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How to Coach People as a Leader

The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.

— John Buchan

Lots of leaders like to be critics.
Some have learned to be critical from their parents.
Some are deeply insecure. Criticizing makes them feel powerful.
Some simply may be emotionally unaware. They don’t realize the damage they are doing.
And some are just lazy.
Let’s face it; being a critic is easy. We can all find fault in people and blurt those things out. Often, we are projecting our own insecurities onto others in the form of “advice.”
Being a coach, though, takes work. It requires thought, finesse, self-awareness.
While we all need to be coachable, the best leaders are coaches, not critics.
Broken people
In my work with leaders across the country, I find that the approach of constant criticism leaves a trail of broken people, often bitter and lacking confidence.
Examples are everywhere:

-- The young woman who told me before a workshop that her trouble giving presentations stems from her first boss criticizing practically everything she did in a presentation

-- The sales leader whose boss felt compelled to give long sessions of criticism under the rubric of “coaching” without a word of positivity. This leader would constantly feel attacked and said he wondered at the time if he ever did anything right.

-- The many clients who say they receive the “but” form of “coaching” constantly. You did this little thing all right, BUT you stink at all these other things.

I’m not saying you should never give your people on your team direct feedback, but you should think strategically about your approach and whether it’s creating the results you are seeking.

To focus on your positioning, your tone, and your attitude, here are a few models for your consideration:
Be a coach
A coach is there to unlock the potential of a person, to help that person achieve what they couldn’t or wouldn’t achieve on their own. With the right feedback at the right time, you can build your team member’s confidence and produce better outcomes.
Be a servant leader
Your positioning matters. If you’re standing beside me to support me, or show me the way, it’s a lot different than standing in front of me to critique me.
It’s much easier to be receptive to feedback when you know it’s meant to make you stronger, not beat you down.
Be a trusted advisor
My clients in many industries, from financial services to consulting, are working to position their representatives as trusted advisors. As a leader of people, there is no better positioning for your guidance.
If I trust you and you give me great advice, I will grow and get better results because of your leadership.

Be a good listener
In a trusted relationship, we are much more willing to share. Asking the right questions and listening carefully can guide people to their own conclusions about their thinking and behavior. I’ve found this is much more effective than directives in producing lasting change and growth for people.
Be open to feedback
I have a client who talks about a super-angry boss from early in his career. The boss was always yelling so people were afraid to bring him bad news or open problems. He was ultimately undone because hidden issues eventually took their toll on the organization.
Be a role model
As a leader people are always watching you. So much of learning is observing role models. Some of the most powerful coaching you can do is through your own thinking and actions.
Lots of leaders participate in the “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy of leadership. I like to tell clients that when your behavior is out of sync with what you’re preaching, your body language is so loud people won’t hear a word you are saying.
How about you?
Are you a coach, or a critic?
How would your team describe your style? Are you a servant leader, a trusted advisor, a good listener?
As a leader, you can have a powerful effect on the people around you. It only takes being clear about your positioning, your tone, and your attitude, yet it can make all the difference in your team’s morale, confidence, and results.
Please. Be a coach, not a critic.

How to Be a Leader of High Standards

Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards many people may think these standards are unreasonably high…

— from Amazon Leadership Principles

Do you have high standards?
As a leader, do you expect the best from yourself and your team?
Your immediate answer might be, “yes, of course!” But most of us have lower expectations that we realize.
There is a video of a Tony Robbins workshop where he asks people to raise their hands as high as they can. Then he has them pull down their hands. Then he says, “Okay, raise your hands a little bit higher” and, of course, they do.
It’s a bit of a simple example, but true nonetheless. Most of us don’t think big enough. Our goals are too small. We’re too reasonable.
We don’t really have high standards. We have achievable standards and rationale goals.
This occurred to me reading Jeff Bezos’ recently released shareholder letter. I recommend that every leader take the time to read his 20th-anniversary letter. At the bottom, you’ll see Bezos’ first shareholder letter from 1997, which he includes every year.
The letter gives you a clear understanding of Amazon’s success, such as the company reaching 100 million Prime members this year! This letter also speaks to the power of a consumer-focused vision over 20 years, and what the future holds.

A culture of high standards
It’s a field manual for leaders. It focuses on the company’s high standards, which are fundamental to Amazon's Leadership Principles. In Bezos’ words:
Building a culture of high standards is well worth the effort, and there are many benefits. Naturally and most obviously, you’re going to build better products and services for customers – this would be reason enough! 
Perhaps a little less obvious: people are drawn to high standards – they help with recruiting and retention. More subtle: a culture of high standards is protective of all the ‘invisible’ but crucial work that goes on in every company. I’m talking about the work that no one sees. The work that gets done when no one is watching. In a high standards culture, doing that work well is its own reward – it’s part of what it means to be a professional. 
And finally, high standards are fun! Once you’ve tasted high standards, there’s no going back. 
So, the four elements of high standards as we see it: they are teachable, they are domain specific, you must recognize them, and you must explicitly coach realistic scope. For us, these work at all levels of detail. Everything from writing memos to whole new, clean-sheet business initiatives. We hope they help you too.

Let me summarize the key ideas of Bezos’ letter:
Intrinsic or teachable?
This is like the “nature vs. nurture” debate. Bezos asks whether people are born with high standards or are they teachable. To have a high-standards team, do you need to find those people and hire them? He believes they are teachable. He writes: 
In fact, people are pretty good at learning high standards simply through exposure. High standards are contagious. Bring a new person onto a high standards team, and they’ll quickly adapt. The opposite is also true. If low standards prevail, those too will quickly spread. And though exposure works well to teach high standards, I believe you can accelerate that rate of learning by articulating a few core principles of high standards, which I hope to share in this letter.
Universal or domain-specific?
In a similar way, there’s the question of whether high standards in one area will transfer to another. Bezos doesn’t think so:
When I started Amazon, I had high standards on inventing, on customer care, and (thankfully) on hiring. But I didn’t have high standards on operational process: how to keep fixed problems fixed, how to eliminate defects at the root, how to inspect processes, and much more. I had to learn and develop high standards on all of that (my colleagues were my tutors). 
Understanding this point is important because it keeps you humble. You can consider yourself a person of high standards in general and still have debilitating blind spots. There can be whole arenas of endeavor where you may not even know that your standards are low or non-existent, and certainly not world class. It’s critical to be open to that likelihood.

Recognize and have realistic scope
Bezos believes it’s critical to focus on a realistic scope defining what are high standards. He cites a close friend who wanted to be able to do a handstand without the support of a wall and started practicing in her yoga studio:
She then practiced for a while but wasn’t getting the results she wanted. So, she hired a handstand coach. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but evidently this is an actual thing that exists.
In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. ‘Most people,’ he said, ‘think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.’ 
Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be – something this coach understood well.
Can be coached
There are certainly skills necessary to achieve high standards, but Bezos believes that in the context of a team people can be coached on skill development to achieve high standards:
The football coach doesn’t need to be able to throw, and a film director doesn’t need to be able to act. But they both do need to recognize high standards for those things and teach realistic expectations on scope….Someone on the team needs to have the skill, but it doesn’t have to be you. 
What about you?
Do you hold high standards? Are they truly high standards or just good enough?
Do you hold yourself and others accountable to these standards?
Think about your standards and whether they might benefit from a more realistic scope and some clear coaching.
Amazon’s example is a great model in a world of disruption. In the end, it’s clear that our standards and execution dictate our ultimate results.

They're Always Watching You

People have to buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.

— John Maxwell

Humans are tribal people. As much as we want to think of ourselves as individuals, we have an innate need to run with the pack. We follow leaders. We are constantly watching their words and actions.
And we are hardwired from an early age to look for inconsistency in behavior in those around us. In a recent training session with leaders, we were discussing the level of distraction all of us experience today. One leader told this story:
He and his wife have two small girls aged two and four. He admits to being compulsive about checking his phone, even at home. His wife keeps urging him to put away his phone while he’s at home and pay attention to the girls because she reminds him, they’ll be gone in a blink of an eye. (His wife lost her father at an early age and feels strongly about cherishing the special moments of family life.)
One day he was out by himself with his little girls and he reflexively grabbed his phone while licking his ice cream. His four-year-old daughter yelled, “Daddy, put down your phone! We’ll be gone when you blink your eyes!”
Her message cut to his heart. He was being watched. He established a practice of placing his phone in a drawer near the front door when he got home and not checking the phone again until the girls were in bed.
Workplace tribes
People are always watching us. This is no more evident than in the workplace. We watch our leaders, we watch our peers, we watch our team members to know where we stand in the tribe.
This is an important lesson for leaders: people are always watching you. They watch how you think. They watch how you act. They watch how you communicate.
They are constantly looking for cues on how they should act. They monitor your moods. They try to predict your emotional responses.
More people, more scrutiny
And the higher in the organization you rise, the more people are watching you. Over the years, as your team grows from 5 to 500 to 5,000, you will come under more scrutiny. Not only are more people watching you, but as your power and authority increases, they observe you far more intensely — judging your character, behavior, and speech.
This can be positive or negative.
On the positive side, you can have a huge influence on the actions and behavior of people in a 360-degree circle around you.
On the negative side, you have a responsibility to show up consistently or be called out for not walking your talk.
In the workplace, leaders get the same scrutiny when we say one thing and do another. I worked with a CEO who was leading a deep cost-cutting campaign saying, “pennies add up to dollars!”
At a town hall meeting, he was called out by employees for using the company plane to fly to his vacation home across the country. He tried an eloquent defense of his behavior by explaining that the board had granted him the use of the plane three times a year as part of his compensation. He twisted and turned but was caught not walking his talk.
Here are some ways to ensure that you show up as a leader in a clear, consistent way:
Develop your leadership brand
You should take the time to think clearly about who you are and what you stand for as a leader. I recommend this exercise that has you choose three adjectives that you’d like people to use in describing you.
Live into your brand
When you’ve developed a clear idea of how you want people to perceive you as a leader, it’s important to live into your brand. Be committed. That means changing your thinking, your behavior, and your communication to align with how you want to be understood by all of the people most important to you.
Walk your talk
When we say one thing and do another it creates cognitive dissonance, that uncomfortable mental state of inconsistent beliefs and behavior. We feel it and the people around us know it. As human beings, we are capable of rationalizing anything we think or do, so having the perspective and accountability of others can keep us more closely tied to reality.
Becoming your best self as a leader can be a lifelong learning experience, but it starts with self-awareness and a commitment to show up consistently in all of your most important relationships.

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Keep Showing Up

80 percent of success is just showing up.— Anonymous
Desiree Linden, who this week became the first American woman to win the Boston Marathon in 33 years, had thought of leaving the race early on. She had every reason to quit: It was cold, rainy, and windy, and she wasn’t feeling well.
But Linden has a philosophy that keeps her going. As she Tweeted on March 5th:
Some days it just flows and I feel like I’m born to do this, other days it feels like I’m trudging through hell. Every day I make the choice to show up and see what I’ve got, and to try and be better. My advice: keep showing up.
This is my philosophy as well. Just show up every day and do the work. The results will take care of themselves. Too many of us live in the future, or regret the past, and forget to just show up in the present.
Don’t quit
Linden could have quit in 2011, when she missed first place in the Boston Marathon by seconds. But instead, the two-time Olympian kept coming back.
True to her philosophy, she ran in this week’s race, despite facing especially tough conditions:
It was such a miserable day, and when things go awry, they can kind of ding you up for a while and also take time out of your career. I'm on the back half of my career, so I have to be super careful at this point. And early on, I was freezing and my muscles were tight, and I was like 'This isn't – this is not my day.' So, I did kind of toy around with the idea of stepping off.
Instead, Linden decided to help fellow American runner Shalane Flanagan:
We had talked about it a little earlier on in the race when I knew I might be stepping off. I said, ‘Hey, if you need help with anything along the way, I'm happy to run through the wind for you and just kind of be a block or whatever you might need.’
And so she nudged me later and said, ‘Hey, I'm going to do the port-a-potty thing.’ And I was like, ‘OK, well, I'll try to run you back into the group.’ And we got back up there. We reconnected. There was just so much pride on the American side this year. We wanted it so bad. Thirty-three years since an American winner, and I felt like there was some team camaraderie out there.’
Show up for one more minute
Linden said that earlier in her career she would obsess about whether she was having a positive day or a negative day, but finally decided to put an end to her obsessing:
I decided to stop thinking about each day so much, and just keep showing up. Like, whatever the day gave me, just show up. That's kind of how I attacked the race, too. Once I got over the fact that I wasn't going to drop out, it was like, ‘Just show up for one more mile. Show up for one more minute.’ And that was kind of my mantra throughout this entire build and through the entire race day on Monday.
Creating habits
We can all learn a deep lesson from Linden’s approach. There’s power in creating habits that allow us to show up. I ran a marathon and a few half-marathons, and I know that consistent training is the key to success.
It’s like that in life, too.
We stop ourselves from taking action.
We hesitate and play out the negative scenarios that will take place.
We imagine the worst; so we don’t show up.
We procrastinate.
We overthink.
We let inertia win.
Simply starting the process can be the greatest challenge in most of the personal and business challenges we face each day. Here are a few examples of situations where the hardest part is getting started:
An exercise workout? Getting dressed and traveling to the gym.
Volunteering to do that thing that scares you? Raising your hand.
Working on a major presentation? Putting your messages on paper.
This is why I advise college students to start internships and stick with them. When you show up in front of people, they see you and will begin to know, like, and trust you. It gives you a huge step above others for the next job.
I recently experienced this with a friend I’m mentoring. We were meeting at Starbucks and she told me she had applied for a part-time job she really wanted at a cool local small business. In fact, she had applied twice online. I told her she needed to walk in and meet the owners.
As we talked she became the negative spokesperson for business owners she had never met: She argued that they’re too busy; they probably didn’t like her background; they don’t think she’s qualified.
I said, “That’s it. Get your resume. I’m driving you over there right now.” We drove up. I parked. After some bolstering, she finally got out of the car and walked to the door. She looked back at me and made that uncertain face. I signaled to smile and be confident.
About 20 minutes later she came out with a smile but also a look of surprise on her face. They were going to hire her, pending a background check. She showed up!
Every Sunday?
One of the ways I decided to show up was writing this weekly newsletter almost three years ago. I had a friend who blogged weekly and I said, I could never do thatHow do you come up with ideas – EVERY WEEK?!!
He said you just show up and write. Once you get started, the process takes over and ideas will flow. Of course, he was right. I’ll be coaching a CEO or working with a team of leaders and someone will mention their fear, concern, or obstacle and I’ll say, “Thanks for the Sunday Coffee!” and I’ll write down the idea.
There are plenty of days I don’t feel like writing after a long week of travel, like this beautiful Saturday morning, but I keep showing up for you, my readers, but also as a commitment to myself.
Take action
How about you? Are you showing up and doing the work?
What have you been holding back on in business or in life?
Showing up is a full commitment, the discipline to be there when you don’t feel like it, to be all in.
Life is not always easy, but take Boston Marathon winner Desiree Linden’s advice: Keep showing up.

To share with me how you intend to show up you can send me a message on our contact form.

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Create Special Moments

“The greatest moments in life are not concerned with selfish achievements but rather with the things we do for the people we love and esteem.”

–– Walt Disney

If I asked you to think about the most powerful moments in your life, you might first think of the big ones – your wedding, the birth of a child, the death of a parent, advancement in your career.
These milestones certainly stand out, as we think of our lives in broad terms. These are indeed the major chapters when we tell our stories. 
But if I ask you think more deeply about the special moments of your childhood, you might recall ice cream with a parent, fireworks on the beach, or the first time someone taught you to ride a bike.
In my coaching and training, I ask people to bring and share stories. I also ask them to start a story bank that can be used to retell their stories in business to bring their messages to life.
Power of simple moments
Inevitably, these stories reflect the power of simple moments. A heartfelt note from a boss, tears from a customer, or a smile from a child.

While we think of our lives in broad, sweeping terms of many years, our key, cherished memories are simple moments in time. This is why the best films and books focus on sharing small gestures and moments.
The special moments are just minutes in hundreds of thousands of hours of experience. As leaders, it’s critical to create the moments that shape the experience of the people we work with. Whether with your customers, employees, or others, some thought and planning may produce extraordinary experiences.
One recent book outlines the importance of creating these experiences. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact,*  is another great book from authors (and brothers) Chip Heath and Dan Heath, who also wrote the classic, Made to Stick.*

the power of moments.jpeg
made to stick.jpg


The authors say moments are critical “because research has found that in recalling an experience, we ignore most of what happened and focus instead on a few particular moments….
“When people assess an experience, they tend to forget or ignore its length –– a phenomenon called ‘duration neglect.’ Instead, they seem to rate the experience based on two key moments: (1) the best or worst moment, known as the ‘peak’; and (2) the ending. Psychologists call it the ‘peak-end rule.’”
“What’s indisputable is that when we assess our experiences, we don’t average our minute-by-minute sensations. Rather, we tend to remember flagship moments: the peaks, the pits, and the transitions.”
Create positive experiences
This is obviously an important lesson to remember in business and in life. In service businesses, it’s critical to create positive impressions and memorable experiences.
Traveling as much as I do, I stay in a range of high-end and average hotels and I’m always interested in the experience they create. The authors use the example of the Magic Castle Hotel, which is consistently rated as one of the top three hotels in Los Angeles, higher than the upscale Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons hotels.
The Magic Castle Hotel achieves this rating despite the fact that it is anything but luxurious. “It’s not that it’s a bad-looking place; it’s fine. It looks like a respectable budget motel,” they write. Then why is it so highly rated that people rave about it to their friends and share it forever?
Here’s the secret. They’ve created extraordinary moments that are unforgettable, as the Heath brothers write:
Let’s start with the cherry-red phone mounted on the tool wall near the pool. You pick it up and someone answers, ‘Hello, popsicle hotline.’ You place an order, and minutes later, a staffer wearing white gloves delivers your cherry, orange, or grape popsicles to you at poolside. On a silver tray. For free.

Popsicle Hotline.jpg

Then there’s the snack menu, a list of goodies––ranging from Kit Kat’s to root beer to Cheetos––that can be ordered up at no cost. There’s also a board game menu and DVD menu, with all items loaned for free. Three times a week, magicians perform tricks at breakfast. Did we mention you can drop off unlimited loads of laundry for free washing? Your clothes are returned later in the day, wrapped in butcher paper and tied up with twine and a sprig of lavender.
The guest reviews for the Magic Castle Hotel are rapturous. What the Magic Castle has figured out is that, to please customers you need not obsess over every detail. Customers will forgive small swimming pools and underwhelming room décor, as long as some moments are magical.
There are so many opportunities all of us have to create unique and memorable experiences, yet we thoughtlessly stick with the well-worn path.
Defining special moments
The Power of Moments * defines four key elements for you to consider in creating special, defining moments:

ELEVATION: They rise above the everyday experience.

INSIGHT: They may shift your point of view of yourself or the world.

PRIDE: They capture moments of accomplishment or courage.

CONNECTION: They are often social events that strengthen the bonds we share with others.
Take action
I urge you to consider how you might take initiative to elevate experiences for yourself and those important to you in business and life.

  • Try a different approach at your next retreat –– as an opener, have everyone bring a meaningful object from home and explain the moment it became important to them.
  • Send a customer a thank you with a small, different gift, such as your favorite candy or dessert. 
  • Pick a “crazy” place for a weekend getaway with your partner or family.

It’s up to you. You have the ability to design the right kind of memorable experience, with powerful moments that might last a lifetime.

One final thought: as you think about creating special moments, don't lose the gift of being present for these moments. Too many of us have become consumed by our phones and have lost our mindfulness. Lots of us are capturing moments to share with others (it's Instagrammable!) rather than actually being present in the moment.

You see it everywhere: people glued to phones while walking dogs, sitting with children, dining with others.

I was watching an Austrailian DJ and singer who, during a concert, looked out and saw a sea of phones facing him. He screamed at his audience "you paid me a lot of money to be here with you so, for this one song, put down your phones and be here with me!" (I redacted over the colorful language.)

Thank you for sharing these moments with me.

Be a Calm, Assertive Leader

"Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm." – Publilius Syrus
I have a client who likes to say that leadership is easy…when you’re winning. The real test is when you’re down.
There is eternal truth in this. One of the greatest challenges for a leader is to maintain a sense of perspective and confidence when buffeted by the waves of change.
Today, these changes are coming fast and furious, including disruption of industries, global workforces, and incessant reorganizations, among others.
In discussing change management in a training class recently, I wrote on a flip chart the phrase: “Calm, Assertive Leadership” and a woman shouted, “The Dog Whisperer.” She was right. I was referring to Cesar Millan’s well-known TV show.
I read widely in my research on leadership and communication to bring the best ideas and strategies to my clients. As I read Cesar’s books and understood his approach, I saw very clearly that his methods give great insights into leadership and communication for humans. 
Be the pack leader
One of his books, in particular, said it all: Be the Pack Leader. Cesar notes that he doesn't train the dogs; he trains the owners – to be leaders of their dogs.

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Think about this:
Your dog wants consistent energy. Cesar says that dogs sense the energy level of their owners and respond to what he calls “calm-assertive energy.” Instead, most people give their dogs the opposite. “They are emotional, easily upset and frustrated, panicky, weak, or angry,” which is disconcerting to the dogs.
Your dog wants clear messages. Cesar writes that “Dog leaders are also inconsistent with the messages they send, so their dogs don’t know what to expect from one minute to the next. Is my owner the pack leader? Am I the pack leader? A confused dog is an unhappy dog.”
Your dog sees your intent through body language and tone of voice.  One of my favorite Far Side cartoons features a man scolding his dog, saying “Okay, Ginger. I’ve had it. You stay out of the garbage…” In the next panel, we see what Ginger hears, which of course, is “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger.” Dogs don’t understand our words, but they know what we mean.
This is certainly good advice for dog owners, and you might try applying these insights. But I don’t focus on dogs, I focus on people.
So please do this at work and at home: Re-read those three points and instead of thinking “dog,” think “person/people.” Think about what you bring to your colleagues and family in these three areas.
If you did re-read those points, you'd recognize that we are much more aligned with our animal friends than we sometimes believe. 

Body language and intention
Scientific research – particularly neuroscience – is delving deeply into the incredible number of signals we humans send to one another through our energy, our intentions, and our body language and tone.

So much of what we convey comes not from the specific words, but the context and delivery of the message. In coaching leaders whose behavior doesn’t align with their words, I often say, “they can’t hear a word you’re saying, because your body language is so loud.”
There are, of course, great differences between dogs and us in leadership – and not necessarily in our favor.
Cesar said that dogs would refuse to follow dogs with negative or unbalanced energy, whereas humans will. “Animals don’t follow unstable pack leaders; only humans promote, follow, and praise instability…That’s because all animals can evaluate and discern what balanced energy feels like…We humans continue to follow the unstable energy of our leaders – which is why we don’t live in a peaceful, balanced world.”
Calm-assertive energy

To achieve the calm-assertive energy, Cesar says that you have to get your emotions and your intentions to line up in harmony. “If you are ‘acting’ tough, but inside still feeling terrified, your dog will know it instantly. Your boss might not, but your dog definitely will. When your insides and your outsides conflict, you are powerless in the animal world,” he writes.
Cesar explains how to improve your approach: “…our human minds are incredibly powerful tools, and with the power of intention, we can actually change our feelings – not just on the surface, but from the inside out.
“If you can positively project the intention you desire through real strength and honesty, your dog will instantly react to that calm-assertive energy.”
My guess is that the people around you will react the same way to your calm-assertive energy.
Please give it a try, but don’t even think about faking it. Your dog is watching.