Balance your coaching efforts — It’s prevalent to focus on coaching the needs of improvement, but we often overlook positive coaching. When an employee does exceptionally well, reinforcement coaching and recognition are great ways to continue fostering this good behavior.

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 Megan Walsh.

Megan Walsh is a learning & development professional with a strong leadership background and a proven track record of leading teams to success. She specializes in leadership training and is currently developing a tool to help companies take their team to the top.

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?

Leadership is more than a title and a list of people who report to you. More so, it’s about the people you develop and inspire to do better. Ironically, the moment that shaped me as a leader was when I jumped from being in a leadership role and went into the learning & development space. When I was in a leadership role, my team consistently exceeded KPIs. Everyone always asked me, “what’s your secret?” My answer: coaching. Coaching was my secret sauce, and I love sharing my experience and training other leaders so they can see the same results.

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?

Leading by example means fully backing up the vision in every way, shape, and form. I witnessed a great example of this. I had the opportunity to create a consultative selling program for the sales department. The leadership team knew this was the best approach and participated in all workshops to demonstrate their commitment. The sales director also ensured that all other pieces of our process aligned with what we covered in the course. With full support from all angles, the program was a success.

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

The most significant difference is that managers focus on the outcome, and coaches focus on the behavior that produces the outcome. So let’s say your team needs to hit a specific KPI. A leader as a manager will typically go into what I call “notification mode” and consistently tell the team the number that needs to be hit. But how do you hit the number? What needs to be done to get there? A leader as a coach is someone who uncovers the skills and techniques required to achieve the goal and knows how to empower the team to follow suit. Through consistency of coaching to those actions, that’s when you see results.

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?

Empathy, communication, problem-solving, and creativity. Employees are people, and without emotional intelligence and compassion, making an impact will be challenging. This goes hand in hand with communication- how you communicate with your team is critical to how your team will view you. It’s not what you bring to the table. It’s what your team sees you bring to the table. Being an effective leader and a coach means understanding where each individual stands in their career — knowing their strengths and weaknesses and using your creativity to create a game plan for them.

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?

Investing in the ongoing development of your team is a massive part of being a leader. Essentially there are two benefits. On the one hand, when your employees see that you genuinely care about their career growth, this will improve your company culture. The second benefit is that you’ll naturally see a lift in performance if you’re consistent with skill development and follow-up coaching. In my experience, by conducting ongoing workshops and upskill training, you will see an increase in performance, lower attrition, and higher employee satisfaction.

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?”

My top 5 ways leaders can be effective coaches

  1. Create a coaching model. All companies should have a model outlining their coaching expectations for their leadership team. In the same way, a sales department should have a sales model outlining each stage of the sales process- it is also beneficial to outline each step of the coaching process. This is critical to keep everyone on the same page. If your company doesn’t have a coaching model, this is a perfect opportunity to create one and use that as the reason to roll out leadership training.
  2. Identify skill vs. will — When providing coaching, it’s always good to research first and identify if the employee is experiencing a knowledge/skill gap or a motivational/will gap. Once identified, you can tailor your coaching efforts accordingly. When you spend your day-to-day coaching brand new fresh new hires, and then you have a set of tenured employees, you want to make sure you take the time to fulfill this step.
  3. Build your bench — Always coach your next leaders and offer continuous development driven towards the next step in their career. Don’t just coach to the present, coach to the future. That way, when it’s time for them to step into a leadership role, they already have the foundational coaching skills needed to make a meaningful impact. As a senior corporate trainer, this is one of my favorite pieces to focus on. To accomplish this, I create and facilitate future leaders’ workshops, which allow the learners to practice these skills hands-on by role-playing mock one-on-one coaching and developing solutions to different scenarios.
  4. Balance your coaching efforts — It’s prevalent to focus on coaching the needs of improvement, but we often overlook positive coaching. When an employee does exceptionally well, reinforcement coaching and recognition are great ways to continue fostering this good behavior.
  5. Document and follow up — All coaching efforts should always be documented and referenced when following up. Something that always worked for me when coaching someone is to ask them for their commitment. Whatever they gave me is what I would document and follow up on. So if they said they were going to do x,y and z every day until the end of the month, I could hold them accountable for their commitment. Not meeting goals/expectations we make ourselves is much different from not meeting goals/expectations set by others.

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?

It’s crucial to custom-tailor your coaching — everyone interprets information differently. In my experience, we need to spend less time analyzing generational trends and more time just getting to know our employees at an individual level. When I ran a team with very large age gaps, what worked for me, is I utilized used one-on-ones to understand how they wanted to be coached rather than going off how I thought they would like to be coached.

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?

To demonstrate emotional intelligence: listen more and adapt to each circumstance. Emotional intelligence goes beyond controlling our emotions during difficult situations. Other than holding composure, I think it’s essential to understand how powerful empathy and excitement can be. Although these are two opposite elements, they both play a huge role. All companies go through ups and downs/ highs and lows. During the highs, it’s easy to say a quick “good job! Let’s keep it up!” But this is a perfect coaching opportunity. Show your team that you are genuinely excited to see their wins, then provide positive reinforcement coaching and break down the success with your team. Why is it that you’re performing so well? What actions are you taking that are creating your results? During the lows, it’s important to remember that you are not the only one who wants to be at goal. Mark Nachman, a mentor of mine, used always to say, “no one wakes up in the morning and says, hey, I think I’m going to do bad at my job today.” Everyone naturally wants to try their best and do good work. Using empathy during this time is critical. Let them know that you understand they are also feeling a bit down by not hitting the goal, then create a solution together.

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

The first words that come to mind are “let’s try..” this is a great way to introduce new methods. Beginning with, “let’s try doing it this way…” is a reminder that nothing is permanent, and it’s not something you are demanding them to follow, but instead, a collaborative experience. Some other phrases that I use are things like “I love that! That’s awesome!” Whatever your personality is, I think it’s essential for leaders to let that shine through. If your team sees that you are passionate about what you’re doing, it’s easier for them to get passionate about what they’re doing.

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

“Control the controllable.” I love this saying because, the way I see it, there are only two types of challenges you will ever face; ones you can control and ones you can’t. If you spend your energy or time on the ones you can’t manage, you won’t see any growth, and you’re removing yourself from the spaces you can make an impact in.

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?

Follow me or message me on LinkedIn Megan Walsh | LinkedIn

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