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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Briefing - Be a leader who coaches, not criticizes

CEO Briefing

Be a leader who coaches, not criticizes

Be a leader

In our book Intentional Leadership, we profile many trustworthy leaders and the highlight the ways that they lead so that others can be trustworthy leaders as well. One common theme is that they use a coaching style of leadership to bring out the best in their employees. A coaching manager is one who has frequent conversations or check-ins with employees, rather than an annual review. This allows both leader and employee to build greater rapport and look at coaching as developmental rather than punitive. Gallup has also found that this is a helpful style of leading, as younger employees in particular are looking for supervisors who can help them identify, use, and build their employees’ strengths in their jobs

Research also confirms that the leader has the important role of building trust within a team, particularly when teams are new and team members have no history with one another. As John Rogers Jr. of Ariel Investments told us:

I like to say it’s how you treat people. You can tell when people are listening to you versus when they’re going through the motions. I think when you’re trying to create an environment of trust, you’ve got to tell people right up front, “I want to hear what’s on your mind,” and then show that you’re really listening to them.

In a highly cited article in The New Yorker, Atul Gawande, MD, prescribes coaching as a good way to improve any professional career. He describes good coaches as those who listen more than they talk. In addition, they have an ability to “make a personal connection and focus little on themselves.” As he, himself, worked with a coach, he felt that his coach was “one hundred per cent present in the conversation.” He described his coach as someone who was able to parcel out his observations carefully. “It’s not a normal way of communicating—watching what your words are doing,” he said. A good coach is able to listen, digest, and help you make your own best decisions moving forward.

Our own research has further found that employees are also more engaged when they receive regular feedback from their supervisors. Rather than wait for an annual review, employees are more engaged when they get frequent feedback about their job from their boss, similar to how a coach would provide encouragement (during a game for instance) to improve performance. Employees also appreciate receiving praise from their employer as well as opportunities to grow in their job. Ultimately, the best bosses show employees that they care about them and their careers as much as they care about themselves.

One of my first supervisors at General Motors, Mike Gannon, preferred mentoring and coaching rather than supervising and directing. This approach also built trust, whereas monitoring or micromanaging impairs trust with followers. I can’t recall being told how to perform my tasks, unless I specifically asked Mike. His approach was to let me figure out the best way to do them and ask for help when needed. I might even go an entire day or more without interacting with Mike other than to say, “good morning” or “have a nice evening.” At the time, I thought that this was the way leaders and managers typically acted, not having had many bosses before I worked for Mike. In more than three and a half decades since I both worked for him; however, I have learned that his approach to managing and leading is rare, especially when considering that I worked for him in the early 1980s.

Being an agile leader in terms of adjusting one’s coaching style is also critical. One of the leaders we profiled in our book, Chris Deshazor of Harness, described how his approach to leading has changed over time, depending on the person and the situation:

I am not a micromanager. If you need something, you just let me know. You have a job to do. You know what you’re supposed to do. I have a job to do, I know what I’m supposed to do. If you need me, you call me. I have my trusted Verizon flip phone. Call me on my flip and we’re good.

But, over the years, I’ve totally done a 180 because my training in situational leadership and my evolution as a leader based on listening made it clear to me that there are people who sometimes need more guidance. When they need more guidance, you need to be there for them.

As an example, my boss gave a project to my direct report. During my weekly catchups, I noticed she wasn’t mentioning the project. I asked, “What’s going on?” She responded with some general information, but no specifics. Then, in my meeting with my boss, he asked about the project because he was concerned that it was really slowing down.

I went back to her and found out she’d been struggling with the project and procrastinating as a result. I totally changed my leadership approach and became more direct, more involved. I started asking very pointed questions. I literally micromanaged her and watched her go from “I don’t know” to “thank you.” Later on, she told me, “I’m so glad you did that because I was struggling. I didn’t know how to say that. I was getting pressured about getting this done and I just didn’t want to fail. I was doing whatever I thought was right, and what I thought was right, was actually wrong.”

In our research we found that there are four ways that leaders use their strengths to lead. One of them is the coach. The Coach establishes trustworthiness initially through Caring. They strongly value compassion and, as a result, focus on understanding people and helping them with their needs, concerns, and interests while disdaining others’ selfishness. They are therefore able to contribute to a sense of security for their followers, fostering a greater shared sense of purpose among their teammates, and contributing to the norm of reciprocity within their organization. Their goals are forming relations with others, creating stronger team inclusion, and fostering greater commitment to the organization’s mission. One leader, Bob Lintz, a former GM plant manager, shared how he performed this role:

My coaching was intended not to dehumanize or embarrass people but, quite the contrary, to restore their faith in themselves and look for opportunities to grow if they felt they lacked support or did not believe they had the capability to do something. Whatever hardship they had, I always took the approach that, whatever they had to say, I was there to listen, not to judge. Together, we would work out the best approach towards finding the solution.

Once you have put your team together, then you need to think about building the right team culture to retain your team members and get them to perform optimally, which means trust-based coaching. As John Rogers Jr. of Ariel Investments told us:

I was fortunate to work at William Blair & Company. The culture of William Blair was able to recruit people and keep them for the long term. I think, as a leader, it’s important to have the perspective that you’re going to try to find a way to keep your teammates on the team.

Coaching is not only a great way to build trust and engagement with your individual employees, but can help you retain your team for the long term. This will help you build a culture of trust.


Written by Dr. Aneil Mishra.

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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Briefing - Be a leader who coaches, not criticizes
Dr. Aneil Mishra
Dr. Aneil Mishra is the Dean of the College of Business and Economics at Towson University. He is an executive coach to C-Suite leaders, and his most recent book on trustworthy leadership, "Intentional Leadership: Becoming a Trustworthy Leader," was published by Routledge/Taylor and Francis. In addition to being a higher ed leader, Aneil was a manufacturing engineer for General Motors and was a VP for ed tech company, 2U, where he launched MBA@UNC. He received his A.B. in Economics from Princeton University, cum laude, and received his Ph.D. from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.


Dr. Aneil Mishra is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.