Be present and listen to your team’s concerns and challenges. Be open and vulnerable in your response, and let the team know you’re there for them as a resource. When you see someone down, pick them up. When someone is up, raise them up even higher.
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 Matthew Carrara.
Matthew Carrara is President of Doble Engineering and ESCO Utility Solutions Group (USG) and leads Doble’s vision and growth strategy. He has over thirty years of experience across the process control, measurement and materials properties analysis industries and most recently served as Vice President of Process Analyzers and Instrumentation at Schneider Electric. Matthew is passionate about mentorship and driving transformational change for the future of power and utilities.
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 the opportunity to share my insights. The defining moment for me in my leadership journey was getting to a place of truly being myself. Over the course of my career, I’d approach various interviews with the intention of behaving like the person I thought the company wanted me to be. That can be a difficult persona to carry and stemmed from advice I received early on that in order to get to the president level, you need an executive presence. But what does “executive presence” actually mean? That was never clearly defined for me.
When I began interviewing for the role of Doble’s President, I went in unabashedly as myself. Culture and management style is important to me, so I wanted to make it clear that the person they were interviewing would be the person they would get to know day in and day out — and they liked what they saw. Had I had this defining moment earlier on, maybe my career trajectory would’ve taken a different turn. If I could go back and give advice to a younger version of myself, I would emphasize that being authentically yourself is invaluable.
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?
To me, leadership is all about empowerment. I am not into micromanagement — I like to provide my team with the tools and resources they need to do their jobs. Creating a sense of team is essential. I continuously evaluate how I can help highlight an employee’s best skill set and then encourage them to do more of it.
At Doble, we have a fantastic team of experts, and I trust them as such. Leaning on each other will help us all achieve more, and I am a firm believer that I got to where I am today with a combination of hard work, skill, a bit of luck; but mostly the incredible talented teams with which I have the opportunity to work with over the years.
How do you define the differences between a leader as a manager and a leader as a coach?
In my opinion, when you’re a coach, you incorporate mentoring into your style of leadership. A coach sees their team members trying to work their way up through an organization and gives them the necessary tools and direction to do so.
I once had a boss tell me, “It’s my job to make you a President, whether it’s here or somewhere else.” That statement exemplifies what being a coach means to me. If you coach someone well and they progress as you intend them to, at some point you will have to let them go. If an employee acknowledges that is some small way I may have contributed to their growth, then I have done my job as a leader.
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?
First and foremost, leaders can become better coaches by practicing humility. Though we may not like to admit it, at the end of the day, we all have our shortcomings. When you’re able to look at yourself in the mirror and acknowledge the struggles you have been through, it’s easier to translate those struggles into learned experiences. And then you are more equipped to understand your employees’ struggles and have the know-how to say “I have been through this. Here is how I persevered, and here is how I can help you get through it.”
Listening is equally as valuable as practicing humility. When I first started at Doble, I told my team, I wanted to just listen for the first 30 days to really understand the culture and how the team operated. Being a coach isn’t always about making the big decisions — it’s about hearing the opinions of the team and facilitating an open dialogue.
Lastly, being open, vulnerable, and willing to share your learned experiences with others is what will help a manager become a great coach. We can all learn so much from each other, and sharing what you have gone through will ultimately help others navigate their own experiences.
When a manager takes the time to hone these three essential skills, they can better understand their employees wants and needs, and coach them to be the best version of themselves.
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’m a firm believer in this adage. My management style is probably “flatter” than most, as I believe we’re all working together as a team. When I need to be “president” and make important business decisions, I can do that, but there are also times I need to step back, be a “coach” and encourage people to be the best version of themselves. The key is understanding the dynamic of the team and knowing when you need to step into one role versus the other.
I’d also like to mention that it’s never too late to learn a new skill, take on a new task or improve yourself in some way. I graduated with my undergrad degree in 1988 and went on to receive my master’s degree over 20 years later. I’m still learning about myself and the people I work with each day, and that’s what makes being a leader and a coach so exciting.
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?”
- Be empathetic to your team’s plights. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself what you can do to help them through what they may be struggling with. Acknowledge that sometimes, things don’t go as planned, but emphasize that this too shall pass — both in good times and bad.
- Be present and listen to your team’s concerns and challenges. Be open and vulnerable in your response, and let the team know you’re there for them as a resource. When you see someone down, pick them up. When someone is up, raise them up even higher.
- Understand what matters most to the employee. Find out what gets your team out of bed in the morning — what makes them tick. For some it’s money, for others it’s a pat on the back. Not everyone can be coached the same way. When you understand the individual DNA of your team and you know how to motivate each member individually, you will see them thrive.
- Focus on providing insights — the a-ha moments. Coaching by example and highlighting the positive will stand out to your team. If something goes wrong, don’t place blame on an individual and deal with those tough conversations one on one. An effective way to lead is focusing on how the team is working together as a whole, rather than calling out individual components.
- Help them realize their potential. The root of this to me is about transformation of the individual and allowing them to feel empowered to make decisions and drive performance. At the end of the day, if I’m focused on managing instead of leading or coaching, I may miss out on great ideas from my team. It is my goal to bring out the best in those I coach.
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 a multi-generational workforce, I feel it’s most important to focus on the individuals themselves, rather than broadly characterizing the generation they’re apart of. When you take the sum of individuals, you can then focus on what makes these generations similar, rather than different. Understanding the desires of new employees, regardless of their age, will make leaders great coaches. Finding out what attracts employees to your company, and what makes them want to remain there is the most important aspect of a successful leader.
Additionally, I think a huge part of managing a multi-generational workforce is considering the time period we’re working in. Millennials are evolving the way we view work, with increased remote capabilities and other flexibility benefits. When we view the workforce, we tend to lump generations together because we think it’s easier to understand and explain them that way, but not everyone is the same. I know many people in older generations who prefer a remote work set up, and many younger generations who prefer the opposite. Generations are not a one-size-fits-all; taking the individuals into account is key to effective coaching.
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?
We touched on this a bit before, but I believe the first step leaders can take is being vulnerable. Too many leaders tend to forget what they went through and where they came from. Many will push their vulnerabilities to the side because they feel they’re viewed as weaknesses. Being aware of your weaknesses and not being afraid to admit to them will reveal a level of openness that your team will respect and relate to. We’re all human, and we all go through similar struggles.
The second step is showing interest in your team — both on a personal and professional level. Let them know that you’re more than just their manager, but someone they can rely on to share news, good or bad, and come to with any problems or concerns. Rely on your team the way they rely on you and listen to what they have to say.
Words matter. And we’re collectively creating a new leadership language right now. What are the most important words for leaders to use now?
As leaders, we must shift away from the typical “yes” or “no” answers and instead respond to employees with “what if,” “why not” and “what do you think?”. When employees come to you for assistance and leadership, encourage them to think more deeply and guide them to the right answer versus telling them. Involving teams in real-time problem solving encourages them to look ahead, rather than looking backwards.
I keep inspiring quotes on my desk. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote,” and why does it mean so much to you?
A quote that really resonates with me is, “Never make yourself smaller because your organization won’t allow you to become bigger.” Before coming to Doble, I knew my former role was going to change over time and I had to decide if I wanted to see that evolution through, or if I wanted to challenge myself and move on. When I heard this quote, I was impacted in such a way that I understood what I needed to do; that to grow in both a personal and professional way, I needed to expand my horizons and take chances. I would say it worked out well!
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 welcome folks to connect with me on LinkedIn. I love sharing new trends I’m seeing in leadership, mentoring and the workforce. Please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Thank you for sharing your insights. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.