The Leader As Coach: Ready, Set…Go!

It’s no secret that winning teams are led by exceptional coaches whether you’re NCAA Basketball champs Louisville or Cinderella team Florida Gulf Coast.  It’s unfortunate then, that many senior business leaders miss the opportunity, like their peers in the sports arena, to actively lead through coaching.

Two of the biggest fallacies about coaching in organizations are:

  1. The more senior you are in the organization, the less coaching you are required to do. Many executives leave the bulk of coaching to middle and front-line managers who primarily focus on coaching for performance and improvement, rather than coaching for development and growth.
  2. The executive leader, him or herself, requires little or no coaching at all.  A prevalent misconception is that the executive should be focusing only on vision, strategy, and outcomes with little focus on personal development.  After all, they’ve been there…done that.


The truth is actually just the opposite.  Coaching is a critical success factor at all levels of the organization.  Coaching is one of the most powerful tools leaders can use to drive performance and improvement.  Just as important, and most often overlooked, is the role that coaching plays in professional development and growth, talent mobility and retention.

Promoting a true coaching culture – one that celebrates and leverages success, acknowledges and corrects mistakes and provides an environment for personal exploration and growth, starts with senior leaders.

So, how do you get there?  If you think about the best coaching you’ve ever had, whether in sports, school or in business, most people describe the experience as authentic, supportive, challenging and consistent.  More often than not, when you ask a respected coach the secret to his or her success, the answer usually is “because I had a great coach myself.”

It makes sense then to start there.  Get a coach.  The source of coaching is up to you and what you want to achieve through the coaching process.  Whether it’s coaching from your senior leader, a peer or an external executive coach, the point is to take a risk, be vulnerable and open to growth.  Stepping away from your role as leader can be challenging. It requires a commitment to seek and act on feedback that both affirms your areas of strength and brings to light areas where you can, and often must, improve.

Margie Warrell, in her recent Forbes article 5 Ways to Unlock Authentic Leadership lays out 5 ways to unlock leadership authenticity – fundamental to a successful coaching culture:

  1. Share and unlock the power of vulnerability.
  2. Express and unleash the power of individuality.
  3. Listen and demonstrate the power of presence.
  4. Acknowledge and empower through appreciation.
  5. Serve and embrace the success of others.


Transparency – role modeling the coaching process yourself – is also invaluable in helping you foster a true coaching culture built on openness.  Recently, one of my clients began working with an executive coach to implement quarterly “Customer Feedback” sessions where he solicited feedback from his employees, whom he views as his priority customers: the people who make it happen.  The feedback from those sessions and the work with his executive coach to implement suggestions has increased employee engagement and facilitated hands-on, consistent coaching by all managers across the organization.

Coaching works.  It accelerates productivity, engages employees and improves retention. Guess what?  It’s also fun and personally rewarding.

Now it’s up to you.  Ready, set…go.

Until next time:  connect, collaborate and create!


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Next Time: Make It Fierce!

We all make lists: to do lists, bucket lists and, of course, our ‘favorites’ list. My list includes:

  • Favorite summer song: “Mad About You” by Belinda Carlisle
  • Favorite film: “The Color Purple”
  • Favorite television show: “Scandal” tied with “The Good Wife”
  • Favorite food: Sandwiches (does that count?)

Industrial and organizational psychologist Dr. Martha Gottschalk even has a list of things she carries. At the top of her list? The Trusted Notebook!

Like Dr. Gottschalk, I carry a few items with me almost everywhere I go, including my two favorite books: John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” and “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott.

Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley” is a favorite because it was the first book I remember reading that, in turn, inspired me to write. Susan Scott’s book tops my list because it has helped me build lasting relationships “one conversation at a time.” My well traveled copy reminds me to stay grounded – to keep it real – especially when people and situations seem a little unreal.

Fierce conversations, as Scott puts it, are “conversations that can change the trajectory of a career, a business, a relationship or a life.” I had never thought of conversations as fierce: robust, powerful, strong, passionate and untamed. My ‘a-ha’ moment? When I realized that Scott was also describing ‘authentic’ conversations.

How many times have you had a conversation worthy of a “do over?” Nothing was solved. The real issues were not discussed. People didn’t share how they were feeling or what they were truly thinking. Relationships were damaged. In other words, the conversation wasn’t real.

Here are the three essential “Fierce” lessons I practice daily:

  1. Be here and nowhere else. It’s more than shutting off the cell phone, powering down the laptop or blocking out time on your calendar. Fierce conversations are built on a common respect for each other. You can only be truly engaged when you are prepared to listen, ask questions, and contribute your thoughts and ideas.
  2. Interrogate reality. Be smart. Be specific. Outline the issues and consider the implications. Work together to solve the problem or take advantage of an opportunity. Most people want to hear the truth – even when it’s a little hard to hear. The truth does set you free.
  3. Own your ’emotional wake.’ Fierce conversations drive productivity and results through people, not at the expense of people. Can teams be successful without fierce conversations? Yes. Success, however, is often short-term and the cost to relationships very high. Owning your ’emotional wake’ requires that you take accountability for your behavior. What you leave behind can either leave people distressed and disgruntled, or engaged and committed. It’s your choice.

So, what’s on your list? Is it Fierce?

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create! ®


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