Look and Listen

One of the primary responsibilities of leadership is to coach the people you lead. We coach to reinforce positive behavior, we coach to motivate, and sometimes we must coach for corrective action. 

Most often that coaching is in the form of talking. We advise, we suggest, and hopefully not very often, we tell. 

So here’s two pieces of advice for the next time you find yourself in a coaching situation. 

First listen to what you’re saying. I’m serious about that…really listen. In fact, record the conversation and when you play it back listen to what YOU said. Listen to the tone of your voice. Were you speaking in positives and possibilities or were you speaking in negatives and consequences? 

Were you specific in why you’re coaching or did you leave the person you were coaching wondering what the conversation was really about. If you were coaching for corrective action were you very very specific in what needs to change and when? Were you crystal clear in how that change would be measured? Did you leave doubt about your expectations? Any doubt leaves a gray area. Coaching for corrective action requires that you “paint” your expectations in black and white as much as possible.

It’s important to know that when you allow gray areas while coaching for corrective action you give people a place to hide from responsibility. Shades of gray make for a mighty comfortable place to hide from change as well. 

More important than listening to yourself is looking at yourself. As a leader your people will do what you DO far faster than they will do what you SAY. If you’re coaching them towards a better attitude and your attitude sucks then all the words in the world aren’t going to change their attitude. 

As their leader YOU are their model for successful behavior. Whether you realize it or not, YOU are leading by example. If your words do not match your actions then your people will have to make a choice.

Do they do what you say or do they do what you do? They may not believe what they hear but they almost always will believe what they see. 

They will do what you do!

If you’re going to help your people trust what you say then your actions MUST match your words. If you force them to make a choice between “say” or “do” they will choose do and your chances of truly leading them will go the way of the dodo bird.

In both cases, listening to yourself and looking at yourself, you need to be completely honest. Authentic Leaders do not lie to themselves. Do not cut yourself an ounce of slack, if you think your tone was too negative then fix it. If you find that your actions are not a mirror image of your words then change your actions or change your words. 

They MUST match. 

Remember, you may hold a leadership position but your journey to Authentic Leadership never stops. You can and should continue to learn and grow, exactly like the people you lead.

Your Best Coach

I write from time to time on the importance of having a coach or a mentor. The best mentors show you what to do and how to do it. They don’t do it for you.

At some point all successful people did something to make themselves a success. They likely had a coach or mentor but they had to make the effort to act on the advice they received. THEY HAD TO ACT THEMSELVES!

Taking action to accomplish something requires a whole different kind of coach. It requires a “self-coach.” That would be you!

At some point you must push yourself. You must accept responsibility for your actions and decisions. What you’re taught can’t help you if you don’t apply it. The best advice in the world falls flat if you don’t use it.

If you do nothing then nothing is exactly what you should expect in return.

If you’re a good self-coach then you’re setting goals for yourself. Long-term, medium-term goals and short-term goals. Those short-term goals can be daily or even hourly. As an excellent self-coach you turn large, seemingly insurmountable tasks into a series of smaller tasks that you can accomplish on a daily or weekly basis.

That old city in Italy wasn’t built in a day and neither is long-term success. Doing a little each day will most definitely help you achieve a lot over time.

That’s the best thing about being/having a great self-coach…they are with you every day, all day.

The challenge with your self-coach, or your inner-coach, or whatever you want to call it, is the same as it is with a mentor or outside coach. You MUST listen to their advice and then act on it.

A single pound of action is worth more than a ton of good intentions. One thing highly successful people have in common with less successful people is that they both have good intentions. What most often separates the highly successful people from the less successful is that the most successful people act on those intentions.

So follow this coaches advice and ACT!

Your People NEED to Know

Most organizations know how important it is to provide feedback to their people. That is why they schedule an annual review for all of their people. In some organizations it is a very formal process and in others it is far more casual. 

 

Good leaders will keep track of the strengths and weaknesses of their people throughout the year so they can provide meaningful feedback during the review process. 

 

Great leaders would never do that. 

 

Great leaders wouldn’t do that because they provide feedback for their people constantly. They don’t wait for a review process. They help their people grow everyday. They don’t just tell their people how and what to do, they show them.

 

Great leaders are models of successful behavior. 

 

These same great leaders know that their people not only want to know how they are doing, they need to know. They need to know whether or not they are meeting the expectations of their leader. They need to know that their performance is making a difference for the organization. They need to know they would be missed if they were to leave. 

 

And they need to know all of that more than once a year. Way more. 

 

If you’re a leader who waits for an annual review to give feedback to your people then you’re limiting their potential for success. You’re causing unneeded stress which often leads to lower productivity. 

 

I recommend you schedule time in your day to provide consistent meaningful feedback in a casual setting. Your people will appreciate your insights. They will appreciate the consistency. They will appreciate knowing… knowing that they are making a difference and knowing that they are doing it in a way that is recognized. 

 

They will even appreciate knowing where they may be falling short. 


Don’t wait to provide feedback because your people need to know!

Are You’re To Critical?

I’m betting there are a whole lot of people who, even if they are reading this sentence, are only paying partial attention to it.

 

They are only partially focused on it because they can’t get past the poor spelling in the title. The two mistakes in the title have tainted the entire post for them. Some people won’t read the post at all because of the grammar issues. They assume that there is little to learn from anyone who uses “you’re” where “your” should have been used. Using “to” in place of “too” likely sent them over the edge. 

 

Thank you to those of you who have hung around long enough to give me a chance to explain. 

 

The “mistakes” in the title are not really mistakes. I used those words to make a point. The point is that when we are too critical of other people we lose the opportunity to learn from them.

 

The most open minded successful people look past imperfections and use what they can to learn from everyone they meet. They realize that just because someone may misuse a word here and there or misspell a word now and then it doesn’t mean that everything they say or write should be dismissed. 

 

No one is perfect, no one knows everything and everyone makes mistakes. It doesn’t mean that they are not knowledgeable or that their opinion is less valuable than anyone else’s. 

 

The most successful people and the most effective leaders know that everyone knows something that they don’t. That means they can learn from anyone and that’s exactly what they do. 

 

Every viewpoint and opposing opinion teaches you something if you can keep an open mind. In fact, you’ll learn more from people who think differently than you then you’ll ever learn from people who think just like you. 

 

Yes, typos, misspelled and misused words distract from the message. Using the wrong word in a presentation or a sentence lessens it’s impact but….. for a leader those are coaching opportunities, not a reason to dismiss the entire message. It most certainly does not diminish the value of the person making the mistake.  


Anybody can find fault with someone else, it takes a leader to see the strengths in everyone. If you’re focusing too much on the mistakes of others you’re also making it much harder to learn from what they do well. That is YOUR mistake and one that YOU should work on before you try eliminating the mistakes of others.

Everyone Needs Encouragement

This post has a pretty simple title. I’m hoping that everyone who reads this knows that unarguable fact. 

 

Knowing it isn’t enough. If you’re a leader you must actually provide encouragement to your people. Consistent, planned and very intentional encouragement. Now, before you say that you “do that all the time” stop for a moment and think. Think about the last time you actually stopped long enough to truly focus on someone else and provide them with meaningful encouragement. 

 

How long has it actually been?

 

If you’re thinking that “nice work” or “keep it up” or “way to go” is actually encouragement then I would suggest that you need to change your thinking. Passing someone in the hall and tossing a “nice job” their way is not encouragement. It’s not a compliment and it most certainly doesn’t pass muster as a sincere Thank You. 

 

Actual encouragement is the act of providing positive feedback that focuses specifically on effort and/or improvement, rather than specific outcomes.

 

To encourage someone ask them how you can help them. Offer to assist (doing someone else’s work for them is not encouragement) them with advice or ideas. You may be surprised at just how powerful the simple question “How can I help?” really is.

 

Asking questions to help them uncover their own ideas is also a great encourager, especially when you point out that the idea is their very own.

 

Offer encouragement in public, let everyone see what a difference true encouragement can make. When you bring encouragement out into the open you develop a culture of encouragement within your organization. 

 

Providing real encouragement to others requires practice and preparation. Authentic Leaders set aside time to make certain this vital leadership responsibility does not fall through the cracks. Keep your eyes focused on your people and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to offer real encouragement. 


It might not be easy or even comfortable at first but keep at it. Once you become an habitual encourager you’ll wonder why you didn’t develop this awesome habit long ago.

The Coaching Cookie

I frequently start leadership presentations by asking the audience to share in one word a key responsibility of leadership.

 

It doesn’t take long for someone to come up with the word “coach” and they are exactly right. Leaders should always be coaching their people towards their next accomplishment and greater success.

 

Too often however leaders believe the time for coaching is only when corrective action is required. They coach to “fix” someone or something. Now that’s certainly appropriate but it shouldn’t be the only time you coach. 

 

Another great time to coach is when someone has done something well. That’s when you coach for positive reinforcement. The key difference between the two of course is that coaching for corrective action is best done privately while coaching for positive reinforcement can be done publicly. 

 

Early in my career I was taught the concept of “The Coaching Cookie.” This is a practice we use when coaching for corrective action. It begins with a compliment, then you state the area needing improvement and finish up your coaching conversation with another compliment. 

 

In the hands of an Authentic Servant Leader that concept can work well. It works for them because their compliments are sincere and they provide in-depth information as to exactly what needs to improve, precisely what “improvement” will look like and how it will be measured. Their “cookie” isn’t filled with fluff, it’s filled with nourishing insights. 

 

The problem I have with this particular coaching concept is that too many people in leadership positions simply use it as a conflict avoidance tool. They focus on the compliments while understating the corrective action required. These “leaders” are more concerned with avoiding conflict than building people.

 

Anytime you’re going to coach your people, for whatever reason, you should be very thoughtful about it. Invest some time in getting this right. If you’re going to use the Coaching Cookie then make sure your filling is meaningful. Be clear, be specific and add a dash of accountability by including a date to review whether the improvement was achieved. 

 

Avoiding conflict by failing to coach your people isn’t helping you and it most certainly isn’t helping them. 


One characteristic of a truly Authentic Servant Leader is that they care enough to coach even in difficult circumstances. Do your people see that characteristic in you? If not you have the power to change that; you only have to decide that you will.


Leading from the Front

Most commonly leaders lead from the front. There is nothing wrong with that, usually. But, if you’re only leading from the front you run the danger of getting too far out in front of your people and when you turn around there’s actually no one there anymore. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders never outrun their people in their rush to succeed. 

 

Hopefully you’ve found yourself in a leadership position because in some way, or perhaps many ways, you have outrun your competition for the position. If that’s the case then one of the first things you need to do upon becoming a leader is slow your roll. Stop trying to outrun everyone else, the race is over. 

 

If you consistently outrun the people you’re supposed to be leading it won’t be long before you’re leading no one. You may have incredibly high expectations for yourself but it is a mistake to transfer the expectations you have for yourself to everyone else in your organization. 

 

They may not be as committed as you are, they may not have the same skill level as you, they may value “life balance” more than you and there are a hundred other things that could cause them to not keep up with your pace.

 

As a leader it’s your job to help them exceed their expectations for themselves and overcome any artificial limitations they may have. But…. and this is big, setting unrealistic and unreasonable expectations for your people will cause them to fail as surely as having no expectations at all. 

 

Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the front and pull their people to success, they occasionally lead from the rear and push their people further than they thought they could go. Most often however, Authentic Servant Leaders lead from the middle. It’s leading from the middle that allows a leader to come along side of their people and coach them to success. 

 

When a leader coaches their people to success they ensure that their leadership legacy outlasts their leadership. When a leader leads from the front or rear they tend to make more and frankly, better followers. But Authentic Servant Leaders know that true leadership success means making more than just followers, it means making more leaders.

 

That requires being close to your people. It requires that you never get so far out in front of them that they lose sight of you. It would be simple to say that if your people can’t see you then they can’t follow you. But the fact is if they can’t see you, hear you, and even feel you then they can’t learn from you. 

 

You can’t grow your organization without growing your people. You can’t grow your people by separating yourself from them. One of the fastest ways to separate yourself from your people is to outrun them.


Stay close to your people, never think of them as slowing you down. Think of yourself as the leader who helps them move forward as fast, but never faster, than they possible can.