Practice active listening to understand diverse perspectives and needs: Listen attentively to team members from different backgrounds to foster a sense of inclusion and make team members feel valued.

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 Tanja Saarinen Chávez.

Tanja Saarinen Chávez is an intercultural communication and inclusive leadership coach with a passion for helping individuals and organizations navigate the complexities of cross-cultural interactions. Born and raised in Finland, but having lived and worked in several different countries throughout her career, Tanja has developed a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities that arise in multicultural environments. As a coach, Tanja works with individuals and teams to develop the skills and strategies needed to build inclusive, collaborative and high-performing cultures. She uses a variety of coaching techniques to help her clients build self-awareness and develop the skills needed to succeed in today’s globalized world. Read more about Tanja’s services from her website Numinos 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?

I had been working as a team leader for a few years and had always prided myself on being fair and treating everyone equally. One day, a member of my team came to me and confided that they were struggling with a personal issue that was affecting their work. I tried to be supportive and offered some advice, but ultimately I didn’t feel like I was making much progress.

A few days later, I read a book on inclusive leadership, which changed my perspective on leadership. I realized that treating everyone equally wasn’t enough — I needed to understand and accommodate all my team members’ unique needs and circumstances. I also learned about the power of coaching, and how asking the right questions and listening actively could help people unlock their potential and achieve their goals.

This was a defining moment for me because it made me realize that there was so much more I could do as a leader to support my team. I started to implement some of the new techniques and approaches I had learned, and I saw an immediate improvement in my team’s morale and productivity. From that day forward, I made a commitment to be a more inclusive and effective leader, and to continue learning and growing in my role.

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?

As a leader, I believe in embodying the quote “know the way, go the way, and show the way,” but I also recognize that it’s okay to make mistakes along the way. What’s important is having the courage to admit those mistakes, learn from them, and use that knowledge to improve in the future.

Additionally, I understand the importance of adjusting communication and behavior for different cultural environments. Having lived and worked in multiple countries, I have witnessed first-hand how cultural differences can impact communication and relationships in the workplace. As a result, I prioritize building cultural competence and coaching on how to adapt their communication and behavior to better engage with colleagues from diverse backgrounds.

Ultimately, being a successful leader requires a combination of vision, action, and adaptability. By acknowledging mistakes, being open to learning, and embracing cultural differences, I believe that I can create a more inclusive and collaborative work environment where everyone can thrive.

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

The difference between leader as manager and coach comes down to their focus and approach. A manager is primarily focused on the day-to-day operations of a team, setting goals, delegating tasks, and holding team members accountable for meeting those goals.

On the other hand, a coach is all about developing the skills and abilities of individual team members. They work with team members to help them improve and reach their full potential, providing guidance, support, and feedback along the way. They may work one-on-one or facilitate group coaching sessions to help address specific challenges and provide targeted training.

While there’s some overlap between the roles of a manager and a coach, the key difference is really where they’re placing their focus. A manager is focused on achieving specific outcomes for the team as a whole, while a coach is focused on the growth and development of individual team members.

The best leaders are able to balance both responsibilities — managing the day-to-day operations while also supporting the individual development of team members. It’s a delicate balance, but it’s key to achieve overall success.

And one other thing I’d like to add — as a leader as a coach, it’s important to remember that it’s okay to encounter challenges or face unexpected situations. It’s important to stay flexible and adaptable in order to support your clients in the most effective way possible.

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?

As a coach, two of the most important skills are active listening and being inclusive.

Active listening involves more than just hearing what someone is saying; it means being fully present in the conversation, understanding what is being said, and responding in a way that shows that you have understood. It’s about creating a safe and supportive space where team members feel heard and valued.

Sometimes when we talk with people from all over the world, our conversation partner may have different ideas or beliefs than we do. It’s important that we don’t reject those ideas out of hand but instead stay open-minded and listen before offering a response. That way, we can get all sides of the story before forming any (wrong) conclusions on our part.

Inclusive leadership skills involve recognizing and respecting the diversity of your team members and creating an environment where everyone feels included and valued. It’s important to understand that everyone has their own unique experiences and perspectives, and it’s the leader’s responsibility to ensure that all team members feel supported and encouraged to contribute their ideas and insights.

In today’s diverse and globalized world, it’s essential to be able to work with people from different cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives. Inclusive leadership involves creating a culture of respect and belonging, where everyone feels valued and included. This means being open-minded, empathetic, and willing to learn about different cultures and perspectives.

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?

Great question! As a coach, I believe in the power of self-discovery, personal accountability, and goal-oriented action rather than just mandating change. I’ve found that when leaders are inspired and excited about a new skill or competency, they’re more likely to invest the time and energy needed to develop it.

When it comes to inspiring leaders to invest in upskilling and reskilling, I always try to approach it from a positive angle. I show them examples of how it has worked for others, and how it can work for them. For instance, in one of my intercultural communication coaching sessions, I had a leader who was struggling with conflicts arising due to cultural differences within their team. After the coaching, the leader was able to better understand the ‘’WHY’’ of the differences and communicate more effectively with the team members, which reduced conflicts and improved team dynamics. This experience helped them see the value in investing in coaching and training, not just for themselves but for the entire team and the organization.

I also strive to make the learning process engaging and enjoyable. By using interactive and engaging techniques and technology, I’m able to help leaders learn new skills and competencies while having fun and feeling empowered. This approach creates a positive learning environment that inspires leaders to continue investing in their own growth and development.

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?”

One of my clients was a team leader who was having difficulty managing a multicultural team. He found that he was having trouble communicating with team members from different cultural backgrounds and often felt like his messages were not being understood. He was also struggling to find a way to ensure that all team members felt included and valued.

To help him improve his leadership skills, we began with a working style analysis to identify his strengths, challenges, and areas for improvement. From there, we focused on increasing his knowledge of different cultures, including their values, beliefs, and communication styles. We also practised active listening, seeking to understand the perspectives and needs of team members from diverse cultural backgrounds.

During coaching, we stressed the significance of self-awareness and open-mindedness to enhance adaptability and flexibility in various cultural contexts. We also explored strategies to address conflict and misunderstandings that may arise in a diverse and multicultural workplace.

Through this coaching process, my client was able to develop the skills and confidence to effectively lead his multicultural team. He reported feeling more connected to his team members and noticed a significant improvement in team morale and productivity. Ultimately, coaching helped him to become a more effective and inclusive leader, and he was able to achieve his goal of leading a successful and high-performing multicultural team.

So in summary, here are my best tips for leaders:

1. Set clear goals and expectations for your diverse team: Define team objectives, roles, and responsibilities, and communicate performance metrics and standards to improve communication and collaboration within your team.

2. Increase your knowledge of different cultures and communication styles: Learn about diverse values, beliefs, and communication styles to better understand the perspectives and needs of your team members from different backgrounds. Understanding your team members will also help you to ask the correct questions.

3. Practice active listening to understand diverse perspectives and needs: Listen attentively to team members from different backgrounds to foster a sense of inclusion and make team members feel valued.

4. Emphasize self-awareness and openness to new experiences: Learn about your own working style, strengths, and areas for improvement, and be open to learning and adapting to different cultural contexts.

5. Explore strategies to address conflict and misunderstandings in a diverse workplace: Develop strategies to approach conflicts with empathy and understanding, seeking to resolve conflicts in a respectful and constructive manner.

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?

A key thing to remember is that each generation has its own unique experiences, values, and ways of communicating. So, it’s important to respect those differences and encourage collaboration between generations.

Younger employees often bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas, and a tech-savvy approach to the workplace. They are typically quick learners and adapt well to change. On the other hand, older employees bring valuable experience and knowledge to the table. They have honed their skills over many years, and can often offer a steadying influence during times of uncertainty. By leveraging the unique strengths of each generation, and creating opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing, organizations can create a more productive and dynamic workforce.

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 show a higher level of emotional intelligence, there are two things every leader can do:

Listen actively: It means really listening to someone when they’re talking to you. Pay attention to their body language and ask questions to make sure you understand what they mean. By doing this, you show that you care and that you want to create a safe space where your team members can share their thoughts and feelings.

Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. This means keeping your cool when things get stressful. If you can stay calm, think clearly, and communicate effectively, you’ll create a sense of stability and confidence in your team. This is important because your team looks up to you as a role model.

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

Admitting that you’re wrong and asking how someone is doing are two very important phrases that leaders should incorporate into their vocabulary.

By admitting that you’re wrong, you show vulnerability and humility, which can build trust and credibility with your team. And asking how someone is doing shows that you value them as a person, not just as an employee, which can foster a sense of connection and belonging. These small but powerful phrases can have a big impact.

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 favourite quotes is by author Anaïs, who said: We don’t see the world as it is; we see the world as we are.

The way we perceive the world around us is largely shaped by our experiences, beliefs, and values. It’s common to believe our perspective is the only valid one, but the truth is that everyone has a unique and valuable view of the world. This quote reminds me to be open-minded and curious about other people’s perspectives, even if they differ from my own. It’s a powerful reminder to approach the world with empathy and understanding, rather than judgment and assumption.

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?

If you want to stay in touch with me and stay up-to-date on my latest discoveries, the best way is to check out my company Numinos Coaching’s website and blog.

I’m also active on LinkedIn, where I share tips about intercultural communication and inclusive leadership. Just search my name and send me a connection request — I’m always looking to expand my network and continue the conversation!

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