Be patient and continue to ask questions. A daily practice that has greatly benefited me during my own personal coaching sessions with executives is to remind myself to be patient and to keep asking questions. Coming out of the gate and trying to force conversations or a particular point that you are attempting to make is likely to fall short, especially at the beginning of any coaching journey. Being a great coach is about guiding people through a journey of self-discovery rather than managing people or taking a firm stand in the face of opposition. The only way to truly bring this to life is to be patient and continue to ask questions without passing judgment. It’s amazing what happens when a leader or manager is sincere in their approach and genuinely asks the right questions that guide the person to an unforced desired outcome.
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 Matt Mayberry.
Matt Mayberry is an internationally acclaimed keynote speaker and one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on leadership development and culture. His insights on leadership, culture, and business performance have appeared in publications such as Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, NBC, ABC, Fox Business, and ESPN, to name but a few. His clients include a diverse list of who’s who in business with organizations like JP Morgan Chase, Allstate Insurance, Phillips 66, Ambit Energy, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, OptumRx, Mack Trucks, Fifth Third Bank, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and WESCO. He is author of the new book CULTURE IS THE WAY: How Leaders at Every Level Build an Organization for Speed, Impact, and Excellence (Wiley; Feb, 2023).
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?
There have been many defining moments in my life, but meeting my college football coach, Terry Hoeppner, was without a doubt the most transformative moment in terms of leadership. Indiana University isn’t known for its outstanding college football program, but I chose Indiana over other prestigious football programs because of the incredible and special man he was. During my official visit to Indiana, it was the only time I felt completely at ease and with a coach who genuinely cared about me as a person. I was given a front-row seat to the very heart of what it means to be a leader. Continuously shaping and influencing the lives of those you lead.
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?
First and foremost, I completely agree with that quote. The most effective and influential leaders I’ve ever known were not those who thought they knew everything. What truly distinguished them was their ability to go first and pave the way forward, even when that path took them outside of their comfort zone. To be honest, I try to embody this quote in almost everything I do. As a consultant who has the privilege of working with many leadership teams across the country, I must first live and practice what I preach and teach on a daily basis. I am confident that if the leaders with whom I work with were asked what makes the work with myself so effective, their response would be that I live this passionately every day of my life. That’s not intended to be a boast, but rather an expression of conviction that being a practitioner is so imperative. And this extends far beyond me. A large portion of my work with senior leadership teams involves developing systems and processes to ensure that an organization’s leaders truly lead the way forward and adopt the mindsets and behaviors before asking anyone else to.
How do you define the differences between a leader as a manager and a leader as a coach?
True leaders, in my opinion, spend very little time managing. Every leader must occasionally manage, but not every manager makes the transition to becoming a leader. The distinction between a leader as manager and a leader as coach is significant. Leaders who believe they are coaches, regardless of their title, do the hard work of getting their hands dirty and leading the way forward. Most people believe that once you reach the top, your workload lightens and you delegate everything else, but the most transformative leaders get into the weeds from time to time to coach team members on what is expected of them rather than telling them and simply managing. This is not to say that managing or being a people manager aren’t important, because they are. However, just because you manage a department or have a few direct reports, it does not automatically make you a leader. Individual contributors, on the other hand, may not have any direct reports, but their daily behaviors are consistent with those of a true leader who coaches others.
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 first thing to keep in mind is that what one company considers essential may not be at all relevant to another. Leadership and coaching effectiveness go beyond simply devoting time to the activity of coaching. Improving market performance and advancing the organization’s overarching mission must be top priorities and have the coaching support that. However, regardless of industry or company, there are a few areas that are absolutely critical.
- Make the effort. The most significant barrier I see that prevents most leaders from becoming successful coaches is a lack of time and prioritization. As stated in the question, coaching is today’s most important leadership initiative. I’ll be honest. It can be extremely difficult to spend time coaching team members, especially during a busy season, but the payoff and impact will be well worth it. The most effective coaching leaders schedule coaching sessions with their teams just like any other important meeting.
- Get to really know your people. It is extremely difficult to have productive coaching conversations if a leader does not have a deep understanding of their team members. This does not imply that you must be best friends with your coworkers, but you must understand what makes them tick, what their strengths are, what their goals and dreams are, and what their career trajectory plan is.
- Strong emotional intelligence. Strong emotional intelligence is a characteristic of all successful coaching leaders. Effective coaching requires the ability to read between the lines, recognize that different people respond to different coaching styles, and know how to bridge the gap between what a person wants and what they need. Strong emotional intelligence is also advantageous from an inward standpoint, as it allows you to fully understand yourself and how to avoid bad habits from the past in certain situations.
- Ask questions. Not only do great coaches ask more questions, but they also learn to ask better questions to stimulate the learning process of team members.
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?
One of my favorite things to do, and one that I share with many of the leaders I work with, is to lead with vulnerability. When it comes to coaching and inspiring, vulnerability is essential. Sharing personal examples of shortcomings or hardships as they relate to the topic of discussion is an easy way to put this into daily practice. When a leader leads with vulnerability, it not only humanizes the conversation but also puts the team member in a much better position to receive the message that you are hoping to convey. Another subtle but effective strategy is to link purpose to everything. Not only the organization’s purpose, but also the individual’s. Investing in upskilling and reskilling at work, for example, has an impact on us as men and women that extends into our personal lives as well as our leadership and the company.
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?”
1. Discover and then emphasize your strengths. Every leader and manager must not only do the difficult work of discovering their own strengths, but also put equal emphasis on assisting team members in discovering their own and then playing to those strengths on a daily basis. This does not necessarily imply ignoring areas of development or team members’ weaknesses, but the rigor and focus should be on maximizing strengths. I’ve seen many leaders and people managers over the years who believe that spending a lot of time working with team members on their weaknesses will really move the needle. In reality, the breakthrough often lies in focusing your time and energy on achieving extreme clarity on what your team members’ strengths are and how they can be lived consistently. Leadership and manager meetings should include a discussion about the importance of strengths. A touchpoint in new employee orientation should be asking new team members about their strengths. Finally, any coaching program or cadence should include a portion focused on developing and driving strengths on-the-job, with frequent communication.
2. Identify and record each step of the coaching process. Wishing you had more time to devote to coaching your team members is one thing, but actually putting together a plan and sharing it with them is something entirely different. One client, for instance, wanted to make sure that all people managers were coaching their direct reports and that the conversations they were having with their team members had a real impact on business performance. The senior leadership team worked with all people managers to develop a three-stage coaching process that was rolled out company-wide rather than just declared as an intention. Establishing a routine for when and how often coaching conversations would occur and what would be covered in those sessions proved to be immensely helpful.
3. Define expectations and communicate them. Not setting clear expectations for each team member is one of the most paralyzing factors that diminishes the effectiveness of leaders and managers as coaches. After a process has been developed for the coaching sessions that will take place, it is crucial to communicate the expectations to each individual team member in advance. The best football coaches I’ve ever had were those who were clear about what was expected during and between meetings and on the practice field. Sharing the top five non-negotiables for each coaching session is a practical way to implement this concept. An example would be that a coaching session that is scheduled on the calendar will be prioritized and adhered to in the same manner as an important client or customer meeting.
4. Be patient and continue to ask questions. A daily practice that has greatly benefited me during my own personal coaching sessions with executives is to remind myself to be patient and to keep asking questions. Coming out of the gate and trying to force conversations or a particular point that you are attempting to make is likely to fall short, especially at the beginning of any coaching journey. Being a great coach is about guiding people through a journey of self-discovery rather than managing people or taking a firm stand in the face of opposition. The only way to truly bring this to life is to be patient and continue to ask questions without passing judgment. It’s amazing what happens when a leader or manager is sincere in their approach and genuinely asks the right questions that guide the person to an unforced desired outcome.
5. Combine the personal and the professional. To be a successful coach in today’s environment, you must do more than limit coaching conversations to team members’ work lives. Every team member in an organization is, first and foremost, a human being with aspirations and a life outside of their current job. The more leaders and managers recognize this and leverage it to their advantage, the more effective they will be as coaches. The book The Dream Manager by Matthew Kelly is a good resource for better understanding the power of concept. This does not imply acting as a therapist at work, but rather getting to know the hopes and dreams of team members. What motivates them outside of the workplace? What are some of their interests and hobbies that will help you better understand who they are? Certainly, the answers to these questions are transferable to job performance and effective coaching conversations.
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?
Instead of assuming that what worked well twenty years ago will still work today, the first priority should be to recognize the changing dynamics of today’s workforce. You don’t have to like how the workforce has changed and continues to change over time, but failing to confront it leads to the same actions that have yielded minimal results in the past. After acknowledging the changing dynamics, all leaders and people managers must have a deep desire to understand what those changes are in their specific industry and where the future is headed. In terms of effectively coaching multi-generational workforces, I have found reverse mentoring to be extremely beneficial, as well as providing all employees with the opportunity to submit anonymous ideas and insights to the executive team on how to improve the company’s health and performance from their point of view. Rather than simply imposing a top-down narrative, providing a platform for all employees to share their ideas fosters an extraordinarily powerful collaborative 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?
Demonstrating a higher or deeper level of emotional intelligence does not have a five-step secret game plan for what to do. There is no secret formula other than doing the extremely difficult work of self-discovery and understanding where you currently stand. It is nearly impossible to demonstrate a higher level of emotional intelligence without a firm understanding of where you are. The problem is that if you ask a group of five leaders how their emotional intelligence is, you’ll most likely get five responses about how great it is. When asked the same question about their leader or manager, their direct reports respond completely differently. The gap between what the leader believes and how his or her team members perceive them is quite wide. Sending out an anonymous survey that serves almost as a self-360 analysis by asking team members pertinent questions about your emotional intelligence as a leader is a great way to jumpstart this process.
Words matter. And we’re collectively creating a new leadership language right now. What are the most important words for leaders to use now?
I wholeheartedly agree that words matter, but words followed by consistent actions matter even more. It is pointless to communicate the importance of empathy if the leader is the least empathetic person in the organization. To specifically answer the question about the new leadership language, a good place to start is with empathy, trust, mental health, inclusion, togetherness, one company, culture, personal and professional growth, and fulfillment.
I keep inspiring quotes on my desk. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote,” and why does it mean so much to you?
There are so many to choose from, but for the sake of time, I’ll share two that I keep on my desk. The first is from John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” This quote perfectly captures the essence of true leadership and what matters most. The second one is from George Bernard Shaw: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Others and the world may attempt to label us, but we are not required to listen. The magic of life is having the power to fully and completely take ownership and design the life we want.
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?
My website, mattmayberryonline.com, is a good place to start, and I’m also on all of the social media platforms.
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.