Self-Improvement: As we discussed earlier, one can only lead others where one has gone before. To guide others into improvement, one must first practice self-improvement. In full transparency, one of the challenges with my aforementioned past supervisor was that I lost respect for and desire to work with her. I did not see any signs or evidence that she was improving in her leadership, communication, and coaching skills.
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 Pepz.
Pepz, a Dominican-born multifaceted performing artist, keynote speaker, and life/career coach is on a mission to change the world. As an entertainer, Pepz has worked with globally recognized brands and artists, while establishing and running his successful coaching practice, Pep Talk with Pepz, that has seen clients find a greater sense of happiness, improved self-confidence, and exponentially multiplying their income. With over twelve years of Human Resources experience (NYU, Columbia University, Oaktree Capital Management, etc.) and his original and practical strategies and transformational concepts, his clients have yielded incredible and tangible results. Pepz inspires others to pursue their dreams, through his professional and personal accomplishments that are rooted in the belief that anything is possible.
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 were a few defining moments for me. One of the first moments that comes to mind was a seven-day personal development retreat I attended back in July 2020, which consisted of approximately 30 participants. On the third day, we were posed with a challenge of raising roughly $24,000 in the span of an hour amongst ourselves. Kathy was the leading facilitator that day and she gave us final instructions which stated, “whoever is the leader of leaders must step up and lead the group.” At the time, I was recently laid-off and was not even thinking about formally launching my coaching practice, “Pep Talk with Pepz.” However, when I heard Kathy say those words and saw some of my colleagues raise their hands, I felt compelled to walk up to the front of the class and stand next to her to claim my title. Then, Kathy proceeded to ask if anyone was opposed to me being the leader, but no one was. Long story short, I led our class to exceeding our goal with a few minutes to spare.
This day was a defining moment for me because I would often find myself in the leadership position unwillingly and on that day, I was consciously willing to lead. In the past, I thought of myself as a reluctant leader since I would often oversee individuals who in many areas were more accomplished and experienced than me. Primarily, I felt as if I did not possess the qualities and skills of a great leader. Yet, during that one hour, I was able to lead a group of 30+ individuals who I had only known for 3 days. I realized that not only did I have a lot of great qualities as a leader, but that I also possessed more knowledge and experience than I had ever given myself credit for. It also dawned on me that I had the natural abilities of connecting, uniting, and leading a diverse array of people in a profound manner. Fortunately, that one hour led me to reflect on other times, in which I had the privilege of leading several missions and groups.
Another instance that I remembered from that event, was my time as the HR Assistant at Good Shepherd Services, in NY. At the age of 23, Good Shepherd made me responsible for an internship program that operated amongst the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan through 14 different schools, and per year employed between 1300 and 1800 interns. When I took over that program, I created all of the HR and Payroll processes, manuals, trainings for both the interns and program administrators (i.e., school directors, assistant directors, payroll staff, etc.); while also establishing a chain of command and a very clearly defined process and timeline of how the program would be run once, I took over. The program when handed off to me consisted of each coordinator operating however, they wanted, thus leading to a lack of consistency and uniformity, students being paid late, and incorrectly submitted hiring/payroll documents. When I took over that program, I was very clear as to how I wanted the program to function like, what the workflow would be from the recruiting, hiring, onboarding, payment, and offboarding aspects of the program. Lastly, I knew that leadership often involves collaboration, so I was relentless with enrolling upper management to support me in enforcing these changes to the more senior employees. Therefore, I chose to tackle that problem head on for two reasons:
- Being the sole person to review and approve everything was not sustainable, out of compliance and unenjoyable based on having to do the following: be a point of contact for 14 different schools, roughly 28 different school program coordinators and at least 1300 interns, where every single person appeared to be “doing what they wanted.”
- It is my belief that leaders are visionaries. When I saw all the gaps and problem areas, I also saw an opportunity for myself. I saw an opportunity to create a better program for all (though many did not initially share that sentiment), an opportunity for me to elevate my role and myself, and to leave a legacy. Though it’s been 8 years since I left Good Shepherd Services, to this day many of my old coworkers will bring up how I single-handedly redesigned that program and some of the valuable insights they gathered from what I created.
Leadership requires a willingness to tackle incredibly complex problems, to be fearless, and to be relentless while remaining strategic and open. The seven-day retreat revealed to me that I was destined to be a leader who can solve challenging issues by establishing a clear vision, while inspiring others to carry out said vision.
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?
Well, that quote serves as a three-step process that is both linear and cyclical as to what leadership means to me. There’s this audio that I listen to routinely by Pastor T.D. Jakes called “The Ten Commandments of Effective Leadership”, in which, this audio from T.D. Jakes was inspired by John C. Maxwell. Between that quote by John C. Maxwell, T.D. Jakes, and my experiences, I learned to embody the characteristics of a leader while being mindful of what I say and teach.
Whether it is leading or coaching, I must first know the “way.” And the “way” meaning direction, strategy, mindset, etc. Leadership is not exclusively based on being a master in one specific area, but it does require the ability to know and/or learn the correct “way” one must traverse. The first commandment by T.D. Jakes is, “Thou shall not lead beyond your own exposure.” In other words, a true and effective leader must be able to do the following: see further and beyond what one is working on, who one is working with, and constantly expand one’s vision, knowledge, and skills. When I worked in Human Resources, I remember feeling as if some of my managers were not able to help develop me since they were limited by and focused on their own limited vision and short-term needs.” In the end, I learned the extent of one’s vision will dictate the extent of their skills, development, success, and subsequently, leadership abilities.
Secondly, going the “way” requires me to be willing to go first; so that I can validate via action and experience that my process of leading would work for others. Although there are so many “ways” to do something, not every approach is positive, impactful, effective, and efficient. I have been able to effectively help my clients achieve results, whether it was launching a new business, switching careers, or changing their belief system, because I have done those very same things for myself, while tracking my process to the most miniscule details. Tracking my process has allowed me to study, modify, teach, and show others how to do the same.”
Before showing others the “way”, I validated my “way” (a.k.a. strategies, beliefs, and processes) by applying them to various goals and areas of life. This helped me determine what works, what does not, what needs to be modified, what can be made well, and to understand how to teach these principles. This quote is so powerful because what a leader learns and does, must be able to impact others. I believe that if a person does not impact others whether by choice, being unaware, ineffective, regardless of how large their following may appear, they are not a leader. I can only lead by example with authority and confidence, if I have gone the way, done the work, walked the way, and ultimately, garnered results.
Thirdly, showing the way. Showing the way requires me to be available, supportive, and insightful while holding others capable and responsible to walk their own path. The beauty of being a great coach is that we are guides and teachers who are meant to educate others; this means we must bring forth the action(s) and commitment(s) out of others. Educate comes from the word educu, which means to draw out or bring out. Combining this psychology with leadership is so necessary because leadership can be confused with dictating others. Though, there may be moments where “telling somebody” what to do, may be the best course an action, a leader must be able to understand what each scenario and person requires to respond properly.
How do you define the differences between a leader as a manager and a leader as a coach?
Not sure if I would ever say leader as a manager and leader as a coach, because those could be three different positions and, in my experience, and usually are positions for three different people. With that said, I believe that management and coaching can be two different hats or skills a leader can and should utilize, depending on the goal.
To me a manager or management is predominantly responsible for the workflow of processes, accomplishing tasks, and utilizing tactics like instruction/dictation. And, it has been my experience that the purpose of a manager is to support the vision that was established by said leader or organization.
Leadership is a unique role and responsibility that draws on different sets of skills ranging from management, coaching, strategizing, and negotiating. When I stepped into my role as a leader, I learned that leadership would require me to be able to create, communicate, gain buy-in, and establish a vision that I would like to see a reality. Additionally, leadership demands the following: being responsible for producing results, guiding others as to how to do the same, employing a high degree of emotional intelligence, forecasting potential positive and negative scenarios, being the first to assume responsibility for all outcomes, creating the atmosphere for others to work in, and leading through others.
Coaching requires the proper heart-posture of being of service to help satisfy the needs of the student, while leading them through their goals and blind spots. Some of the biggest misconceptions throughout my career as a coach in several areas (career, confidence, mindset, etc.) is that I am supposed to have all the answers, give them the answers, or do the work for them. Coaching is neither one of those things. And as mentioned earlier, we are here to educate and bring out the best of our mentees. Yet, to be a great coach, one must be able to provide the following while still leading their mentees to positive results: clear guidance, being courageous to hold others accountable by providing thorough feedback, and knowing how to trigger and navigate a mentee’s resistance. Here are some of the skills that I utilize in coaching to teach my clients to become effective leaders, communicators, better spouses, make career transitions, practice forgiveness, and pay off debt (and more):
- Emotional intelligence
- Providing feedback
- Non-verbal communication
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?
For anyone to be a better and effective coach, one must know that coaching is meant to lead and to guide others to action and growth. This can include facilitation, training, asking questions, creating an environment where one can be inspired, accountability, taking responsibility and being held capable.
From my experience in Human Resources and in the direct sales industry, the leaders who were the best coaches displayed the following competencies regarding growth and action:
- Creating and sharing a deep and inspiring vision
- Emotional intelligence
- Evoke self-reflection and awareness
- Conflict Resolution
- Problem Solving/Strategy
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 think that saying is applicable in any arena, but I think it’s best to focus on the word “inspiration” to effectively answer this question. Motivation, at least for me, is an external force that can be provided or acquired through video, audios, visual cues, and many times other people. Zig Ziglar correctly stated that, “people often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing, that’s why we recommend it daily.” This is why it requires constant renewal of sorts. Whereas inspiration, which originates from the Latin meaning of “to breathe into “, signifies that it comes from within. Whether it is coaching private clients, an organization, a salesforce, or in my former career as a Human Resources leader, I could only lead others by having people connect to a compelling and deep why and/or set of desires where they can attach it to both their personal and professional goals.
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?”
In short, coaching somebody to their best way would involve really having them find “inspiration” in the manner we just discussed, while also guiding them through a process of self-discovery that is coupled with guidance and actionable steps.
Top 5 Ways That Leaders and Managers Can Be Effective Coaches:
- Differentiate: Differentiate between leadership, management, and coaching. Then gain feedback from one’s respective mentors/supervisors and their clients/reports in the following areas:
Do I show up more as a leader, coach, or manager?
What is my communication style? Am I typically understanding, do I listen well, am I clear while compassionate? Or am I unapproachable, intimidating, do I hear but do not listen, etc.
What would make me a more effective leader?
During one of my previous positions, I reported to a manager who did not respond well to her reports, including myself, especially if we voiced alternative opinions and feedback that was not positive. During my time reporting to her, I realized that one of the reasons why our relationship was tumultuous was because she lacked the experience in managing somebody who is naturally independent and with vastly more experience than she possessed. Additionally, in my experience, she was unable to effectively communicate any feedback or recommendations as to how I can improve, in regard to my performance in a way that I could understand. During several meetings, I expressed to her these concerns and how her micro-managerial style was creating a hostile environment, close to harassment. Upon escalating this matter to senior management, I learned that this feedback was already provided to her several times by others; yet this did not lead to positive improvement. Ultimately, the situation worsened, and I decided that the best course of action was to leave.
That experience taught me about ineffective styles and traits, that when used by those in positions of power and without any forward progression, will result in both toxic leadership and breed casualties such as employee morale, attrition, and production of results.
If one desires to be in a leadership role, it is important to get feedback and to learn from said feedback, so an individual can grow in their weak areas to become a more effective communicator and coach.
2. Self-Improvement: As we discussed earlier, one can only lead others where one has gone before. To guide others into improvement, one must first practice self-improvement. In full transparency, one of the challenges with my aforementioned past supervisor was that I lost respect for and desire to work with her. I did not see any signs or evidence that she was improving in her leadership, communication, and coaching skills.
In reference to my first point about differentiation, the purpose of differentiating a person’s natural style is to also learn their areas of improvement and seek the necessary resources (i.e. mentors, classes, literature, etc.) to improve.
The most common feedback I receive from my clients and why I have a close to 100% return ratio is because my clients know I live by what I coach and refuse anything but growth. Leadership requires movement, progression, and evolution in yourself first because no one will follow anyone that is stationary.
3. Share: One of the main purposes of leadership and coaching is to pay it forward. Sharing knowledge, opportunity, and time are some of the best ways of connecting and investing into others. Furthermore, when we share with others, we are forced to practice what we preach, refine our skills, and commit to our integrity on a deeper level.
During a session with my business coach, she mentioned how she was incredibly proud of me because what most coaches want is to, “see their clients coach others”, in order to pass generations of knowledge forward. To be an effective leader and coach, what has surprisingly helped me the most in growing and retaining my customer base is that I am unafraid and unapologetic in sharing everything that I know with my clients; because for me, the goal is that they will have the necessary knowledge and tools to eventually move on through life without me.
The best way of getting to know someone in the professional setting is by working with them in a collaborative capacity, so not only will you spend time together, but you will be able to get a first-hand insight as to their real-time thought processes and reactions. You can also provide them with more accurate and quicker feedback, instill greater confidence, and access to experiences that otherwise may not be as readily available to them in that moment.
One of the instances in which I benefited from this was in my first Human Resources jobs at New York University, when I was tasked with hiring my replacement after deciding to part ways. I had the best time working at NYU’s College of Dentistry because I was fortunate of the huge level of collaboration I experienced there. I am incredibly fortunate to have worked with and learned from so many incredible people in that department. I learned how to properly write an email, how to conduct myself professionally, design and organize events, and so many experiences that shaped the person I am today.
When hiring my replacement, I distinctly recall being asked to interview and present my hiring recommendations to the rest of the team; but at the time, I had no idea how to do any of those things. That experience sparked my interest in recruitment, which became my job for 6 years and more importantly, provided me with skills that I have utilized as an entertainer, coach, and in my personal life. Working with Gabby and Cheryl, my former supervisors (who I still keep in touch with to this day), taught me how to make strangers comfortable, how to ask detailed questions, how to read in between the lines, and a plethora of things!
5. Test & Evaluate
One of the crucial steps in measuring whether someone is an effective leader and/or coach is to allow one’s mentee the opportunity to apply what has been taught to them. In the sales industry, specifically in network marketing, many companies and distributors get a bad reputation because of the whole, “get rich quick scheme.” Part of why few people succeed massively financially is because there’s a huge difference between being a great salesperson and being a great trainer, via leadership and coaching. I am so grateful that I learned from strong performers in that industry who gave me opportunities to “mess it up.” Meaning, I was encouraged and allowed to conduct a sales call, host a training, etc. They were able to see what I did that worked, did not work, and what specific areas I needed more training on. Conversely, I had less opportunities in Human Resources to mess up after leaving New York University. For most companies, mistakes, especially in Human Resources, could lead to a loss of revenue, loss of talent, and/or potential legal and compliance regulations. Not to say mistakes are not costly in the sales industry (they can be), but usually, at least in the direct sales industry, there are seemingly less repercussions.
Now, that is an important factor to consider: How do we create a space for our mentees and employees to grow, when there is a need to produce positive results? How can we encourage discovery or simply “messing up” when the pressure to succeed can almost exclude such a notion?
Well ultimately, it comes down to a few things:
- Everybody makes mistakes: Normalizing mistakes and providing a learning curve for all employees is a must.
- Create an environment to practice: Whether it is learning how to conduct interviews, facilitate an HRIS implementation, conduct company-wide trainings, or even creating a website…providing a resource, such as simulated test environment, where one can put their skills to use without any repercussions, yet can be analyzed, reviewed, and improved upon will ameliorate stress, lead to greater confidence, and ultimately will drive results.
- Will there be instances where one must respond quickly without the opportunity to practice…absolutely. However, in those rare instances, there will usually be a person and/or resource(s) that can help combat unique and challenging situations; fortunately, those types of scenarios can become teachable moments. This brings me to my next point…
- Be a resource: Both leaders and coaches are frequently looked at as a wealth of knowledge and a ton of answers. Although no one may have “ALL’’ the answers, when we assume these roles, it is our responsibility to maintain a growth mindset. And whenever we are presented with an issue, question, or situation that we do not have the answers to, let alone our mentees, we must be the first to seek out the necessary knowledge and then serve as a resource to those looking to us.
Bonus Tips: Clarify and Course Correct
5. Whether I am coaching a client or hiring a consultant for a project, what has served me well in minimizing confusion and laying the groundwork for progress is always establishing and clarifying expectations as to what is the intended outcome, the workflow (including timelines) and the roles prior to beginning any work. I often end every session or meeting asking for any questions, for a recap of what was discussed, and a confirmation that we agree with all aforementioned items. This is critical in mitigating confusion and to more easily course-correct any potential deviations should they arise.
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?
What has served me well when coaching groups is that I remember how groups are made up of different individuals who possess different needs, goals, and characteristics that the coach needs to understand and utilize as best as possible. It is similar to a multi-generational organization where various generations have unique identifiers, interests, goals, and behavioral patterns. Though it is impossible to fully understand every single generation, becoming familiar with their drives, motives, and common behaviors and values will allow leaders to better relate, communicate, guide, and lead.
Activating the collective potential of a multi-generational workforce, in my opinion, is going to come down to three main facets:
- Establishing an invigorating and clear vision for all.
- Evoking a deep desire, within the individual and collective, to realize this vision based on their core values and identifiers.
- Employing various tactics (i.e., strategy, negotiation, effective communication, and emotional intelligence), to lead others into a space of action and discovery.
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?
This may sound simple, but the practice of it can be challenging:
- Listen to understand not to agree or disagree.
- From my studies of human behavior and communication, the two most common ways of listening employed by most are either to agree or to challenge; yet this diminishes the space to build genuine connection built on understanding and empathy. As a coach, one of the benefits that I receive is that I practice this multiple times a day and almost every day of my life. Whether or not my response reaffirms or challenges my client’s beliefs or statements, I am usually always able to understand what contributed to their reasoning, their emotional state, and subsequent actions…and from there I can better lead and coach them. Listening to understand is a practice that I have carried into my personal life to achieve success, because it has diminished misunderstandings, drama, and preserved and improved relationships.
- Practice and continually develop greater self-awareness.
This is incredibly critical, especially when one decides to be responsible for the progress of others, whether via coaching, leadership, and management. Studies have pointed at the leadership contagion phenomena, which states that employees are affected and infected by the emotional state of those that they report to. Practicing self-awareness through a personal development routine and curriculum should be a must-have for anybody serving as a leader in any capacity. This is in part because we usually set the tone for one’s productivity and effectiveness, which is impacted by the emotional and mental environment us leaders create. In other words, as leaders, we are responsible for creating an environment for others to thrive in.
One of the unfortunate realities of working in Human Resources is that, quite frequently, it aims to service the needs of the organization, which are not necessarily the needs of the employees. According to the Harvard Business Review, “people leave their jobs because they don’t like their boss, don’t see opportunities for promotion or growth, or are offered a better gig.” This alludes to the fact that many may leave since they do not feel appropriately valued by their workplace. And the first resource an employee should have, to safely voice their concerns, is their direct supervisor. The second resource should be Human Resources. However, the reality is that anywhere between 57% and 80% of employees dislike and/or do not trust their supervisors and roughly 47% of employees, according to Forbes, distrust Human Resources. Additionally, the majority of the reason’s employees dislike their bosses (including supervisors, senior management, and Human Resources) were due to seemingly personal/emotional violations that occurred in a professional setting. Meaning, that most of the time, a boss was disliked not because they were not proficient in the technical aspects of their jobs, but because of their behavior, demeanor, and/or mindset.
Words matter. And we’re collectively creating a new leadership language right now. What are the most important words for leaders to use now?
This is a great question. At the moment, I am having a difficult time in identifying words leaders may benefit from using, especially as this may be contingent on the situation, but I can identify words leaders may benefit from avoiding.
Words such as stupid, foolish, wrong, inept, lazy
I think that leaders and coaches may benefit from expressing their opinions and feedback in very specific ways as opposed to just words/statements. Examples I recommend are as follows:
“In my experience, I have seen _______ work/not work. What do you think of that?”
“I do not want to operate on any of my assumptions, would you please be able to clarify _____ for me?”
“What was your intention/What do you mean by that?”
Asking questions for clarification, clearly stating one’s perspective, as just that a perspective and not a fact, will go a long way in creating a greater and more open dialogue.
I keep inspiring quotes on my desk. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote,” and why does it mean so much to you?
I’m glad I can answer this question because I love quotes. If I may, I want to share two quotes that I feel are most appropriate.
“Always leave things better than you found them…especially people” by Dr. Henry Cloud.
“I always wanted to be someone better the next day than I was the day before” by Sidney Poitier.
Those two quotes inspire me in becoming a better person daily for two reasons: for others and for myself. And it’s important that I clarify; I can work on myself from the perspective of, “not being good enough” or from the perspective of, “I am good enough and I deserve to keep growing. This distinction is one of the most powerful distinctions I ever made because nobody is perfect, and nobody is ever “finished” when it comes to growth. This is why developing self-awareness, following a personal development practice, and practicing grace for oneself and for others is so important. Furthermore, we are supposed to be met with challenges and opportunities that are meant to stretch us on a daily basis. Thus, choosing to realize and accept that who I am right now, is worthy of more, only facilitates my journey and eventually the journey of others.
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?
The best ways would be via my website www.gettoyournextlevel.com and Instagram: @pepz_javier | @Peptalkwithpepz.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!