their strategic plans, inspire confidence, and drive organizational success.

Words that demonstrate vision convey a sense of foresight, purpose, and future-oriented thinking. Here are some examples:

  1. “Our vision is to create a better future.”
  2. “We aspire to be industry leaders in innovation.”
  3. “Our vision is to transform the way we do business.”
  4. “We have a clear vision for our organization’s future.”
  5. “Our vision is to be pioneers in our field.”
  6. “We have a bold vision for the next decade.”
  7. “Our vision is to create positive change in our community.”
  8. “We are committed to realizing our vision of excellence.”
  9. “Our vision is to be a global leader in our industry.”
  10. “We have a compelling vision that inspires and guides our actions.”

Using these words conveys a sense of purpose and direction, highlighting the long-term goals and aspirations of an organization or team. It demonstrates a forward-thinking mindset and a commitment to achieving a desired future state. A compelling vision can inspire and motivate team members, align their efforts, and guide decision-making towards achieving the desired outcomes. Visionary leadership is about setting a clear direction, inspiring others, and creating a shared sense of purpose and direction for the organization or team.

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4. Accountability: Encouraging accountability by using words that promote responsibility, ownership, and commitment to results can foster a culture of accountability within the team or organization. Holding oneself and others accountable for their actions, decisions, and outcomes can lead to increased performance, quality, and success.

Words that demonstrate accountability convey a sense of responsibility, ownership, and commitment to delivering results. Here are some examples:

  1. “I will take ownership of this task/project.”
  2. “I am responsible for ensuring this gets done.”
  3. “I will be accountable for the outcome.”
  4. “I will keep you updated on my progress.”
  5. “I will deliver on my commitments.”
  6. “I am answerable for the results.”
  7. “I will take the necessary steps to fulfill my responsibilities.”
  8. “I will be transparent about my actions and decisions.”
  9. “I will hold myself to high standards of performance.”
  10. “I am committed to meeting the agreed-upon deadlines.”

Using these words demonstrates a willingness to be accountable for one’s actions, decisions, and performance. It reflects a sense of ownership and responsibility towards fulfilling one’s commitments and delivering on expectations. Accountability is a crucial trait for effective leadership, as it promotes trust, reliability, and integrity. When leaders model accountability, it sets a positive example for team members and fosters a culture of responsibility and performance excellence.

5. Appreciation: Expressing appreciation by using words that acknowledge and recognize the contributions, achievements, and efforts of team members can boost morale, motivation, and engagement. Appreciative words can help leaders create a positive and inclusive work culture where team members feel valued and recognized for their contributions.

Words that demonstrate appreciation convey gratitude, recognition, and acknowledgment for the efforts and contributions of others. Here are some examples:

  1. “Thank you for your hard work.”
  2. “I appreciate your dedication and commitment.”
  3. “You’ve done an outstanding job.”
  4. “I am grateful for your contributions.”
  5. “Your efforts have not gone unnoticed.”
  6. “I value your contributions to the team/project.”
  7. “You’ve made a meaningful impact.”
  8. “I want to express my appreciation for your work.”
  9. “Your work is greatly appreciated.”
  10. “I am thankful for your support and effort.”

Using these words can show genuine appreciation towards the work, contributions, and dedication of team members. It fosters a positive and motivating work environment, encourages continued effort, and reinforces a culture of recognition and appreciation. Expressing appreciation is an essential aspect of effective leadership, as it helps build strong relationships, enhances team morale, and reinforces a sense of value and recognition for team members’ efforts.

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It’s important to note that the specific words leaders use will depend on the context, situation, and audience. Leaders should strive to communicate with authenticity, clarity, and respect, and adapt their language to suit the needs and preferences of their team members and stakeholders. Effective communication is a key leadership skill that can greatly impact team performance, collaboration, and organizational success.

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

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you will get what you always get.” It means that to change, you must do things differently. If you don’t incorporate

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?

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