Everyone talks about being agile and being innovative but a core component is failure sharing and allowing for a culture of trying and learning without any fear of repercussions.

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 Raj Hayer.

A professional speaker and moderator, Raj Hayer is also CEO and founder of TinyBox Academy and co-founder of Mayfly Maven. She is a TEDx speaker and award-winning strategy expert (Global Executive MBA, GEMBA, BCom, PMP & MSA) with over 30 years of experience in business management and leadership coaching.

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?

Working for each and every leader over time has contributed to who I am as a leader.

From the “I hope I never treat people like that” to “I hope I can inspire people like they do,” I have experienced every type of leadership.

If I had to choose one defining moment, it was when I was 16 and a swing manager at McDonald’s restaurants.

My leader saw me being treated poorly by a customer and not even knowing why they were treating me that way, he approached, calmed the situation and made amends, but never once allowed them to continue talking to me in a derogatory way and always had my back.

That loyalty and integrity in protecting employees and/or colleagues continues to stay with me and I will always place myself between a protagonist and my employees or colleagues as that is my first role, to protect those I 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?

I never operate against my values or beliefs and nor do I ask my team or colleagues to work against their values or beliefs. And most importantly, I communicate along the entire process, from sharing vision to walking the talk.

Full transparency builds trust, and culture should be the embodiment of trust.

After sharing the vision of the future of the company, I lay out the goals we want to achieve, as well as a map and plan of how I would like to get there.

Going and showing are hand in hand to me, I never ask anyone who works with (and for) me to do anything that I am not willing to do myself. In fact I often test procedures and processes before I share them.

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

A leader as a manager must manage resources to meet budgets, goals and outcomes, taking disciplinary responsibility for employees.

A leader as a coach strives to inspire and aspires to bring out the best in their people through influence and walking the talk, though maybe not necessarily having disciplinary responsibility so that they can keep a level of distance between being “a boss” and being “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?

One huge gap I see constantly is the lack of self-awareness in leaders who are trying to coach others.

If we do not know our own strengths and weaknesses, our own personality traits, our own skills, then how can we possibly convince others to listen to us?

During an all hands meeting, I once had a leader put up a board. He asked everyone to grab a sticker and place it at the level that they felt satisfied and motivated that day. Then he proceeded to talk during the entirety of the “all hands” meeting, referring repeatedly to the board and how happy and motivated everyone clearly was.

Only one problem. They lied.

They were being watched as they placed their stickers and understood they may be singled out if they indicated they were not happy.

He had not built up trust, integrity or loyalty and could not see past his own ego to determine if his staff were actually happy and motivated.

Through the lack of self-awareness, he had no idea that he had shut down anyone who tried to share ideas at this “all hands” meeting.

By understanding ourselves first, our own motivators and preferences help us to use tools and understand others on a more than superficial level and we can be a well-rounded leader that coaches others in a balanced way.

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?

In my experience, allowing leaders to self-discover and merely leading them to the realisation is the key to motivating them intrinsically.

The same way I used to gain buy-in in project management, I try to gain buy-in for ideas by leading them to an answer rather than providing the answer.

Conducting my mastermind sessions, I can be the boot (hold them accountable) and the cheerleader (spur them on).

  1. Boot — Set goals and hold them accountable to those goals, give support and advice as needed.
  2. Honey — Help them define their vision, the steps and encouragement they need to reach it.

Through this method, one woman discovered her own power and resolved a long-running conflict with a business partner, and now owns 100% of her business.

Another wanted to start a new sustainability focused eco-lodge and through a sharing of networks and insights, they have been able to take the first steps towards that.

One individual started to write their book immediately after our goal-setting workshops, realising that consistent action and commitment takes her one step closer daily.

Each of these success stories wouldn’t develop this way without listening, reflecting back, and providing support as needed.

Leaders must invest in lifelong learning in their own upskilling and reskilling, especially when it comes to people management.

People management is often executed with a one brush paints them all approach, when it requires a much more individualistic approach of understanding.

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?”

Top five ways that leaders and managers can be effective coaches:

1. Build trust through transparency so they will buy-in to your expertise and advice.

To be an effective coach, first and foremost we must build a culture of trust, by communicating transparently about what is happening in the company or business.

Through one of my companies, Mayfly Maven, we support entrepreneurs and business women and men to make their dream goal a reality.

Sharing my own journeys and experiences during our retreats increases the ability for others and enables them to be vulnerable and feel it is a safe space for sharing their own trials and tribulations.

During one of our exercises we covered the network matrix. The tool helps us uncover where and how to spend our energy and effort when it comes to the colleagues and business contacts in our lives.

By being transparent and sharing the conflict I had a year previously, sharing details, sharing my feelings about the incident and of course how I resolved it, it enabled others to feel they could share their difficult stories.

2. Rather than telling employees what to do, guide them to the solution to increase buy-in and commitment to the goal as well as learning from others.

I can speak about Social leadership and I can share my knowledge on how to identify and share their leadership brand and value proposition online, but it is better to lead them to their conclusions about themselves by starting with their stories and then why their stories can impact others.

Start by interviewing them, asking them questions, get them talking about themselves in context of what you want them to do.

In my case that is starting with their story, what they are passionate about, what they care about, the moments they felt pride in their lives and then linking that to their personal brand.

Then make the connections to the journey or purpose and why it matters, and they will believe in that purpose themselves and fight to achieve the end goal. By connecting their story and their pride to social leadership, it enables a more fruitful and effective buy-in to their social leadership journey.

3. Informal feedback goes a long way to continuous improvement

When I lead my Mastermind sessions, the group contributes. It takes a leader to know that they might not necessarily be the only one with sound advice to give.

I have discovered that the most impactful feedback is not only from the manager, but from co-workers, colleagues, internal and external customers. 360 degree feedback is helpful for identifying development points and also takes pressure off the manager by giving proof points and evidence for improvement.

Also, giving regular and frequent feedback does not mean unnecessary and lengthy meetings are required, and positive feedback in Post-it notes on the desk can also go a long way.

4. Do not allow complacency and acceptance but rather give growth and stretch goals with a deeper understanding

I once completed the Motiv Structure Analysis (MSA) for a VP leading 240 people.

With just one of the 18 paradigms I could pinpoint he lost energy when having disciplinary responsibility for the people he led, yet here he was leading 240 people and miserable.

He decided to step down from that role and focused instead on coaching/influencing/inspiring the people instead. He was much happier and much better at his job.

Instead of accepting that every promotion came with people management, he took on a growth task (a demotion), and accepted a stretch goal to learn how to better influence people.

Understanding his own intrinsic motivators allowed him to take on a role he really loved and was good at.

5. Ask employees for opinions and then actually listen to encourage ideation and innovation, allowing for failure and learnings

Everyone talks about being agile and being innovative but a core component is failure sharing and allowing for a culture of trying and learning without any fear of repercussions.

Being selective in which areas you can afford to test and learn and take a page from Google when some of their most innovative products came from the 20% “work on your own ideas” day that they allowed their employees.

Diversity of opinion and differing perspectives really change the ability to deliver superior results.

In the past, a customer experience project I managed was only able to develop because of the team. We embarked on a Kaizen event and mapped the whole process from start to finish, eliminating unnecessary processes and reviewing it from all perspectives, openly discussing the ins and outs of each element.

In the end we reduced the process steps by 60% with the customer’s front of mind always asking: “Will the customer pay for this?”

We also had buy-in from the whole team who, even when they disagreed, listened intently and continued to ideate, went with majority and continued until we had a great solution.

Great employees have great ideas but rarely do they actually get to share them. So much confidence was built from that one workshop with a tangible outcome and deliverable.

Trust your people.

Other than that — We must always be positive, enthusiastic and respect your people… Reduce reactions by maintaining your own balance so you can lead by example.

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?

In my opinion, the biggest barrier to leverage generational diversity is a lack of education and failing to establish respectful relationships between the workforce and team so they can communicate effectively to reduce misunderstandings.

Again, building trust cannot be understated. A mutual understanding of each other’s differences and where and how they can be leveraged.

By understanding where the teammates compliment each other, you can strategically place different generations together and by giving all of them equal support and opportunities, minimise the feeling of being ignored or favoured.

In the end we all want to add value and feel valued. A great leader can manage to achieve both.

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?

EQi is only possible if the leader understands and manages their own emotions, in a positive and proactive manner.

Having accomplished those two steps to demonstrate a higher level of emotional intelligence they must have excellent communication capabilities and exhibit empathy to encourage connection and diffuse conflict.

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

Social leadership. Leaders are expected to be the face of change. Social Leadership is meaningful and innovative leadership that sets the expectations for how you will lead: What do you believe in? What are your values? What do you represent?

And how you are perceived by others: Should they follow you? Do they trust you?

Social leadership is a core factor in building trust and vital relationships across the stakeholder ecosystem. It comprises three core tenets that represent who you are, what you believe in, and how you interact with people:

Social representation is the currency of trust. Sharing your system of values, ideas, and beliefs orients how you operate with your stakeholders and within communities. When your values align clearly with your company’s activities, you can provide the transparency that will set you apart.

Social responsibility is a customer expectation. Customers expect you to care about the ethical impacts of your business actions on the whole of society, such as economic growth or environmental impact.

Stakeholders believe leadership should be personally visible and speak publicly about controversial social and political issues they care about.

Social participation is a human prerogative. Participation in society and social engagement requires being visible where your stakeholders are. By owning your authentic voice and diversity, you can control your narrative and engage in important conversations and influence dialogue on important topics thereby increasing your own impact. Being active on social media such as LinkedIn increases the opportunity to interact and engage with clients, employees, and peers.

Every one of these influence the development of technology trends and innovations taking place worldwide, social leadership ensures you are part of the conversation.

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

“Everything is a choice.”

How we show up at work is a choice. How we decide to treat other people is a choice. If everything is a choice, then that means we are really powerful and we have complete control over our lives.

Isn’t that wonderful?!

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?


Thank you for sharing your insights. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.