A week has passed since we set up the fireworks, rang the bell, and watched the ball drop in Time Square – all to welcome in the New Year. If you’re like me, facing into the New Year brings out your natural optimism – I have a tabla rasa, or blank slate, to fill, and I look forward to doing better and being better.
To that end, I decided to start the year doing a bit of leadership blog coaching. Here are five best practices for leaders – simple and straight-forward practices that decades of research and experience have shown to be effective. These practices are simple, but not necessarily easy. They are often behaviors and habits that I coach leaders on how to develop in a natural and authentic way that becomes part of who they are.
- Establish goodwill and trust—For leaders to inspire and motivate the best efforts of others in their organizations, they must show respect for and interest in every individual on the team. Rather than assume a position of superiority and entitlement, lead by example. If you want people to have integrity, demonstrate integrity, and if you want people to be focused on strategic initiatives, stay focused yourself. If you want emerging leaders to stay calm under pressure, then stay calm under pressure (and don’t interpret other’s calmness as a lack of concern or urgency).
Ask yourself the question, “What kind of person would this workplace be if everyone in it were just like me?” And then, to paraphrase Gandhi, BE the change you want TO SEE.
- Be specific—You’ve heard the advice to say what you mean and mean what you say, and this is especially true in leadership. Communicate exactly what you mean, leave no room for guessing, and check with others to ensure that what you intended to say was what they heard. Ask others to repeat back, in their own words, what you communicated. And, if they missed something, demonstrate patience. If you lose your cool, then employees will learn to pretend that they got your meaning just to avoid unpleasantness.
- Be concise—With specificity comes brevity. Never use seven words to say something that could be said with five. Conciseness; directness; and, relevance of observations, suggestions, and questions promote understanding and memorability of what you say.
- Describe, don’t criticize—When providing feedback to others, describe the situation in terms of desired outcomes and deliverables rather than focusing on character flaws or elements of personal style. For example, criticizing the (lack of) personal motivation or commenting on great communication skills, offers little value because the person is unclear on what he or she could do less of or what he or she might want to do more frequently. Therefore, such generalizations will not spark increased motivation and commitment.
- Ask, don’t tell—Few things are more infuriating than having another person tell you what you do, what you think, or what you believe. Instead, ask good questions; specifically, ask about self-perceptions. Ask how he or she would like to improve as a leader or manager – what would be good to learn, and what behaviors could improve. When you invite candid two-way communication, you allow others to reach conclusions independently. This builds self-awareness and a platform for further development conversations.
These five keys to providing effective leadership coaching will help ensure we, as leaders and coaches, are engaging others in a way that galvanizes their best efforts.
Which one of these five do you find most useful? What other criteria do you use to measure the effectiveness of leadership coaching?