Learn to move smoothly from big picture to detail and back again. This helps leaders and managers to understand events and behaviours from a variety of angles.

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 Rebecca Bonnington.

Rebecca is the CEO and Founder of Tricres. She’s the business coaches coach. She trains business coaches and consultants in the Tricres Kick Ass Culture methodology.

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?

I’d got it so horribly wrong when I was a young leader. I’d been thrown into a leadership role without support or guidance. I’d received some formal training, but literally half a day and it mainly focused on performance management. My team weren’t responding to me and at the tender age of 24, I had no idea how to handle the 32 year old with two kids sat in front of me. She was seeking support from me and I had nothing to give her. No experience to draw upon, no guidance and no tools in my toolkit. I handled things so badly, I made her cry.

From that point onwards, I made it my mission to avoid leading anyone. When I set my first business up in 1999 though, that had to change so I purposefully went out and spoke to as many leaders as I could about what they did. That’s where my true leadership journey began.

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 talk a lot. I think a lot and I write ideas down when they come to me and share them with the relevant people. I lead at pace and take regular breaks and encourage my team to do the same. We get together once a year to set the vision for the next two years, we meet every two weeks to keep our OKR’s on track and we have monthly board meetings. Consistency in your communication is the key.

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

A leader as a manager is delegating responsibility and accountability to their team and then measuring outputs. A leader as a coach is delegating the responsibility and accountability and then asking their team to measure their own outputs. In that process, she/he is encouraging their team to have a go, ask questions as they go and if necessary, fail before they succeed. The leader as a coach is also asking them about their progress, what they’ve discovered and has genuine curiosity about how they’re finding the process of whatever they’re delivering.

In the old days it was called appreciative inquiry. Now we call it coaching. It’s a genuine level of open, honest curiosity with great questions. Listening to the responses is the cornerstone of success for this way of leading.

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 is the number one skill. Listening for potential (Otto Scharman) is the key. Not just listening for what you already know.
  • Asking great questions. From a place of genuine curiosity rather than ‘catching people out’.
  • Responding and not reacting. When things go wrong, first seek to understand. Don’t react.
  • Having behavioural flexibility. Being flexible in your communication and behaviour is crucial as there are so many differing needs in a team, the great leader knows how to respond in just the right way to each team member.

That’s it. I like to keep things simple. If leaders can master those things, they’re onto a winner.

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?

As a business coach and consultant I always make it clear to leaders that the work we’re about to do is optional. Most organisations don’t invest in leadership or developing a strong, positive culture and many thrive without doing so. I make it very clear that the business and the leaders will probably carry on being successful without this work. However, I also make it clear that they and the organisation will benefit from the ability to attract and retain the best talent, gain better customers and clients and be able to make decisions in a much more agile way when they do invest in this kind of development.

I’m also clear that the work isn’t always easy. However, it always pays off. The organisation becomes stronger and often more profitable, it certainly adds to the value of a business when the leadership team knows how to engage and empower their people.

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?”

  1. Respond, don’t react. Always seek to understand any situation or behaviour before making decisions.
  2. Learn to move smoothly from big picture to detail and back again. This helps leaders and managers to understand events and behaviours from a variety of angles.
  3. Tell great stories, use metaphors and analogies to bring your teams with you. This brings the vision, strategy and mission of an organisation to life. Be bold in your story telling. People respond well to this.
  4. Speak less and listen more. Many leaders tell me their teams don’t respond in meetings. Either remove yourself from the meeting and simply ask for the actions/next steps they’re working on with timescales and deliverables or be quiet! Either way, your team will have to think for themselves. Be around for support, but let them get on with it.
  5. Create a virtuous cycle of feedback. Be open to feedback from your team and be happy to give it. This is crucial to develop a feeling of trust and strong communication.

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?

Human beings have the same needs — Maslow worked that out a long time ago. Leaders need behavioural flexibility and flexibility in their language more than ever. The needs of the humans in our organisations are broadly similar, the way we go about fulfilling those needs will vary. The skill of a leader is to ask great questions, listen to the answers, listen for potential and respond in the style and language the individual understands.

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?

Step one

Know yourself. Really know yourself. Do the work to understand who you are as a human being, what you love, what makes you happy, angry, sad. Work out what you’re passionate about and what might make you mean or grumpy. Look at the dark side of your personality as well as the light. So really, dig deep and understand who you are.

Step two

Understand how your words and actions impact others. You can’t do this step until you’ve done step one. Take the time to reflect formerly on what has happened in your week and learn how to be better or approach things differently. Ask for feedback, don’t just guess. Respond to that feedback, no matter how hard it is to take. Keep learning. If you’ve stopped learning, you’ve stopped being a leader

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

It depends…..

This is highly contextual and will vary from country to country, company to company and city to city. What works in Kentucky, USA, almost certainly won’t work in Dubai, UAE. Leaders in today’s world have to communicate with people from all over the planet, no strictly defined set of words isn’t going to help them do that. Flexibility in your communication is key.

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

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Your written words have power, but only because of the power other people give them. Understand your impact on others and choose your words carefully.

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?

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