44. Leader As Coach with Special Guest, Dr. Carylynn Larson
Carylynn [00:00:01] Being a leader coach means that, you as a leader, are using coaching as a primary approach to engaging with your people. Many leaders think they’re already doing this, but when they learn what coaching really looks like they realize the tape they were actually solving for their team members.
Don [00:00:19] My name is Don Rheem CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-performance Cultures.”
Don [00:00:28] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and validated.
Don [00:00:41] Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive. Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers, CEOs and leaders the tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.
Don [00:01:10] Welcome. I’m your host Don Rheem CEO of E3 Solutions.
Don [00:01:14] As our regular listeners know, over the past few weeks we’ve been talking with subject-matter experts one-on-one about critical workplace challenges.
Don [00:01:23] Our guest this week is Dr. Carylynn Larson, a certified leadership coach, certified professional facilitator and organizational psychologist with roots in the academic study of leadership and team dynamics.
Don [00:01:37] Dr. Larson is here with us today to talk about the role of leader as coach in the workplace. Welcome, Carylynn and thank you for taking the time to be here.
Carylynn [00:01:46] My pleasure Don. Great to be here.
Don [00:01:48] What does it mean to be a leader coach and why should managers and leaders care about this term in the workplace?
Carylynn [00:01:55] Well, the most simple terms being a leader coach means that you, as a leader, are using coaching as a primary approach to engaging with your people.
Carylynn [00:02:04] Many leaders think they’re already doing this but when they learn what coaching really looks like they realize that they were actually solving for their team members.
Carylynn [00:02:13] So, a true leader coach resists this temptation, to give their answers and give advice, and instead they use a set of skills that use deep listening and they activate curiosity.
Carylynn [00:02:25] They learn how to ask really powerful questions that make people think and they learn how to notice things and share these really astute observations that end up challenging their team members to think for themselves.
Don [00:02:39] According to a study by Burson and Associates, organizations whose leaders very frequently make an effort to coach others have a 21% higher business results.
Don [00:02:51] Why is that?
Carylynn [00:02:53] Yeah. You know it’s really quite simple. Leaders in almost every business across every industry have just an incredible amount of responsibility. And, if you think about it, globalization and increased mobility in and out of companies and the rapid change of technology only exacerbate the complexity of leadership.
Carylynn [00:03:15] And so, in order to execute on their objectives on their KPI, leaders really have to empower every single one of their employees to execute with minimal oversight, minimal day-to-day support.
Carylynn [00:03:30] So, coaching unleashes this talent in a few ways.
Carylynn [00:03:33] First, coaching provides a really, tangible way for leaders to show that they believe in the growth and the success of their people. And that builds trust. And as we know, trust is just a key accelerator of engagement and of creative capacity.
Carylynn [00:03:47] And, also coaching keeps responsibility at the appropriate level. When a leader offers advice and people follow that advice, the leader is inadvertently assuming responsibility for the outcomes. And, if their idea doesn’t wor, where does the team go? They go right back to the leader.
Carylynn [00:04:07] So, a great leader coach is going to ask great questions, share insights without solving for the team member. And, so a team member will walk away with a solution that they came up with and one that they feel really empowered to adjust or even scrap if they see it going sideways.
Carylynn [00:04:25] And, then a final way that coaching boost business results is by reducing turnover. It’s very interesting, turnover is incredibly costly and we know that people don’t leave companies nearly so much as they leave bad bosses.
Carylynn [00:04:39] And, people don’t want to be coached these days. They don’t want to be managed. They don’t want to be directed they don’t want to just be given the answers, they want to be coached. So leader coaches have much less turnover among their staff and when their people do want to move on they want to move on to another leader coach in that company. They’re not necessarily looking for a way out.
Don [00:05:02] We’re seeing something interesting with the change in the gender dynamics with boomers retiring in very large numbers over the next five to 10 years. And what this means is that these millennials, much younger professionals in the workplace are going to be thrust into these leadership positions at a much younger age.
Don [00:05:20] What you’re talking about here is, let’s get these, many of them boomers and even Gen X leaders, let’s get them coaching now to get this younger generation ready for these positions that they’re going to be taking at much younger ages.
Carylynn [00:05:33] Yeah absolutely. Millennials, like I said, they don’t want to be told what to do. They don’t want people solving their problems but they love to be coached. They love to be challenged and so coaching is also just a great way to bridge this generational divide.
Don [00:05:49] What opportunities should leaders leverage to coach their teams?
Carylynn [00:05:53] I’m really glad you asked because spotting opportunities to coach is half the battle.
Carylynn [00:05:58] Really great leader coaches they don’t wait for somebody to come and ask for coaching. They don’t have team members who say, hey, I would love some coaching on this. That’s just incredibly rare.
Carylynn [00:06:08] And so, they have to spot coaching opportunities in everyday work.
Carylynn [00:06:13] For example, a really great opportunity to coach is when a team member asks you for advice. So our tendency is to give them our advice. That’s what they’re asking for. But a great leader coach is going to invite them into a conversation instead.
Carylynn [00:06:28] So they might say, great question, can we talk through it. Or, they might say, hey what are your options? What have you already thought of or considered? They might say something like, well, let’s talk. Where are you getting stuck?
Don [00:06:40] Help me understand. You’ve coached a lot of leaders in your career all over the world, why is it so difficult for some leaders to hold back from just giving the answers then to actually coach and to help the other person come up with the answer themselves? Is it time pressure? Is it they just think they’re they’re just so great they should be doing it?
Don [00:07:02] What are, sort of, roadblocks for leaders and managers doing this coaching?
Carylynn [00:07:08] You know there are easy answers to that and there are harder answers to that.
Carylynn [00:07:13] I think the time pressure is actually an excuse. It’s a red herring. We all feel like we’re in a time crunch but in fact, we’re creating more work for ourselves when we’re always answering people’s questions.
Carylynn [00:07:25] And so, the deeper answer is that many, many leaders got promoted because they were great at solving problems. It’s what has always made them successful and so it’s where they find their sense of value.
Carylynn [00:07:38] So, why would you not answer a question if it’s being asked. And so, stepping into this role of a leader coach, it requires a change in your value system that requires a change in your mindset.
Carylynn [00:07:50] You have to start to value seeing, as we say, for the light come on in someone else’s eyes. Seeing them come up with a solution that is genuinely their own. Not one that you lead them to but one that they really own. You have to value that more than you value the spike in ego that you get from answering the question.
Don [00:08:11] We have a process in the consulting that we do for clients we call label and redirect. And, it’s a way for a leader to take for example a question and just label it. I understand your concern but then redirect. What do you think we can do? How do you think we should handle this?
Don [00:08:31] So, take the input. Say, I really appreciate the question and now redirect. That’s the label. I really appreciate the question. How do you think we should handle this? What would you do? And just redirect them into getting them to answer it themselves.
Don [00:08:43] Sometimes employees say I don’t know you’re the manager you’re supposed to know. That still is an opportunity to say okay well let’s think about this together but let’s go on this journey. It’s almost like, walk with me. Let’s figure this out together.
Don [00:08:57] I’m curious about how a leader can tell if it’s the right time or the right moment or the right space in a person’s career for them to be coachable, to be open to being coached.
Carylynn [00:09:09] So, it’s a great question because you can’t coach someone who doesn’t want to be coached. But ultimately, I encourage leaders to think about the fact that everyone is actually coachable. Even people that you may have on your team who seem incredibly opposed to anyone challenging them or suggesting a different way of thinking.
Carylynn [00:09:31] Everyone is coachable. Everyone is willing, in my experience, to engage in a coaching conversation around something that they want to engage in.
Carylynn [00:09:41] And so, you have to be able to find that entry point. And rather than assuming that a person who has maybe not responded positively in the past isn’t coachable, I encourage leaders just to ask, hey, could we talk about this?
Carylynn [00:09:56] And, that word coaching is sort of loaded. Everyone has different understandings or ideas of what a coach is. So I don’t even necessarily recommend asking, do you want to be coached? More asking, can we talk about it?
Don [00:10:11] I’m sure you’ve done in some of your one-on-one assignments, you’ve found some pretty resistant leaders you were coaching, where you make a recommendation and maybe they refute or counter or say, well, I would never do that or I don’t think that’s a good idea.
Don [00:10:24] I have certainly found some individuals that are just very resistant instead of just opening up and saying, hey, I’m a work in progress, a continuous improvement applies to me. They view anything like a criticism, they’re very highly defended when you coach them. They want to defend the decision they made rather than listen and be open.
Don [00:10:43] Do you have some techniques for softening people up? Or, how do you reach some of these more difficult clients and get them to open up?
Carylynn [00:10:51] I think a big part of that is the art of sharing observations. One of the things that I always emphasize is that coaching is more than just questions. And, so as a coach, if all you’re doing is asking questions you’ll put people on the defensive very quickly. You have to learn this art of sharing observations. And also, I’m not giving recommendations. That’s not my role as a coach.
Carylynn [00:11:12] I don’t think that I know any better than any of my clients. So, rather than sharing any recommendations, what I’m doing is sharing my observations. And the observation might be that when you do this there are positive outcomes to that but there are also liabilities of that and I’m not telling them how to fix it. I’m just sharing that observation.
Carylynn [00:11:33] And so, I’m offering a different perspective perhaps on the situation.
Don [00:11:38] It’s like you’re trying to get them to use a frame of curiosity but also feels like you’re slipping in a little bit of self-awareness as well and attunement.
Carylynn [00:11:48] Absolutely.
Carylynn [00:11:49] Coaching is incredibly powerful in terms of building self-awareness.
Don [00:11:54] In 2015 Burson and Associates, now Deloitte, released a study of human capital trends. And in this study the deployment of coaching programs for employees was listed as a best practice for talent management.
Don [00:12:09] Now for most companies, it’s impossible to bring in external coaches to do all this one on one coaching. From your perspective. Dr. Larson can leader coaches fill this gap? That is, can we create almost like these internal coaches, mentors within the company so we don’t have to be hiring consultants?
Carylynn [00:12:28] In short, absolutely. Leader coaches can fill that gap and it’s not just a belief of mine. It’s something that I have seen proven true in some of the work that we do.
Carylynn [00:12:39] The first step is helping leaders learn to coach. And, as I mentioned at the very beginning of the broadcast, most leaders think they’re already coaching because they’re engaging with their people they’re giving them feedback. They’re even talking about career development.
Carylynn [00:12:53] But a coaching conversation is very different than a typical conversation. So just because you’re engaging with your employees and you’re having good conversations with them does not mean that you’re having coaching conversations.
Carylynn [00:13:05] So, in all the years that I’ve been teaching leaders how to coach. I’ve probably helped thousands of leaders become leader coaches.
Carylynn [00:13:12] I’ve had maybe five who were actually coaching when they walked in the room for the first time. The other 95 percent, right, thought they were coaching, but actually when they learned how to coach they realized that that wasn’t what they were doing. So, learning how to coach is an important first step.
Don [00:13:32] If you were to say what are the three key components of learning to coach or being a good coach what would those three aspects be? I mean how could a leader say, I wonder if I’m a good coach? They would have to answer these three questions. Yes, yes and yes.
Carylynn [00:13:49] Well, they’d have to answer those three questions honestly.
[00:13:52] So, one of them we’ve already spoken to. One of them is their value structure. It’s the degree to which they genuinely value seeing someone else think deeply and really dig and struggle, and then, ultimately come up with an idea that they’re excited about, more so than just giving the quick answer. So that’s a huge component.
Carylynn [00:14:17] And, then you have to understand a little bit about how a coaching conversation flows, sort of the elements of the conversation. And, you have to develop a skill set, a different skill set.
Don [00:14:26] Yeah, and you probably really have to practice that. Not just read about it but practice, practice, practice.
Carylynn [00:14:32] Absolutely. What’s so interesting though, is that, I have found that in two days we can get leaders practicing coaching. And, the practice is so self-reinforcing that as soon as they’re practicing and they’re willing to take a risk and try to coach a team member or try to engage a little differently even outside the workplace with family or with kids. It works so well. They get such different results that they’ll keep practicing.
Don [00:15:03] So let’s say I’m a leader and I’m interested in trying to take this coaching approach that you’ve been talking about. What’s the first thing I need to do.
Carylynn [00:15:12] Well, so you need to learn how to coach. And, there are a couple of avenues for that. I have seen leaders who are so enthralled by this idea of coaching that they actually went through with the incredibly arduous process of becoming a certified coach.
Carylynn [00:15:28] Now these are 20 grand, nine-month programs. In my experience, if your intent is to stay embedded in a business environment and to lead a company or lead an organization that’s overkill. You don’t have to get a professional coaching certification.
Don [00:15:42] Okay, that’s good to know.
Carylynn [00:15:43] Yep. But you do need to bring in expertise and you need to go through an experience that teaches you how to coach.
Don [00:15:50] And, that’s the work that you do.
Carylynn [00:15:53] It is yeah. And, my experience, too, is that it’s harder to do that on your own. I’ve had some clients that have asked me to teach them to be a coach one on one. But, what I find is that it’s much more difficult to learn how to coach one on one than it is in a group setting.
Carylynn [00:16:11] So now, here and there, if I get one of those one-offs, I’ll ask them to find a couple of colleagues that want to learn along beside them.
Don [00:16:18] That feel so smart to me. One of the things that we’ve seen in just the general leadership field when people go off and get leadership training alone, they go to a program, they get inspired, they get motivated, they’re really excited but then they come back to a workplace ecosystem where they live and no one else in that system is trying to do the same thing.
Don [00:16:39] And, they might struggle and try but just hit resistance and people just don’t understand what they’re trying to do. It’s very hard to have an impact on a culture if it’s one single person.
Don [00:16:51] We also know that as human beings we just learn more effectively when we can do so with others. So, I think that’s brilliant that you you’re always trying to get them to work with other colleagues so that they can load share with each other, share best practices. That feels spot on.
Carylynn [00:17:03] And, if I could just say, as well, that the real ideal is that a company basically makes a declaration that to be a great leader at this company is to be a great coach. And, so and I’ve worked in multiple organizations that have made that declaration. And, there, you have every single leader going through a coaching program. That’s powerful.
Don [00:17:25] Thank you, Carylynn.
Don [00:17:26] I want to summarize some of the things that I heard today.
Don [00:17:29] You started by telling us that a true leader coach resists the temptation to give answers and advice but instead they used things like deep listening, curiosity powerful questions. And, I liked your phrase, astute observations to challenge team members to think for themselves.
Don [00:17:46] And, you said it’s also really important that a part of this is that leaders have to empower their other employees so that they can do things on their own and feel that sense of empowerment. That also relieves some of the pressure on leaders.
Don [00:17:59] You don’t need to micromanage when you’re coaching great leaders. And it’s a very tangible way for leaders to show that they believe in the growth and success of their people, helps reduce turnover you told us.
Don [00:18:09] And, a key thing for leaders to do is to look for opportunities to coach. That everyone’s coachable and don’t answer their questions, just get them involved in a conversation. And, that coaching sticks because it’s self-reinforcing.
Don [00:18:24] I want to thank you for that. Any last thoughts or comments on the role of leader as coach to leave our listeners with?
Carylynn [00:18:31] Sure I’ll leave you with this. I think one of the biggest barriers to adopting a coaching approach is a myth that coaching takes too much time. And, that’s probably perpetuated by the professional coaching industry where we’ll steal an hour on our client’s calendar for a coaching conversation.
Carylynn [00:18:51] But in the workplace coaching looks very different. So, as a leader coach, you’re with people all the time. So, you’re going to find five and ten-minute opportunities to coach.
Carylynn [00:19:01] When we do leaders coach programs we practice in 10-minute coaching conversations. And, by the end of the workshop people are getting done before the timer goes off. So, you don’t need even an hour. It doesn’t take any longer to coach.
Don [00:19:15] Just a few key tips and guidance and this could feel very natural for most leaders if they just knew the steps to take.
Carylynn [00:19:22] Yep.
Don [00:19:23] Carylynn, thank you so much for being here with us today. This has been awesome.
Carylynn [00:19:26] Thanks for having me.
Don [00:19:28] That’s it for today. I’m your host Don Rheem. And thank you for listening.
Don [00:19:32] Our guest next week is Chelsea Sargent, a licensed professional counselor and a certified specialist in the Enneagram, a 2000-year-old personality examination. The Enneagram is composed of nine numbers and Chelsea will speak to us in a four part series about why understanding these numbers can help people become more self-aware and interact more effectively and compassionately with the world around them.
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