Make it regular. Coaching is best done when it’s done regularly and consistently. We recommend making the coaching conversation part of your regular one-on-ones which most leaders hold every couple of weeks or so. And since coaching is efficient (5–7 minutes max), it’s easily worked into the calendar.
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 Terry Traut, CEO of Entelechy.
For more than 30 years, Terry and his team at Entelechy have transformed leaders across the world, including those at Comcast, Vanguard, Qualcomm, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Sprint, Republic Services, DIRECTV, National Grid, Convergys, KONE, and many more. Terry has personally created training for 60 leadership experts including Marshall Goldsmith, Warren Bennis, Jack Welch, Sir Richard Branson, John Kotter, among others.
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?
To me, starting and running my own company — a leadership development company no less — reshaped my thinking on leadership. Building a team of capable employees is crucial as is ensuring that everyone is accountable for their contributions was and is important. But what I now see as most important — and defined who I’ve become as a leader — is being the performance enabler providing the direction, the tools, the time, the motivation, the guidance, the autonomy, the coaching, and the recognition people need to perform to their full potential.
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?
Having built training for John many years ago, I’m familiar with the quote (and stand in admiration of the man). The quote — and John himself — embody the one characteristic that most of the hundreds of thousands of leaders we’ve developed over the years would say is key: great leaders engender followers. It’s not enough to be smart or insightful (i.e., “know the way”) or bold and daring to forge the path (i.e., “go the way”). Great leaders know how to enable people to follow, to engage, and to contribute; they know how to “show the way” through vision, clarity, coaching, and encouragement.
How do you define the differences between a leader as a manager and a leader as a coach?
Well, the Maxwell quote is a good place to start. A leader knows the way (they know where we want to go); a manager goes the way (they know how best to get where we’re going); a coach shows the way by drawing upon the skills of vision, development/learning, motivation, and relationship-building. While these three roles are all important, an effective leader-coach knows how to use coaching as more than an avenue for teaching; coaching can be used to develop employee confidence, independence, and engagement along with building job-related skills.
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?
The first thing we teach leaders in our leadership development programs is that coaching is a unique developmental activity and should not be confused with other leader-to-employee interactions. Coaching is not feedback (which is typically unidirectional) nor is it corrective action (which is usually addressing unacceptable performance or behavior). Coaching — the way we define it — is used to develop willing employees on job-related skills — taking good to great.
The second thing we teach leaders as coaches is that when you ask the right questions (there are three) in the right order, your primary job as coach is to listen to the employee’s self-assessment and support and build that assessment. This makes coaching an extremely efficient AND effective leadership tool for engaging and developing employees.
We have three questions that form the basis for our Coaching Conversation Model. Using an example where the employee is working on running more engaging meetings, here are the three questions:
- I know that you’ve been working on (running more engaging meetings) since we last met. How’s that been going? (This opening probe focuses the conversation on the job-related skill yet is open-ended to encourage the employee to talk.)
- What have you done that was effective (in running more engaging meetings)? (We ask this question and listen to the employee’s self-assessment; we support accurate self-assessments and build on that self-assessment by adding our insights or thoughts.)
- What might have you done differently to make the meetings even more engaging? (Again we listen and support and build the accurate self-assessment.
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?
By making coaching simple. Frankly, when we ask leaders in our training sessions why they don’t coach (or coach more), their number one reason is, “I don’t have time,” followed by, “I have too many employees.” These leaders have made coaching much more cumbersome — and much less effective — than it should be. When we first created our Coaching Conversation Model, we created it for sales managers who notoriously had given little time for coaching; theirs was a “sink or swim” attitude. We knew that for coaching to be adopted by this skeptical group, it had to be usable … and for it to be usable, it had to be simple and quick.
What we developed — and what gets back to your question — was a coaching model that uses questions that guide the coaching conversation. When the leader-coach asks the three questions, the employee is — by definition — engaged by answering the questions. When asked, “Regarding your focus on calming the customer, what did you do the past week that seemed to have worked?”, the employee reflects on the week’s efforts to calm customers and identifies the thing they did that seemed to have a positive effect.
When leaders in our leadership programs see how simple our Coaching Conversation Model is, they’re skeptical: how can something that simple be effective. And then they try it with an employee. And are hooked. In fact, I recently received an email from a graduate of one of our programs more than 20 years ago who stated, “The Coaching Conversation Model not only helped me become a great coach, it changed how I communicate with 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?”
Having a growth mindset is key. No one has had their best day yet and the path to better days involves two key and related activities: reflection and planning. This is true for us as leaders as well as for our employees. Coaching is the activity that forces the reflection (by asking three key questions) and enables the planning (as a conclusion to the coaching session.)
First, recognize that not everyone wants to improve, grow, or develop. And that’s okay. Some employees come to work, do their job, collect their pay, and are happy and we as leaders should understand that these employees aren’t our targets for coaching. I recall trying to explain to a leader in one of our training sessions that “coaching is for WILLING employees.” The leader repeatedly asked, “Well, what if the person doesn’t want to develop?” When I was assured that the employee’s performance was good, I said, “We have a saying in Minnesota (where I’m from originally): ‘never try to teach a horse to sing; it’s frustrating for you and it annoys the horse.” Or as Elsa from Frozen would sing, “Let it go, let it go…” There are more then enough employees who DO want to grow and develop; start with them.
Second, ask questions. We’ve gone over the three questions that serve as the foundation of our Coaching Conversations Model, so those are great places to start.
Third, ask questions. (Seriously, it’s that important!) Many coaching models focus on how leader-coaches should build the coaching relationship or how we should share our insights and pithy words of wisdom. The truth is that most employees (and most people) know what they did well and what they could do to be even better. And the only way we as leader-coaches can find out what the employee knows (or doesn’t know) is by asking questions. In fact, in the above list of the three questions, Entelechy’s Coaching Conversation Model, the coach asks questions #2 and #3 (did well and do differently) twice to dig a little deeper.
Fourth, make it regular. Coaching is best done when it’s done regularly and consistently. We recommend making the coaching conversation part of your regular one-on-ones which most leaders hold every couple of weeks or so. And since coaching is efficient (5–7 minutes max), it’s easily worked into the calendar.
Fifth, and back to John Maxwell, “show the way.” Ask for advice. Demonstrate that you want to develop and grow. Show that you value others’ input. In fact, when leaders ask, “How do I develop a growth culture — a place where we’re good about giving and receiving feedback?” we suggest, “ask for advice.” Asking the team for advice shows you’re an open leader. However, when you ask one employee what THEY think, you build a relationship. Don’t believe me? Pull one of your team members aside and say, “Estella, I’m looking to add more engagement to our staff meetings. What thoughts do you have?” You MAY get a good idea or two. But you WILL get a relationship boost; your question shows you value the other’s opinion. And that makes for a good leader … and a great coach.
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?
By focusing on the things that are important to everyone regardless of generation (or gender or race or class or ….) People work for a variety of reasons: contribution, pay, social, feelings of self-worth, etc. And while it may be convenient for us as leaders to group people and assign motivation to the group (e.g., “Gen Z are motivated by purpose” or “Boomers seek promotion”) there are more exceptions than rules. Moreover, what motivates us today won’t motivate us tomorrow. The best leaders know what motivates each team member and taps into that motivation.
That said, I’ve tended to focus on performance. My assumption is that people want to perform well at work and anything I can do to enable that performance is good. Related to performance is contribution: I believe that people want what they do to matter to the team, to the business unit, to the company, to the world.
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?
You’re right. Emotional intelligence is having the ability to flex your emotions, communication style, and relation-building skills to engage and interact with others most effectively. Being emotionally intelligent first requires that you understand yourself — your preferences, your communication style, your motivators, your triggers — as well as the preferences, styles, and motivators of others. We use Everything DiSC® personality assessments as a tool to identify those styles and provide insights to each.
The second step is to flex — to adapt how one leads based on the preferences and needs of others.
Words matter. And we’re collectively creating a new leadership language right now. What are the most important words for leaders to use now?
How. Can. I. Help. You. “How can I help you?” may not be new or catchy, but the question enables you as leader to provide the support your employees need. That support may be clarity of vision. Or it may be in the form of prioritization or expectations. Or it may be coaching and guidance. Or it may be autonomy and recognition. Only by asking the question can we as leaders discover the answer.
I keep inspiring quotes on my desk. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote,” and why does it mean so much to you?
“In the next hour, catch someone — an employee, a colleague, your boss — doing something right. Then tell them.” — Ken Blanchard, American management consultant and author
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 giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!