Ask about your team’s goals and challenges on a regular basis.

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 Sherwin Chu.

Sherwin Chu is a Leadership Consultant and Coach and the founder of Leadership Resilience Consulting LLC. With 12+ years of corporate experience in talent development, she builds customized training and coaching programs for rising leaders to overcome inner challenges so that they can lead more authentically. Her passion lies in helping leaders identify their values, strengths, passions and the higher purpose of what they do, so they can build high-performing, highly-engaged and resilient teams.

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?

Thank you for having me. A defining moment for me was when I was able to connect my work in Talent Development with what truly lights me up in life and who I am as a person. Once I was able to do that, I was able to just be authentically myself and lead with the passion that I have. I think that showed through with every conversation I’ve had with others. I found fulfillment in my career and therefore became a more engaged leader and was able to be more present for others.

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 do try to embody that quote with everything I do, as a training consultant and a coach. To me, this quote means that as a leader, you guide others to solutions and are present with them through that journey. However, I think a misconception with that quote is that as leaders, we need to have all the answers all the time. The truth is we really don’t and the sooner we realize that, the better leader we will become! This is one of the realizations that will help us build truly engaged teams. With this mindset, we’ll truly be able to listen to and value our team’s ideas, perspectives and the skillset that they bring to the table. Clients often look to me to provide the answers as well. As a coach, I never give advice but I ask questions that empower them to find the answers. I stay present with them on their journey and often times, we’re able to come up with pretty big insights by the end of our calls. I see the energy shift in them through coming up with their own insights that I wouldn’t have been able to witness if I had provided the answers to them. I really see a coaching engagement as more of a partnership with the client.

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

Over the years, there have been a lot of trainings that teach the difference between a manager and a leader, but not so much comparing the two to what it means to be a coach. In my mind, being a manager is very task-oriented and they really manage and provide direction for the day-to-day tasks of their team. True leadership is a PRACTICE and learning what it means to be a coach will make you a better leader. A leader inspires their team to succeed through leading authentically. They’re insightful, influential and visionary. To be a coach, they need to believe that their teams are capable of finding their own answers through guidance. They don’t feel the pressure to have to provide all of the answers all the time. Instead, they know how to ask open-ended and empowering questions that will help their team find their own insights. They are also genuinely curious about their team’s thoughts and perspectives and listen without judgment. Coaching is a very powerful way to lead. Through the practice of leadership and coaching, leaders will help their teams find more fulfillment in their career. Over time, they’ll be able to build more engaged and resilient teams.

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?

I’m glad to hear that coaching skills are being prioritized in leadership. This is something I’ve thought a lot as well as I coach and train clients. I’ve noted some of the essential skills and competencies below and I’ve written about these in my past blog posts as well.

  1. Leading with empathy — sometimes people think of empathy as more of a personality trait. However, it is really a skill that can be learned and practiced. To lead with empathy, we must practice building more awareness for own own judgment against others. Once we have the awareness, we can then start to remove that judgment and put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
  2. Great listening skills — this one is related to empathy. To be a great listener, we must be genuinely curious in hearing what the other person is saying. Asking curious questions is crucial to truly hearing and understanding others.
  3. Acknowledging and validating skills — this means to know what to say to let someone else feel heard. It can be as simple as letting the other person know how they feel is normal.
  4. Ask more open-ended questions — practice asking more open-ended questions that start with “how,” “what,” “where,” “who,” “if,” “tell me about,” and “why.” We often default to asking yes or no questions but in reality, open-ended questions are much more empowering and allows the other person to process their own thoughts to come to a solution on their own.

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 opinion, the most genuine way to inspire others is if we believe in what we do as leaders. I think a lot of us don’t really take enough time to reflect on what our values, strengths and passions really are — in a world where we’re moving a million miles a minute, that’s totally understandable! But to make sure we, as leaders, don’t get burnt out and feel fulfilled in our careers as well, taking that time to reflect is important. Once you connect with a higher purpose of what you do, you’ll then organically be able to inspire others as well. In development conversations, leaders should spend some time get to know their employees values and strengths, what drives them and how they can help them grow and do more of what they love and what they’re good at.

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 answers to this question align with the essential coaching skills and competencies that I’ve mentioned but here are some specifics.

  1. Be aware of your own energy level and your team’s energy level. For example, when someone on the team makes a mistake, how do you and the team react? Do you feel defeated, place blame on others, take accountability, or see challenges as opportunities?? It is important to be aware of the energy level on the team so you can coach them towards higher energy levels and be more resilient. Some questions you can ask your team during challenging times are:

How can we look at these challenges as opportunities?

What about this experience feel like a “win”?

What about it feel like a “loss”?

What did we do well?

How can we do more of it?

2. Ask about your team’s goals and challenges on a regular basis. Some simple questions you can ask are:

What specific goal do you have for this <insert time frame>?

How would you measure success for this goal?

Why is this goal important to you?

What do you think you need to address to achieve this goal?

3. Get curious about what your team’s experiences are especially during challenging times. A lot of our thoughts and emotions are directly tied to our actions. It is important to get to know your team’s thoughts and emotions so you can help them remove their blocks to success. Some questions you can ask are:

What thoughts and emotions did you have when <insert experience>?

What action did you take when you had those thoughts and emotions?

4. Practice acknowledging and validating your teams more often so that they feel heard. A lot of what gets in the way of peak performance are inner challenges. Making others feel heard can have a big impact on the level of engagement and resilience to keep going. Some examples of what you can say are:

“This was a very challenging project and given what I know about your work ethic, it is understandable that you would feel as stressed as you do.”

“Sounds like what you’re feeling is a little defeat. This was a difficult situation to navigate so it makes sense you would feel that way.”

5. Celebrate your teams often! Somehow psychologically, we often associate the idea of celebration with events like birthdays, weddings, etc. The reality is that celebrating small wins often can have a big impact on team engagement! Here are some questions you can reflect on with your teams to celebrate wins and help them connect back to their strengths and values.

What went went in the past <insert timeframe>?

What felt good about the situation?

What did you do?

How does your action align with your values, purpose and intention?

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?

The important thing about leading any team is recognizing and valuing the diversity within our team. Diversity can come in many forms — e.g. race, ethnicity, age, family backgrounds, diversity of thought and ideas. To effectively coach a multigenerational workforce requires a consistent curious and non-judgmental mindset. It is truly believing that we don’t have all the answers and that we can learn from any member on the team. Focus on asking more open-ended questions, especially during times when we don’t initially agree with a specific perspective or outcome. One question that always helps my clients gain a different perspective is “What is completely different way you can look at this situation?” This helps them begin to get out of their own heads and start to step into someone else’s shoes.

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?

I think the main two components of emotional intelligence are 1. Building awareness on your own and others’ emotions and 2. Regulating your own and others’ emotions. I don’t mean to be a broken record but being consistently curious and nonjudgmental will help with both of these steps. It’s the idea of having the curiosity to learn more about how you and others’ are feeling, asking questions to help identify the emotion and then identifying actions we can take to respond to them.

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 is understandable that you feel this way” or any words that indicate that they empathize with their teams will help boost team engagement, trust and resilience. I think these are some of the most important components to achieving success as a team.

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

One of my favorite quotes has always been “Free yourself from psychological time because Now is all we’ve got.” I don’t know if this is the exact quote but it’s from Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. It speaks to the importance of being present (for yourself and others) and enjoying the journey. It’s a good leadership mindset to cultivate — recognizing that we learn from every experience and every experience is neither good nor bad. In face of challenging times, it’s important to not dwell on the “mistakes” we’ve made but work to understand our current thoughts and emotions so we can identify a plan of action to move forward as a team.

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 way to connect with me by subscribing to my blog at and also via email at [email protected].

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