DON’T SOLVE THE PROBLEMS but teach the coachee to identify the solutions themselves. The old adage of teaching a man how to fish instead of giving him a fish applies here. People learn when they’re given the opportunity to try things!

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 changing how we coach and rethinking our 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 Meghan Hall.

Megan Hall has been a people-first leader for over 20 years, making her start in HR before heading back to school for her MBA and moving into Operations Leadership. Megan’s a big believer in kindness, gratitude and appreciation, so joining Dan Silivestru and Pj Lowe as a late founder at Chocolate Soup was a natural fit. The business focuses on employee recognition, where Megan gets to design and source unique gifts to show employees how much their leaders appreciate them. Spending her days gift shopping and designing custom Lego kits is a pretty fabulous work life!

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?

After my first year of full-time work following graduation, I found myself in a situation where my VP was let go, and I was thrust into a leadership role for the rest of my small HR team with no notice. Almost immediately, I was thrown into a few situations where I had to make a hard choice — follow the policies that were in place, or flex to accommodate some challenging circumstances for a few employees. I chose the more human response and have never acted differently since that time.

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, “knows the way” is about vision and ensuring one is in place. “Goes the way” means making decisions and acting in accordance with the vision. These leaders behave with integrity and do what they say they’ll do. “Shows the way” is communicating to ensure everyone on the team understands the vision and what it means for their roles.

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

A manager shows you how to do something. A coach guides you to find the way to do something on your own

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?

Listening skills — particularly “listening” to non-verbal cues — can tell you when someone has strong feelings about something but not yet sharing them. Creating space for everyone to receive information, process it, and provide their thoughts best is also critical. Great coaches can also give and receive feedback directly, openly, and with positive intent. It’s essential to separate your ideas from the coachee’s actions — knowing that as a coach, you can offer suggestions sometimes but are not responsible for the action or outcome. You need to separate your feelings from whatever the coachee decides to do.

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?

Storytelling is a big one here — sharing examples of what great leaders have done in recent history to spark some interest in others to try to change. As a coach, I’m lucky to engage with people who WANT to invest in themselves, so I feel a little biased in saying that I don’t have to mandate change most of the time. Leaders must demonstrate through action by investing in upskilling and talking about it freely and transparently. It can remove the stigma of getting help or admitting they don’t know something.

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?”

Everyone can do great work. Understanding why someone is doing the work they are doing is vital in helping them find the motivation to do their best — so digging in as a coach to get to the root of their why and connect that to the work that needs doing is the best way to get the most of your coachee.

Top 5 Ways to be an effective coach:

  1. Create regular space for conversation — schedule it and don’t cancel it (I’ve had many leaders who cancel planned 1:1s last minute, saying they don’t have anything to discuss — not a great feeling).
  2. Don’t overbook the meeting with topics yourself. Give plenty of space for the coachee to bring their thoughts and ideas. Just because the leader doesn’t have something to discuss doesn’t mean the employee doesn’t!
  3. Actively listen — ask questions, and use “tell me more’” to draw out the depth of the topic.
  4. Make the concept of coaching a normal thing — reward the behaviours and attitudes you want towards coaching. When you “catch” someone coaching their peer or employee, let them know you saw and appreciated it!
  5. DON’T SOLVE THE PROBLEMS but teach the coachee to identify the solutions themselves. The old adage of teaching a man how to fish instead of giving him a fish applies here. People learn when they’re given the opportunity to try things!

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?

Honestly, ignore the age and the stereotypes that go along with it. Give people the benefit of the doubt that they’re in the role for a good reason, trust them to know what they’re doing and give them the space to come to you with things they are blocked or challenged on, then offer the coaching to find their way through it.

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?

First, in an emotionally charged situation, take a 10-second pause to assess your emotions before responding to anything. Count to 10 and say nothing until you’re done. This has saved me so many times in moments of frustration or even anger about something that has occurred.

Second, be transparent with their emotions in appropriate situations. Make it OK to talk about feelings, be vulnerable, and be human. After that 10-second pause, let people know what you’re feeling! It’s OK to say, “you know what, I’m frustrated right now, so I think it’s best if we take a break and come back to this when I can respond with more objectivity,” or “I’m having a tough day today for personal reasons, I’d just like you to know that so you don’t interpret my emotional response as something you’ve created.” We’re all human, and it is more than OK to show that!

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

“How are you? (“fine,” “good,” or some other non-response). No, how are you?”

“Tell me more.”

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

Give them an A, and they will live into it…give them a C, and they will always be a C (from The Art of Possibility). I learned in school not to trust other students’ work in group work, often redoing the job or taking on too many tasks myself because I thought I could do it better. It’s taken a long time for me to unlearn that and apply trust to coworkers and employees right from the start. This relates to my statement above that everyone is capable of great work. Believe that, trust in it right up front, and they’ll often exceed those expectations! But if you expect them to fail, they probably will.

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 share things that I find inspiring on Twitter and Instagram — @dundeemegs on both!

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