The keys to networking successfully when it’s outside your comfort zone

What is your gut response when you find out that there is a client event, staff party, or team boat cruise?

Some folks love to go out and mingle and seem to manage conversations effortlessly, but for others it can be something they do because they know they have to (but they don’t enjoy it or they spend the time worrying about everyone else in the room) – or they hate it!

As a leadership coach, this comes up with many of my clients for sure. We work with many professionals who find networking and schmoozing to be a stress. I hear things like:

“I know it could help my career, but I suck at it.”

“I never know what to say.”

“Isn’t it enough that I’ve been around people all day? I have to go to events on my own time, too?!”

“I like these events but I don’t know if I’m approaching them as strategically as I could or should.”

 DiSC Personality Styles

Being able to work a room is a skill – and it’s one that can make a huge difference in your career.

So why does it come so easily to some folks while others aren’t so keen or really struggle with it? It all comes down to different motivators, different stressors. At Padraig, one of the tools we use is the Everything DiSC Assessments and Guides to help our clients understand themselves and others better.

Guess what? Each behaviour style has different strengths and weaknesses – and these include how comfortable they are with social situations.

The DiSC personality styles all approach networking and social situations differently:

  • The “D” can often manage it, but sometimes find it tedious
  • The “i” thrives on it
  • The “S” can handle it if it isn’t unexpected, but worries a lot about whether others are enjoying it
  • The “C” often detests it

When you understand your own personality style and the other personality styles, it helps you realize what you can contribute to a group situation and how to make the most of what comes naturally to you. It also helps you know where you can improve or try to do things differently.

In addition to understanding your personal motivations, it also helps you learn what motivates other personality types and what to do when you approach them (which helps to break the ice and get conversation flowing in all kinds of social situations!).

To give you some idea of the kind of effective communication insights you gain from taking a DiSC assessment or participating in a DiSC workshop, here are some highlights for each of the four DiSC personality styles:

The Dominant “D”
Is usually very self-confident and likes to lead people but isn’t fond of routine and repetition. They are motivated by new challenges and thrive when they see tangible results. A “D” is not afraid to be opinionated and show authority.

The “D” leader has to be careful not to come across as argumentative or intimidating in social settings. They appreciate direct and to-the-point discussions, so do better with meaningful conversations and big-picture ideas. Rambling conversations are a challenge for a “D” to listen to attentively, but they like to focus on business and goals.

The Influential “i”
Is comfortable in situations where they might be the centre of attention and they love to be around other people. They are talkative, emotional and often full of enthusiasm. They tend to dislike conflict, especially if they will look unpopular for it and they like to motivate those around them. An “i” isn’t afraid to express an opinion and can put a positive spin on almost anything.

The “i” profile has to be careful to really listen to others (not talk over them!) and not to go overboard with excitement for new ideas. They don’t do well if they feel rejected and tend to do better with flexible situations and hate to feel restrained or controlled.

The Steady “S”
Is a good listener who is even-tempered, friendly and patient. An “S” is usually a peacemaker and nurturer in a group, watching out for everyone’s well-being. They like harmony and consensus within groups and feel best in predictable and stable situations. They like being around people but do best when they are with people they trust and in predictable environments in which they feel comfortable.

The “S” often has to work on being flexible with change and new situations. Because they value personal relationships and being agreeable so much, the “S” has to work at being comfortable expressing their own wants and needs (not always putting other people’s needs before their own!). They do best when interacting with kind and patient people who seem trustworthy and genuinely interested in them. Confrontation will make them very uncomfortable.

The Compliant “C”
Is very detail-oriented, an adept analytical thinker and a great problem solver. A “C” is thoughtful and even-tempered but can get bogged down in details. They are very motivated by information and logic and love to be in environments that are logical. They feel little need to be social and enjoy working independently. A “C” responds well to facts and detailed plans.

The “C” personality has to work on not being too critical of others and being able to let go of their need for detail when in situations that aren’t running with precise scheduling or predictable outcomes. They don’t like being criticized but need to remember that their own attention to detail often has them pointing out faults and seeming overly critical to others. The “C” does best in non-confrontational situations and takes pride in their work.

Now, let’s take theory and put it into practice.

Knowing the motivators and stressors for different types can help us to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone and reach out to others in a way that is bound to connect with their personality style.

For example, making conversation is a skill – but it’s easier when you have a hunch at what motivates different personality types and how to play to their strengths.

Conversations flow when:

  • Others feel comfortable
  • You feel comfortable
  • Everyone feels included and heard
  • There is common ground
  • Topics are interesting to everyone

It starts from being able to establish connections between people who may not know each other well or at all. If you’re introducing people, you want to establish a connection quickly. For example, if you are introducing two people, you could say something like:

“This is Jane. She’s an account manager for this Hollywood producer and

the biggest soccer fan I’ve ever met!”

“Have you met Phil? He’s our finance manager and

a huge supporter of local theatre.”

In addition to introducing names and positions, you give some detail that gives some common ground (Jane and Phil are both managers with connections to the arts) and ideas for conversation (soccer or theatre).

The more familiar you become with characteristics of the four DiSC personality styles, the easier it is to figure out what might make someone feel more comfortable in conversation and more motivated to participate in conversation. Networking and schmoozing is essentially being able to figure out what will get different people talking and feeling at ease – with you and with each other.

If we look at the brief overviews of the four personality styles, we can already see:

  • The “D” likes to be an authority and hates rambling conversations (keep stories brief and focused and ask the “D” for opinions or ideas rather than sharing your own unprompted)
  • The “i” loves to chat and enjoys being the centre of attention (ask the “i” general questions and be an active listener or share a funny story and build rapport through humour)
  • The “S” needs to feel comfortable and worries about others (be personable and remember the “S” values sincere appreciation of their kindness – thank an “S” for something they have done for your team – or genuinely take an interest in something the “S” shares in conversation)
  • The “C” isn’t fond of socializing, likes facts and detailed plans (if you hear the “C” has a favourite hobby or passion, ask the “C” to tell you what they like best about it or their advice about it – talking about something important to them is easier than making small talk)

Miss Manners would tell us all to leave politics, religion and other controversial topics out of polite conversation – and with the DiSC profiles you can see how some personalities don’t mind sharing strong opinions or creating conflict, but other personalities loathe conflict or upset. In a social/professional setting, conversation is best steered away from polarizing topics (anything too personal is not appropriate unless you are intimately acquainted!).

If you encounter a situation where the topic of conversation gets derailed and tempers are flaring, try:

  • Redirecting – “Well, as interesting as this is, we should really be talking about [anything funny or of general interest in the community or the next big event] so we can enjoy the rest of our evening.”
  • Distraction – “Oh! Is that Larry and Olivia?! I have to introduce you!” [call someone over and introduce to the group with an invitation to the tell the group about something fabulous]
  • Diplomacy – “Clearly we have some very strong opinions here. Can we agree to disagree and go check out what’s for dessert?”

The more you practice making conversation with other personality types, understand your listening style and brush up on your active listening skills, the easier it gets to network, schmooze and mingle. You will find yourself quickly guessing which personality style someone is and adapting your conversation to suit that style.

So Now What?

Now you may be wondering, “what DiSC type am I? Or what DiSC type is… my boss, my staff, Sally in accounting, etc.. We can help you with that with everything from a quick online DiSC assessment, to a short talk with one of our coaches about your results, to a full day workshop for your team.  There are many options, all of which can help you out. Give us a call (855-818-0600 x101) or or if you want results right away, click here to take the online assessment.

Coach’s Questions

Which elements of the DiSC personality styles do you recognize in yourself? Which do you recognize in others? What can you do to help make conversations easier for yourself and others? What do you want to try at the next social event you attend?

How to take a vacation from work (and really unplug!)

Hands up if you’ve been on holiday and, despite swearing that you weren’t going to check email or answer your cell phone, you ended up working some (or, true confessions, MUCH!) of your vacation.

I get it. I’ve been there at times in my career. Now, as a leadership coach, I meet clients who don’t like that they’re always on the clock but need help preventing leadership burnout.

The thing is that very few of us are in positions where things really, truly cannot continue if we’re away for a holiday. The pressure is often from a work culture where “face-time” and working 24/7 is valued as some sort of loyalty orit might be self-induced by some folks who need to feel super important or essential and have problems delegating effectively. Perhaps some others just worry and feel guilty if they’re away on vacation.  We live in a world where, for many, responding to “how are things?” with “oh, I’m super busy” has become a badge of honor.

If you obsess over checking and replying to emails and texts while you’re supposed to be enjoying hard-earned time off, you likely rationalize it in one or more ways:

  • I just need to check that my team is okay
  • They can’t do this without me
  • I can’t really rest and relax if I’m worrying about what’s happening at work
  • This won’t get done if I don’t check on the progress of things
  • I don’t want everyone stressed because I’m on holiday
  • It’ll look bad if I’m not in touch while I’m away
  • If I don’t do a bit now it’ll take forever to catch up when I get back

Unplug from the office

While countless companies profess they support achieving work-life balance and everyone seems to say they want more balance, recent workplace studies indicate over and over that North Americans, in particular, have a hard time taking a break from the office. More than half of us will check in with work at least a couple of times a week from vacation and many others at least daily or even twice a day.

Whether it’s an external or an internal pressure, not being able to get away from work on vacation is not healthy. So why is it so hard to unplug from the corporate world?

After all, from psychologists to neurologists to mental health experts, we hear one message: Our brains need rest to perform better. Taking a break from work (and technology!), getting adequate sleep and enjoying downtime with friends and family isn’t just nice or wishful thinking for busy professionals, it’s critical to our mental and physical health.

Taking a vacation is actually good for your career because, when you really unplug, your time away will be restorative. Science is clear: Giving your brain a break from all the constant demands is not wasteful or selfish! It improves your energy, concentration, and creativity.

As you’re planning this summer’s time off, I challenge you to completely unplug from the office this vacation and every subsequent vacation. As a leader, you can demonstrate this healthy behaviour (perhaps even shifting the corporate culture!) and you can help your staff do the same.

Vacation instead of workation

Here’s how to take a vacation from work instead of a workation:

Plan ahead. Decide when you’re going to take holidays and encourage everyone on your team to submit their vacation planning if they haven’t already done so. Tone is important and if you’re making vacation a priority, your team members shouldn’t feel taking time off is going to have a negative impact on their own careers. Remind everyone that in disconnecting and looking after themselves, they’ll come back to the office renewed and ready to tackle things. Ideally, you and your team members will want to book vacation time for quieter periods at work (not when you’re needed for a grand opening, the launch of a new product or the closing of a big deal) or stagger holidays so that everyone can cover off for everyone else.

Manage expectations. Vacation time is your time, but some people feel pressured to stay connected to the office by a boss who insists on having contact information. You don’t have to give many details about your plans, but you can say that you’ll have limited access to wifi or cell service either because of the hectic pace of your itinerary or because of geography  and that you’re going to be focusing your time on holiday adventures or family and friends. This sets the expectation that you can’t reliably stay in touch (rather than won’t).

Get in the mindset that time away is restorative. Even if you’re in the middle of a massive project, managing a difficult account or swamped with work, you and your team members need vacation time. Perhaps try taking shorter breaks; a few long weekends can be amazingly rejuvenating and easier to cover off (and definitely easier to deal with than burnout!). If you’re the kind of person who has trouble disconnecting from work (rather than someone who has pressure from bosses to be available), shorter stints away might be a way to wean yourself from being available 24/7. Or, when you do have a longer time booked, remind yourself, constantly, of the value of that time to you and the company. Keep reminding yourself you will be even more amazing, if you take a break before diving back in.

Line up your ducks. By that I mean prepare your most reliable coworkers to cover for you and ensure that your team members are ready to cover off for each other, too. Connect with your team in person, with enough time before your holiday that people can talk about priorities, problems, and expectations and those covering for you or others can ask questions. Ask them what they’re concerned about for the time you’ll be away and help them figure out mitigation strategies — you’ll feel better and they’ll feel better. Then follow up with brief, written summaries so people don’t feel they’re left guessing or scrambling.

Delegate authority when you are away. If you are in a leadership or management role, figure out who can make certain decisions while you are away on holiday. Putting a chain of command into place for all but the most critical of emergencies will let you leave things with others to handle. Realistically, other managers or leaders should be able to look after things in your absence and delegating effectively will save you time and your sanity year round. Your second in command should be the only one to text you if there is an absolute, end-of-the-world crisis – and you can describe what would qualify as this kind of crisis. This ensures that you can leave work behind because you can trust that you’ll be contacted in a real emergency and that when you return, these folks will catch you up on everything you need to know.

A week before your vacation time, communicate with key contacts. Remind everyone you regularly work with that you’re going to be on vacation and unreachable from this date to that date. Ask again (last chance!) if they have any questions for you before you leave because you won’t be checking email while you’re away. This sets up the expectation that you are truly going to disconnect for the duration of your vacation. And, it might limit the number of emails you have to sift through upon your return.

Make a list for yourself, ready for your return. Instead of going away and obsessing over what might be waiting for you when you return, make a list. Go over things that are coming up and jot them down. This way, you’ll feel prepared and can leave for your vacation without feeling compelled to check email to stay on top of things. One of the things I’ve taken to doing is completely clearing my desk the day I leave, leaving ONLY that list on it. That’s a reminder for others — they’re less likely to dump a pile of work on your desk if your desk is spotless, and it’s nice to know you’re coming back to a clear desk and a succinct list of things that need your attention.

Email key people your last day before vacation. Remind them that you’re going to be away, but don’t be too specific (don’t tell them which hotel you’re staying in and where to call you!). Set the expectation that you’re going away and you won’t be reachable but then tell them who to contact in your absence:


“Hey, team, just a reminder that I’m leaving tomorrow for my 10-day vacation. I’m NOT going to be checking my work email or voicemail while I’m away, but you can get in touch with Susan for account management issues, Bryan for accounting, or Cheyanne for marketing.”


Remember to let reception and administrative staff know your vacation plans and who is covering for you, too, so that they can handle any calls effectively and aren’t left guessing.

Use technology to your benefit. Put an out-of-office reply on your email so that anyone who emails while you’re gone knows that you are away AND NOT CHECKING EMAILS and who they can contact in your absence. Then record a new voicemail message with the same information on your office phone and work cell phone. Some leaders will build in a day to catch up and settle back into work (their colleagues will know when they return, but other contacts won’t) by saying they will reply to emails and voicemails a day later than their official return-to-work day instead of detailing the dates they are away:


I will be unavailable until August 11. I’m NOT going to be checking my work email or voicemail while I’m away, but you can get in touch with:

Susan at [PHONE] or [EMAIL] for account management issues

Bryan at [PHONE] or [EMAIL] for accounting queries

Cheyanne at [PHONE] or [EMAIL] for marketing assistance”


You can also turn off notifications so that you don’t jump to check or reply to texts or emails while you’re away. You’ll be amazed at how well trained we all are to jump and reply when we hear that device notification! With notifications off and your ringer set to silent, your work phone will not be intruding into your vacation time. You can check your notifications for any emergency issues on YOUR time if you must. Some people even put work-related apps into a special folder so they don’t check them out of habit.

Walk the talk. If you’ve set everything up and told everyone that you’re going to be unavailable during your vacation, don’t contradict yourself. Stay off your email and leave that work phone alone. If you start replying to emails and checking in with everyone then your team members will assume that you’re actually working remotely and available.

Protect your vacation time. Worst case scenario, if you have to check work emails or voicemails while on vacation, do this once a day for a set amount of time so that you don’t lose your time to rest and enjoy downtime. If you check at the end of the day after work hours. This keeps your limited replies to a time that shows you are intentionally responding to urgent issues while you are off work.

Coach’s Questions

When was the last time you were away from work and didn’t have to deal with a single call or email? What’s stopping you from really disconnecting from work? What steps can you take to change this?

Does how you see yourself match how others see you?

How do you think others see you? A couple of the things we hear a lot from our clients is:

  • They think folks see them the way they see themselves and wonder why things don’t always go the way they thought they should.

  • They recognize folks don’t see them the way they see themselves and they don’t know what to do about it.

We have some suggestions to lessen the gap between how you see yourself and how others see you to strengthen relationships.

The biggest challenge is that other people can see our actions, observe our behaviours and body language and also hear our voice and tone – all of which helps them understand us – but they can’t see or hear our motivators. They can’t hear that little voice in your head!  

They haven’t been with you in the moments, days, weeks and even years leading up to this moment. And, unfortunately, that little voice and those moments are often driving what you’re doing and consequently explain what you’re doing or saying. Those things are the “why” behind your actions and so while your actions, behaviours, words, and tone make complete sense to you, they might not make sense to others or might be wholly misinterpreted.

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize those motivators in the moment for ourselves, let alone for other people to understand what’s driving us! Learning to recognize these motivators and adapt to them is mindfulness (and we’ve talked about mindful leadership before).

The problem is, other people will subconsciously fill in the blanks when they don’t know your motivators – when they can’t hear the little voice in your head or when they don’t know the details of what has led to this moment in time. They might try to fill in the blanks by reading your body language and facial expressions – or maybe they’ll just make assumptions based on their own experiences and how they see the world.

First Impressions and Other Factors

You’ve probably heard how important first impressions are and that, “you can never make a second first impression.” While first impressions matter, there are other factors at play that have an impact on how others see you.

In her book, No One Understands You and What to Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson suggests there are two phases to how we are perceived by others – and Phase One is that all important first impression. Phase One of perception is entirely automatic, very rapid and almost subconscious. Phase Two is when there is more effort to understand the other person and when they’ll ask themselves (consciously, or not) whether their earlier impressions were accurate.

The big problem is that some folks won’t give you a Phase Two because it takes effort. During Phase Two folks might consider the situation, the surroundings and the context – but even then, they still can’t hear that little voice in your head and may not know much more about what brought you to this action or these words.

Adding to the problem is something called a confirmation bias, which is exceptionally common in people (yes, in you and me, too). The confirmation bias is what lets us pick out things that confirm we are right and ignore things that point out we might be wrong.

For example, if you’re in favour of a merger with another company, you will likely have an easy time finding all sorts of things that prove your point – the overhead will be lower, we’ll have access to their technology, etcetera, etcetera. If you’re opposed to the merger, you’ll likely pick up on the data about how badly efficiency and employee engagement suffer for a long time after a merger. What you’re picking up on reaffirms your initial view  – hence, confirmation bias.

So, when someone has a bad (or good) first impression of you, they’ll tend to pick out things they see that reaffirm that in Phase Two (if they even try to get to Phase Two).

Another form of the confirmation bias is the halo effect – where we see one good quality in someone and think it translates into other good qualities. This is why, in part, physically attractive people succeed – we think they’re warm, honest and intelligent even if we know little about them.

The inverse halo effect happens, too. When we pick up on one negative characteristic in that first impression, it can make a person seem less attractive, less intelligent and less helpful – and that negative effect tends to be even stronger than the halo effect.

In all of our interactions with others, it’s helpful to understand how we gather and filter information, add meanings and make assumptions. Read about the Ladder of Assumptions and try our worksheet to see how your beliefs and background can have an impact on conversations and workplace relationships. This is always one of the most popular exercises in our leadership workshops.

The other thing working against us when we’re trying to figure out how others see us is something called the false consensus bias, which is another natural human tendency. With this bias, we tend to think others see the world the way we do and we tend to think we’re in the majority.

When you see fringe groups on the news saying, “the people want…” you can see the false consensus bias in action. You and I look at the fringe group and think they’re out in left-field, but they think they’re speaking for the people. Unfortunately, even if you’re not a fringe lunatic, you still operate with this bias.

Here’s where it gets really interesting – while we all at some time think we’re speaking for the majority, we also operate under the false uniqueness bias, which is where we tend to underestimate the proportion of peers who share our desirable attributes and behaviours and to overestimate the proportion who share our undesirable attributes. In other words, if we’re particularly good at math (desirable) then we tend to assume most people aren’t and if we’re prone to impatience with slow progress (undesirable), we tend to assume others are impatient with that, too.

Tools to Manage Perceptions

So what can you do about this?

Well, becoming aware of your own tendencies is a giant first step. Becoming aware of common biases and thinking about how you’ve been applying them (without realizing it) is also important. But even more so, starting to remind yourself that others are applying those same biases to you (without even realizing it) will help you figure out how others see you.

We also have a couple fantastic tools in our toolkit that can help you:

You could take a DiSC behaviour profile to understand yourself better. Our profiles help you not only get an incredibly helpful picture of yourself – and your motivators and stressors – but also show you how to begin to adapt to folks around you who are, undoubtedly, seeing you differently.  

We offer a version for the workplace in general; the DiSC Workplace Assessment helps build stronger teams by improving relationships among team members.

The DiSC Management Assessment is designed for folks in management and leadership roles. It helps you understand yourself and how to adapt to your boss and your staff. This one our clients use a LOT and report amazing success.

We also offer DiSC Sales Assessment, which is to help salespeople understand how they’re being seen by prospects and clients (and what to do about it).   

Another option is to ask some trusted folks in your life to share how you’re being perceived. Now, this requires a bit of nuance – you have to ask folks who know you well AND who will be completely honest with you.

You might try explaining what you’re trying to do, why you’re trying to learn more about how others see you (so they understand you really want to know) and then ask something like, “if you didn’t know me better, what would you think of me?” Then, remain completely open to the response.

This may also be a great opportunity to work on how you’re perceived to respond to feedback (Aaacck — this may be a challenge!).  Be prepared to keep your expression neutral. Work hard on reminding yourself this is going to be helpful to you and this person is giving you a gift by being willing to be honest with you.

Another way to ask people about how they see you that is usually VERY effective is to do a 360 review. This is where your boss, your peers and your staff all answer some questions about you online or with one of our team members and then one of our coaches walks you through the results, helping you understand the results and, importantly, what you can do to improve. Give us a call if that sounds helpful.

If you’ve done an assessment, or just reviewed the situation yourself and figured out some areas where you might want to reset how people are seeing you, what else can you do about it?

Well, one particularly helpful thing is to be more explicit about what you’re thinking or feeling and to explain a bit to people. With our clients I often use the expression, “narrate the conversation.”  In other words, while meeting with someone or even talking over coffee, if you have the inkling you may be coming across wrong (because you’ve done a DiSC profile and you know your tendencies, or because you’ve heard about this from others, or because you’re becoming more in tune with yourself) you can pause the actual conversation about X, Y or Z and explain.  

For example, if you’re talking about a difficult situation at work and you realize you may be coming across wrong, you could pause for a moment and say, “I just realized I might be coming across as … [intense, angry, frustrated, aloof, overly concerned, etcetera, etcetera] because of … or because of …,” or, “I’m actually feeling frustrated right now but I know that often looks like I’m angry, and I just wanted to emphasize I’m not angry” etcetera.

If you’re worried someone has the wrong impression about you, your instinct may be to avoid working with them, but that is the exact opposite of what you should do. You see, if you avoid them, the only data they can use to figure you out is the misinterpreted data they already have. So, you should, actually, seek to work with them even more.  

PLUS, one thing that helps overcome a number of the biases I mentioned above, is for someone to see you being helpful to them, or even more so, helpful to other people. What better way to sincerely achieve that, than to work on a project together?

And finally, you may be asking yourself, “Yeah, but what if they’re right? What if I am [short-tempered, overly accommodating, skeptical, too generous, etcetera, etcetera]?” If that’s the case, congratulations! Seriously – you might have learned something about yourself and now you can do something about it.  

Just being aware of something allows you to figure out things you can do to compensate, if you wish. For example, if you’re overly impatient, you can catch yourself feeling impatient, remind yourself to smile, remind yourself to take a silent deep breath, remind yourself the other person likely isn’t trying to slow things down and take a moment to figure out what may be hindering them.

As well, the DiSC profile I mentioned above will give you all sorts of tips to help. It’s chock-full of specific tactics, tailored specifically to you, to adapt to folks around you.

Working with a coach has incredible value for the money in this situation because the coach tailors their work specifically to you. You don’t spend time in a course learning how to be X, Y, and Z when what you need to really focus on is Z.

Coach’s Questions

How do you think others might see you differently from how you see yourself? Have you ever asked others to share how they perceive you?

What can you do this week to identify the gap and change how you are perceived?

Six Characteristics of Problem-Solving Team Leaders

A big part of any leadership role is being able to troubleshoot. It might be strategizing to get a project that has derailed back on track, attracting new business or leveraging technology.

Whatever the problem, there are four basic steps that problem-solving leaders generally use:

  1. Define the problem
  2. Generate options
  3. Evaluate and choose an option
  4. Implement the solution

Great leaders don’t try to problem-solve on their own.

They don’t carry that burden because they know that a skilled team will better define the root of a problem, will generate better options and will better evaluate to find the best option and will implement the solution together.  

BUT, how do you and your team get to a point where you draw out all those benefits without feeling that “it would be easier to just do this myself”?

How Problem-Solving Leaders Involve Team Members

Here are a few things that really successful team leaders do:

Practice open communication and seek input from team members – One of the biggest challenges of solving a problem is getting to the root of it. Don’t assume people are comfortable sharing what they think. You may have to probe for it.

Pro-tip: Don’t overreact when they share upsetting, difficult or disheartening news. For example, if they share that someone overlooked something, someone contributed to the problem, etcetera – take the information as a learning opportunity. Thank them for noticing the problem.

Be open to considering why something was missed. Knowing why something happened (or didn’t happen!) will help you figure out how to avoid communication breakdowns in the future.

Remember, you want to encourage your team to share openly in the future, so don’t punish this behaviour. It’s important for problem-solving leaders to be able to hear bad news.

Break down silos – Effective leaders break down silos (sub-divisions of the organization that act independently). This is tied to open communication because silos are typically built as a result of three things:

  1. An organizational culture that pits units against each other for scarce resources;
  2. Organizational design that builds vertical units more than functional teams (note I didn’t say, instead of functional teams – good organizations can blend vertical units with cross-unit teams); and
  3. Strong individual leaders or weak individual leaders. That’s right, strong or weak.

You see, leadership teams made up of particularly strong team leaders (VPs, etcetera) are often not teams, but rather groups of highly successful individuals who are often quietly competing against each other.

Imagine that the VP of Marketing is a rock-star marketer but doesn’t trust the sales VP. The VP of Sales is one of the best salespeople you’re ever going to meet, but he thinks the VP of Finance doesn’t understand how truly, singularly important sales are to the organization. The VP of Finance is probably the best comptroller and accountant you’ve ever met – and she thinks the Marketing VP thinks the organization is made of money and the Sales guy thinks he walks on water.  

Know what that is? That is a team of strong and capable leaders, each leading their own silo instead of leading the company.

Sadly, silo-building also occurs when you have weak leaders who want to protect themselves and hide their shortcomings. They, too, tend to build an empire of support under them and try to hide things from their peers and boss.

The answer? Improving relationships to build stronger teams.

Big picture thinking  – Great, problem-solving leaders have a clear vision of the big goals. Not only that, but they clearly and engagingly articulate that picture, constantly, to the team under them.

When leaders keep reminding their team members of the big picture, problem-solving becomes clearer.

Even better, when we have a number of possible solutions – none of them obviously the “right one” and most of them not a terrible idea – we go with the one that is most aligned with getting us to the bigger goals and most aligned with our bigger values as an organization. That one may not be the simplest, most obvious solution you come to if you don’t constantly keep your eye on the end game.

Avoid blaming and accusing – It may seem obvious to say this but so many of us can easily fall back into the habit of showing our frustration. At the worst, you might fall into being an executive bully. Set a tone of learning from mistakes and solving the problem.

Stay positive – Good leaders show positivity even when the team is struggling. That doesn’t mean blind naivete, nor does it mean lying to everyone — but remaining positive about the situation (perhaps you could say positive and realistic) helps keep up momentum. Knowing you and your team can solve big problems and letting that optimism show will encourage everyone to pull together.

Follow through – Figuring out a solution isn’t the end; you have to see that solution implemented and then monitor to make sure it’s working the way you thought it would. A lot of stellar big-picture leaders drop the ball on this one.

You may also need to apply what you’ve learned with this problem to other areas of your team’s work and so monitoring the success of the follow-through will pay off many times over.

Coach’s Questions

Which problem-solving characteristics do you recognize in yourself? Which would you like to develop? What can you do to facilitate problem-solving this week?

How strong are your work relationships?

Strong relationships are built on trust, respect and mutual support. The world’s best teams (whether in the arena or the boardroom) are built on those qualities.

So how do you cultivate great work relationships?

Team-building events will get you off to a good headstart but it’s really about how you approach everyday interactions.

Here are some practical ways to build strong work relationships:

Listen to understand, not to reply. This is almost like our # 1 rule. When someone talks to you, even if you disagree with what they’re saying, don’t plan your response – rather, seek to really understand where they’re coming from. Seek to be curious and truly understand what is driving their issue for them. When you do reply, try to ask a question to understand more deeply.

When you’re upset with someone, talk to that person and not to others. Don’t triangulate or gossip. While it’s not easy to approach someone when they’ve upset you, it is possible to turn difficult conversations into essential conversations.

Triangulation is very common and it is an absolute killer of relationships and organizations. If you’re not familiar with it, triangulation is when I’m angry/frustrated/annoyed with Dave but instead of talking to Dave about it, I go to my colleague Sue and say, “Can you believe Dave?!? That’s a horrible idea he wants us to implement… etcetera, etcetera.” The only thing worse is when Sue chimes in, “Oh, I know – Dave’s always like that…”

Gossip is likewise toxic behaviour. Even if you think you can defend that what you’re saying is true, gossiping is malicious spreading of stories or rumours about someone else (whether true, or not, they’re malicious). If it needs to be said, say it to the person it concerns and not to others.

Build Stronger Teams

Be open and get to know your peers and staff. This is more than just chatting about the weather and beyond just meetings in the boardroom because we build stronger teams by developing relationships. Grab a coffee one-on-one once in a while, ask them about their life, and share a bit about yours.

Share your knowledge and support the work of your team members. There will be times that you can mentor or guide, and other times that the COACH Approach to leadership encourages and develops the best qualities of your team members.

And while you’re at it, share more of yourself in meetings too. Explain WHY you feel strongly about something. Share why it’s important to you even if others don’t see it. Regardless of the final decision, people who get to know you better will trust you more.

Focus on the issues and ideas, not the personality, and don’t shy away from conflict. A strong team can (and should) have lots of conflict around ideas. The only way to bring out the best, and to overcome the worst, is to have lots of debate about it before proceeding. Conflict around ideas is, of course, different than conflict between personalities.

Being comfortable with healthy conflict requires a lot of trust among team members because they have to know that you’re attacking the idea, not them. They also need to be confident that your goal is to find the best solutions for the organization – not the solution that makes you look good and not the solution that makes your division successful – but the best idea for the organization.

Better Communication

Work on your Emotional Intelligence – start with empathy. Presume good intent. Consider the world from the other person’s perspective – most people aren’t trying to simply be difficult – they’re trying to achieve something that’s important to them which may not be at all important or even evident to you. There are many ways you can boost your emotional intelligence in leadership.

Practice humility and gratitude. No one wants to work with a know-it-all. Pretending to always have the answers or to look perfect and unfailing not only sets you up for impostor syndrome when you inevitably struggle with something, it also builds a culture of hiding mistakes and mistrust. Fostering a sense of gratitude benefits you and your team. Unsure how to show gratitude? There are many ways to thank your team (and they work for special occasions or ordinary days!) and making journaling part of your routine is a way to reflect on your own gratitude (and it’s one leadership habit we see reap rewards over and over for our clients).

Have clear expectations. Identify your own needs – what is it you value in colleagues? What are you looking for in peers and staff? Share those needs in a kind and caring way so people know what you want from them. And, be prepared to hear different needs from them.

Learn to give feedback (or feedforward!). Difficult conversations can help us move forward when we know how to have better conversations about problems or issues. Sometimes we need to use a feedforward approach to help team members improve – without destroying their motivation or rattling their self-confidence.

Learn to take feedback. As the old saying goes, don’t dish it out if you can’t take it! Good leaders are able to handle criticism and recognize that criticism is actually a good opportunity to listen.

The better communication is among you and your team, the stronger your work relationships will be and strong teams can accomplish great things together.

The Coach’s Questions:

Who do you need a better relationship with? What are you willing to do to try to strengthen work relationships? What might you most need to work on? What can you do today?

Are you a “boss” or a “leader”?

Would you say you are a boss or a leader?

Let’s start with definitions: A boss has a position of authority and can exercise power, but a leader has the ability to manage people well and inspire them to action.

We recently discussed signs you’re ready to be a leader (and a few signs you’re not!). A key takeaway is that just because someone is in a position of authorityno matter how great the responsibility or grand the titledoesn’t mean that person is an effective leader. And, we’ve likely all seen the reverse hold true as wellsomeone who is clearly a leader, without a title or any direct authority.

So what’s the distinction and how can you be the leader even if you’re also the boss?

Understanding human motivation and leadership

When we delve into the difference between being a boss or being a leader, it really comes down to motivation.

If you’ve ever done a psychology or sociology course, you’re likely very familiar with American psychologist Abraham Harold Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Even though he presented his theory in a paper in the early 1940s, Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs is still used today as a foundational framework in sociology, psychology and management theory.

To summarize, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is typically presented as a pyramid, divided into levels. Originally, his theory was that humans must have the needs met at each level before they can move to the next level of the pyramid. Today scholars interpret this a little less rigidly, but the idea that the basic levels must be met before anyone can be motivated to pursue the higher level needs remains.

So, if our physiological needs (hunger, thirst) are met at the lowest level, we can be motivated to safety needs (feeling safe and secure). From there, we can progress up to the third level of social needs (feeling a sense of belonging and forming relationships with family and friends), then to the fourth level of self-esteem needs (how you evaluate your own self worth and feel good about yourself), to the fifth level of self-actualization (when you realize your full potential).

What does Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have to do with being a boss or being a leader?

Motivation for a boss versus a leader

Let’s check the motivation for a boss who is motivated by having power over others (and I’m sure all of us can think of examples of bosses motivated purely for power). A desire for power is entrenched in the safety level of the hierarchy of needs, which is second to the bottom of the pyramid.

Why? Seeking power is a way to have control over resourceshuman, financial and otherwise. Power can corrupt, as we all know. Someone who seeks power to fulfill the higher personal need of self-esteem might offer or withhold resources to influence others for personal gain rather than for the greater good.

If we put ourselves into the mindset of someone whose motivation is to attain power rather than to assume a leadership role, it’s clear that a power-seeker is not typically thinking about what is good for the group. Someone stuck here may not be able to see other people’s perspectives or likely considers the team members subordinates.

Truly effective leaders are not motivated by power, but rather to achieve goals. This is true of a business leader, the leader of a group or even the leader of a country.

Someone who aspires to true leadership will have met the basic needs of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, feel secure in belonging, have formed healthy relationships and have good self-esteem (and a well-developed executive presence!). An effective leader will find motivation at the fifth level of the hierarchy of needs – self-actualization and realizing full potential.

Leadership with this motivation is about doing better, not being powerful. This is how aspirational leaders rally people to coordinate and achieve something individually or together. They establish and prioritize goals based on doing what is best for the success of the group and then motivate and build engagement around those goals.

How power differs from leadership

Now that we’ve considered the motivational differences between a boss and a leader, let’s consider how power is different than leadership:

How it is achieved:

Power can be assigned or granted. Someone in a powerful position might not have credibility or trust, but can hold a position of authority with power over others and resources.

Leadership is a collection of character attributes and skills, with group members who believe in a credible leader they are willing to follow. In other words, leadership is earned rather than granted.

How it is put into action:

Power is about having the right or permission to exercise authority. For example, a judge can decide the fate of a criminal because of holding a judicial position. Power is exercised by issuing orders or commands.

Leadership is having the ability to rally individuals or a group to achieve something. It’s more complex than just having authority; leadership is being able to motivate others to work toward a vision while coaching team members to do their best. Leaders inspire others to action.

What is required:

Power does not require leadership. In other words, someone can be in power, but not be a leader.

Conversely, all leaders need to have some form of power to be effective.

How a boss can become a leader

Many times I meet folks who have been promoted to a leadership role because they were high performers, not because they were exceptional leaders.

We get requests for one-to-one coaching when these managers or directors aren’t enjoying their work, or realize that they need more tools to understand and motivate their team members.

Fortunately, it’s possible to decide what kind of leader you want to be and work toward learning the skills to support your leadership so you can inspire your team to strive, work together and achieve goals.

Here’s how you can move from being a boss to being a leader:

Lead by example: You could sit closed up in your office and give orders and assignments (like a boss!). But to be a leader, it’s time to get those boots on the ground, as they say, and work with your team to set performance goals that are aligned with company goals. Then, help your team members achieve their goals (by coaching them, not by being a micromanager!).

Share your knowledge: Some bosses like to keep what they do secret and mysterious (power!), perhaps because they are afraid of being usurped. In reality, if you share what you know and develop the skills of your team members, you will benefit from their strengths as you empower them to do better. There are many times that you can build a stronger team with the COACH Approach to leadership.

Give credit where credit is due: Acknowledge, thank and share the credit with your team members. Leaders who know how to communicate effectively will understand that different people appreciate different forms of recognition and they will build trust through being authentic whether they’re saying sorry, taking responsibility or showing gratitude.

Solicit feedback: Good leaders don’t just give feedback, they seek input into their own abilities and can handle criticism. They are open to hearing from others and they know how to make their best decisions based on the best information available.

Build relationships: When a leader enjoys working with people, it shows. There are myriad ways to build stronger teams by developing relationships. It takes time, but it pays dividends when there is respect and a human connection – and confidence in your leadership and authority.

If you want to be more than a boss with a title, you can learn ways to be a more effective leader. Our COACH Approach to Leading and Managing workshop is one way to introduce a coaching culture throughout your organization and amplify success for all your leaders (and your bosses!).

The Coach’s Questions

Of our five suggestions above, which one do you think would have the biggest impact in making you even more of a leader? What could you do, this week, to start making that happen?


COACH Approach Journal

COACH Approach Journal


If a COACH Approach is something you think will be beneficial, check out our COACH Approach Journal to help you get started.


Feedforward: what it is and why you should care

This week’s Coach’s Questions Blog is written by Padraig Coach,  Kathleen Cameron.

Think back to a time when you were feeling really proud of your work.

Now imagine that just as you were flying high on the satisfaction of a job well done, a colleague pointed out something you should do differently next time.

While the colleague was probably well-intentioned and wanting to help you improve, the bubble burst and you no longer felt confident and proud. In fact, you most likely felt self-doubt with a side of shame. You may have felt resentful, especially if you thought your colleague purposefully cut you down.

How could your colleague approach the conversation differently next time? Could they deliver advice on how to improve while keeping your motivation and self-confidence high?

What if YOU are the colleague who needs to give that feedback? Could you keep someone else’s motivation and self-confidence high while giving important feedback?

The answer is yes.

A Fresh Approach to Performance Conversations

Leadership expert Marshall Goldsmith originally coined the term feedforward to describe the process of providing future-focused suggestions with the intent of supporting success. This is in stark opposition to feedback, which is corrective in nature and focuses on the past and what’s already occurred.

While both approaches are designed to improve performance, feedback focuses on the past—creating feelings of shame and self-doubt; whereas feedforward brings attention to what can occur—creating a sense of possibility and growth.

We can’t change the past, but we can influence the future.

Why It’s Effective

Have you heard the phrase, “where thought goes, energy flows?” By focusing on the solutions, we’re encouraging a mindset of expansion, possibility and growth, which drives energy and motivation and at the same time, focusing on past problems drives energy to shame and regret.

In feedforward conversations we encourage colleagues to try new approaches they may not have considered for a task or goal. You share knowledge and help one another to do great work.

Feedforward also encourages conversations about what they might need to try the new approach. These conversations heighten partnership and contribute to positive morale and camaraderie among colleagues.

It feels good to support one another in a supportive, respectful, collaborative environment.

How to Implement a Feedforward Approach

Focus on development

Remember, you are delivering feedforward to support the other person’s success, not to deliver feedback on something in the past. Remind yourself of this before you initiate a feedforward conversation and get clear on why this is important for their success. Framing the conversation in your mind will help you stay focused on the goal.

Be collaborative

Just as your view of someone else’s growth and development can help frame feedforward, so can their willingness to hear you out. Check that they are in the right frame of mind to receive your suggestions and that it’s related to an area of development they consider to be important.

For example, you might want to start with something like, “I was admiring your work on X and had a couple suggestions that might make it even easier/better/stronger next time. Would you be interested in hearing them?”

Keep it specific

Instead of talking about broad ideas, discuss specific behaviours that can achieve a desired result. Or, if you want to start broad, make sure you break the desired outcome down into specific actions and approaches to support the bigger area of focus.

Do it in real time

Look for opportunities to provide feedforward in day-to-day interactions. Relevant, real-time feedforward can greatly impact someone’s success in implementing new skills, behaviours and approaches.

Practice, practice, practice

Early first attempts at feedforward may feel uncomfortable if this is a new approach for you. Before you jump in, think about the feedforward you want to deliver. Practice what you want to say and consider how it may be interpreted. Get comfortable with how you want to initiate the conversation and deliver the message.

Understand limitations

While feedforward can be very effective at engaging people when focusing on growth and development, it’s not appropriate for all performance conversations. Sometimes a direct, honest conversation about past performance is necessary to address an issue at work. Use your best judgment when deciding on approach.

What a Feedforward Approach Conversation Looks Like

Here is how a feedforward conversation might unfold:

Ellen: Thanks for giving the stakeholder presentation today. Were you happy with how it went?

Bob: Yeah, I think overall it went fairly well. I did feel people losing interest when I was going over the feedback we’ve received on the project though.

Ellen: Is there anything you could do differently at the next presentation to keep them engaged?

Bob: Yeah, I’m not sure. I need to give it some thought.

Ellen: Have you considered opening the floor for discussion on one or two key feedback items? It might help the stakeholders feel more involved in the presentation and give them an opportunity to feel heard.

Bob: I like that idea. I’d need to consider how to keep us on track with time, but with the right planning that could really work.

Ellen: Let me know if you need any help with that. I’m happy to share what’s worked for me in the past.

Note that the feedforward process sees Ellen focused on helping Bob, not judging him on how the presentation went.

It can be helpful to think of feedforward in three stages:

  1. What went well – in this case, overall Bob is happy with the presentation
  2. How could it be even better – Bob could keep the audience more engaged
  3. Where to next – Ellen suggests a strategy for more active audience participation next time

The feedforward approach is about achieving the next goal with success, not simply scrutinizing past efforts.

Coach’s Question

How could feedforward build growth and development on your team? What do you find challenging about this approach? How could you try feedforward today?

Kathleen Cameron

Kathleen Cameron is an executive coach who integrates emotional intelligence, leadership, and personal development to help her clients achieve better results at work and in life. In addition to being a Padraig Associate, Kathleen manages her own practice and serves as the Director of Public Relations for the Edmonton Chapter of the International Coach Federation.

Build a stronger team with the COACH Approach to leadership

We’ve recently redesigned a one-day workshop that helps leaders use a coach approach when leading or managing others. It’s called a COACH Approach to Leading and Managing and it’s been so successful, we thought you’d like in on some of the secrets.

Some folks I talk to are hesitant to try to “coach” their employees because they worry it requires a lot of rigorous training. Let’s start off by clarifying there’s a big difference between “executive coaching” and using a “coach approach” with your team members.

Executive coaches like the certified coaches here at Padraig have dedicated time to intensive study and specialized education with practise working with leaders. It’s our profession.

However, we help leaders use some specific coaching techniques so they can take a coach approach to leadership. You can learn these techniques quickly to help encourage and develop the best qualities of your team members.

What is the COACH Approach?

Basically, any coach approach means leaders move from telling people the answers to helping them find their own answers. We call our program The COACH Approach because COACH is an acronym for the steps to follow.

Specific steps aside, once you learn a few techniques and get in the habit of using them, your perseverance will pay off.

The two main things to remember when you want to try coaching your staff are:

  • Shift from solving problems to asking questions, and
  • Cultivate a sense of curiosity about everything.

For now, let’s keep that as the core technique – ask questions, don’t give answers, and be genuinely curious about the challenge and the person.

How does it help your leadership?

When you use our COACH Approach, your team will be affected in many positive ways. The best part? Not only do you bring out the best in them, but your leadership strengths are noticed when you have a well-functioning and effective team.

When staff are led by someone using a coach approach, we typically see some of these wins among team members:

  • They innovate – brainstorming new ideas, generating questions that lead to exploration of new methods
  • They’re self-reliant – instead of always seeking guidance or consulting the leader, staff solve their own challenges (coaching can help with figuring out barriers to success)
  • They are more confident – especially as they realize they can achieve success independently
  • They set goals – with coaching, team members will establish goals and set out to achieve success
  • They’re engaged – taking initiative, growing in confidence, and setting goals means staff are off the sidelines and contributing (not just when asked!)
  • They take responsibility – when team members are involved in goal setting and can take initiative they also own the solutions – and this means they have more accountability

Does that sound like a list of attributes you’d like to see with your team? Well, guess what? You’ll likely see that, and more, with our COACH Approach.

Over and over, we see that using a COACH Approach builds relationships and encourages effective communication at all levels. In this environment, team members are productive and work well together – which also leads to increased job satisfaction for everybody.

Adding the COACH Approach to your toolkit

So, how do you start using the COACH Approach?

The first thing to do is let the team member know that you’re thinking that a new approach might help with the challenge. If you just dive into using a coach approach, they might not know what’s happening and maybe even react negatively! If you’ve always been the boss with all the answers, and an advice-giving machine, it will be surprising and maybe uncomfortable for people when you stop doing that.

Share with the team member that you’re going to use a coach approach to help them work through this challenge. This means you’re not going to give them solutions or directions at this point, but rather than you’re going to ask a lot of questions to help them figure out for themselves what they need.

If a team member doesn’t understand how the COACH Approach to leadership explores issues with questions, all of your questions could feel like an interrogation. That’s why it’s important to be clear that you’re helping them discern what the roadblocks are so that they can figure out how to move past them.

Remember, too, that as you’re learning how to use the COACH Approach that you’re practising. You might not ask questions in quite the best way in these early days of trying these new techniques and it will be good if they know you’re trying something new.

For example, asking, “Why did you do that?” could come off as abrupt and implying blame. Asking, “Tell me more about what led you to do that?” may sound more interested and encouraging.

Here are some ideas for bringing a COACH Approach to your leadership:

  • Get the discussion started: Get clarification through questions like, “What would success look like when we’re done discussing things?” so your team members can sort out what needs to be done. They might brainstorm solutions and new approaches or what actions need to be taken. Sometimes they might realize they just need you to listen.
  • Think questions, not solutions: Remember, your role is to listen and question when you see opportunities to stimulate ideas, not to jump in and solve problems or give advice (even though that’s probably been the reality of your entire career!). Ask questions to help your team find their own answers.
  • Listen to learn and understand: Being eager to know more and curious will help you with asking questions that encourage valuable conversations. I often tell folks to silently start asking a question with, “I’m curious about…” If you hear someone say something interesting or unusual, find out more by asking something like, “You just mentioned XYZ. What else can you tell me about that?” might uncover more information than otherwise.
  • Stay quiet: It’s hard, but stifle any urges to chime in or direct things (even if discussion falls silent). As leader coach, you are helping the team uncover answers – not providing them. If you have to, pretend you’re not sure what the solution is and don’t fill in gaps in conversation because silence can be a really good thing. Let them ponder and work out what to do. You might be amazed by what they come up with when you sit through the uncomfortable silence for a while.
  • Use open-ended questions: Some questions lead to specific answers – very often yes or no – whereas open-ended questions result in unpredictable answers. For example, asking, “Were the research results good?” will likely get a yes or no answer (and many times people will answer in the way they anticipate is sought). Instead, ask, “What was the most interesting result from the research?” and you’ll get an opinion with ideas and facts; open-ended questions encourage discussion.
  • Check-in every so often: Make a point of checking in with the team member or team to see whether the COACH Approach is helping their exploration. Instead of asking, “Do you feel you’re making progress?” (the yes or no answer!), ask, “How are we doing toward your goal of XYZ?”
  • Re-establish commitment: As you’re winding down a conversation, confirm that there is commitment to solving the challenge. This could be as simple as asking, “After everything we’ve discussed, what next steps are you committed to taking?” or you can seek more clarification. For example, you could say, “I feel we’ve got to A,B,C. Would you agree?” You can also ask for further clarification, for example, what is the timeline for this or a deadline for completion.

Any time your team member is struggling, remember that using the COACH Approach will help you guide them to finding their own solutions. To do this, ask questions such as, “What would help you achieve this?” or, “What could make it easier to commit?” or, “What do you need to stay on track?”

There may, of course, be times you need to be a bit more directive. It’s fine to switch out of the coach approach, for example, to confirm the corporate deadline required for the proposed solution.

You could say, “We need to be sure that XYZ is complete by the end of the month. Can you commit to that deadline?” If you need to check in on accountability, ask, “What do you need to stay on track?” or, “What will you do to hold yourself accountable to that timeline?”

When to use a COACH Approach (and when not to!)

Add the COACH Approach as one more tool in your leadership toolkit. It is handy to have to use along with other tools, such as mentoring (sharing your experience to guide), directing (telling what to do) and teaching (telling how to do something).

Depending on the situation, you might employ other tools, like turning difficult conversations into Essential Conversations and building conflict around ideas.

With so many different leadership tools, how do you know when the time is right for using a COACH Approach? Because it helps your team members build on their strengths to achieve success, it’s best to use with a motivated team member who is ready for professional learning and growth.

For this reason, a COACH Approach works very well with high performers – especially those ready for a bit of a stretch. It is also ideal for situations that require innovation or a new approach.

Additionally, a COACH Approach can work well when problem solving is required, planning needs arise or goals need to be set. It can also work when someone is struggling with another team member and wants to figure out how they will address it.

It’s important to note there are times when a COACH Approach is not the best choice. For instance, if someone is learning a new skill. That requires teaching, mentoring or a directive approach.

Further, while a COACH Approach could definitely help with a struggling or under-performing team member who needs extra support, it is not a good approach for someone already at the point of disciplinary action.

I started today by talking about our new COACH Approach to Leading and Managing workshop.  If you think you and your team would like to try the COACH Approach, why not give us a call to explore whether this one-day workshop might work for you? It’s a great way to truly learn the techniques and get your team members supporting each other at the same time. 

COACH Approach to Leadership Journal

COACH Approach to Leadership Journal

Check out our recently released COACH Approach to Leadership Journal.  

The Coach’s Questions

What makes you hesitate about trying a coach approach? What would help you feel more confident in trying it? What would it take for you to dive in and give it a try?

You know, I always end my posts with some Coach’s Questions but rarely hear anyone’s answers. Please reach out to let me know ( or even better, make a comment below so others can join in the conversation too!

Signs you’re ready to be a leader… and a few signs you’re not

At a cocktail party recently, someone asked me if I thought they should try for a leadership role as Team Manager, which had just come open when their boss moved on. It would make them the leader of the team they’re already on.

I asked them what was appealing about becoming a team leader and the list of positives included:

  • It would give me visibility.
  • It would give me a say in the bigger picture.
  • It would give me a pay raise.
  • It would remove me from some of the tedious tasks I have to do now.
  • It would make me more marketable.
  • It feels like the logical next step.

I then asked, “What is the downside?”

This person thought about it for a moment and said, “Good point! I don’t see a downside – I should go for it!”

I couldn’t help myself, I had to offer a little one-to-one coaching in this cocktail party conversation, so I said, “Hmmm, possibly, but may I make an observation?”

“Sure!” was the reply.

“When you listed the benefits, none of them had anything to do with managing people.”


I pointed out that while it sounds as though this person is ready for a change and looking to be more involved in the operation of the company, I’m left wondering whether pursuing a role in which the primary functions are to encourage, support, guide, and coach staff is the ideal choice right now.

I shared that as an executive coach, a number of the folks we work with are struggling in part because they were really good at something, got promoted to manage others doing that same thing, and now they aren’t enjoying the work. Or they were keen to lead, but realized they needed some more tools to be really successful in a new leadership role or during a time of challenge (you can read more about how we’ve helped leaders on our testimonials page).

Then I said: “I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t apply – that’s definitely up to you to decide. But, I’d encourage you to reflect on what the job looks like day to day, and decide if it excites you. Perhaps you could reach out to your former boss, and ask what the job was like?”

My suggestion was accepted enthusiastically with, “That’s a great idea, I’ll do that!”

Ever since I had this conversation, I’ve been reflecting on how someone would know if they’re ready for a leadership role – a job where they’re leading and managing other people – and I’ve come up with a list of signs you’re ready for leadership and signs it might not be quite the right time for a leadership role .

Signs you’re ready to lead others

  • You’re liked and respected by your colleagues because you are responsible and professional. It’s okay to be jovial and the life-of-the-party, but really good leaders are liked not only for their congeniality, but also because they have the tools to develop an executive presence.
  • You’re interested in how the organization operates – both formally and informally – and you have ideas on how it could be better, stronger, and more successful.
  • Peers come to you for advice and see you as an informal leader in the organization.
  • You tend to give folks the benefit of the doubt, at least the first time around. You assume people want to do a good job.
  • You’re a relationship builder – you know people in other departments and you’ve gotten to know customers and colleagues. You know how to foster connections and how to encourage successful teamwork (and how to tackle bad team conflict).
  • You’re a great listener – you listen to understand rather than to reply. When peers come to you with problems, you help them figure out an answer that works for them.
  • You’re comfortable handling criticism.
  • You’ve had good managers and bad managers and learned important lessons from both.

Signs a leadership role might not be right for you right now

  • You want the job because it pays more or has a corner office or fancy title. Leading others can be rewarding and it can also be frustrating. On the frustrating days, few leaders ever say the pay or bigger office makes up for it.
  • You think employees are generally lazy, dishonest, or feel entitled.
  • You think leadership in this organization is incompetent.
  • You’re looking forward to telling people what to do.
  • You want someone fired and getting this job is the way to do it.
  • You struggle to speak up with your opinion.

Remember, if you’re not ready for a leadership role right now, you can become ready by working on it, if you want to work on it. Leadership can be learned and there are a lot of links up above to our previous blog posts to help you out (and sometimes a lateral career move makes sense in the interim).

Stay tuned for our next blog two weeks from now when we provide you with some great tips on how to bring a coach approach to your leadership style once you’ve gotten the promotion!

And perhaps even more importantly, remember that being a leader or manager isn’t required of everyone. If it’s not for you, seek out the other influential roles in your organization that don’t require leading others but that play to your strengths. If you look carefully, you’ll probably find roles that are influential and don’t require formally leading others.

Coach’s Questions

What makes you want to be a leader, or not? Regardless of whether you do, or don’t, try for a leadership role now, what can you be doing to prepare yourself for your next career step?


Our favourite tools to develop your executive presence

When I say executive presence, I’ll bet you have something in mind or someone in mind but you might be hard-pressed to fully define executive presence.

You’re not alone; a lot of folks I talk to feel they know what executive presence is but can’t really describe it.  

Of course, if you can’t describe something, it’s more difficult to achieve it. So, let’s define what it is AND help you develop your executive presence.

Some say that, essentially, having an executive presence is being able to inspire confidence in your leadership with members of your team, among your peers, and with anyone to whom you report.

However, rather than having an innate ability or trait, an executive presence is a combination of qualities or characteristics plus skills that can be developed.

Sure, some people will just naturally have more “presence” and some folks need to work at it a bit more but all of us benefit from naming specific areas we want to develop (particularly as leadership roles become more and more senior and demands are greater).

Why should you care about or want to develop your executive presence?

Having an executive presence inspires confidence and persuades others around you that your leadership matters. If someone believes in your ability to lead, it gives you opportunity whether that person is choosing to be led by you, to work with you, or to hire you or your company.

Here are the key qualities to cultivate that will develop your executive presence. Notice we’ve defined them all starting with a “C” you can think of these qualities as “the C-suite that will get you into the C-Suite”:

  • Connected – successful leaders cultivate a network of relationships and include diverse opinions in discussions, using emotional intelligence skills to navigate organizational politics and the myriad complexities of team dynamics at all levels. Leaders need to be able to delegate effectively and rely on their team members, which means building trust.
  • Charismatic – being a strong leader means having the ability to understand yourself and others well enough to inspire and motivate. It’s being able to talk with anyone and put them at ease; while you are able to engage everyone in the discussion, it’s clear that you are confident in your leadership role. Feeling comfortable talking to anyone is something that a lot of our clients find challenging. One tool that can help is our Everything DiSC workshops that give leaders tools to adapt to people around them and more easily build relationships.
  • Confident and Compassionate – when you are self-aware – knowing your own strengths and challenges and how to work with a variety of personalities – a few things happen. One of them is that your emotional intelligence rises and high emotional intelligence allows a leader to walk that fine, but essential, line between assertive and aggressive. By working with intention and having a purposeful vision, leaders demonstrate self-confidence, build trust, and align goals with core values.
  • Credible and Consistent – understanding builds trust, and it takes effort – but a highly functioning team is well worth the investment. Our Five Behaviours of a Cohesive Team workshop helps leaders and their teams understand themselves and how to work well together (including building trust and how to build the good type of conflict in the workplace!).   
  • Clear and Conciseeffective communication skills are, of course, essential and that includes articulating and rearticulating a clear, consistent vision in ways that others can see it and get behind it. That also means having exceptional listening skills so you can understand how others are receiving your message which brings to mind my favourite quote from motivational writer Stephen R. Covey: “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Recognizing your listening style is the first step to improving communication with your team.
  • Calm and Composed – being able to function effectively under stress – without losing all the above characteristics by panicking, dramatizing, or appearing overwhelmed – is essential to developing your executive presence. Effective leaders appear capable, in control, and able to handle even difficult or unexpected situations with grace and poise even if that sometimes means you “have to fake it til you make it.” Use the EQi and EQ360 tools to determine where and how you can make changes to improve how you lead your team through inevitable challenges.
  • Coach Approachtaking a coach approach to leadership can be transformative, encouraging greater communication, improving work relationships, and increasing both productivity and job satisfaction. Learning how to build a coaching culture is an important tool to develop your executive presence. Check out our new Coach Approach to Leadership program and recently released Coach Approach to Leadership Journal.  

    Coach Approach to Leadership Journal

    Coach Approach to Leadership Journal

Coach’s Questions:

Which qualities would you like to improve to develop your executive presence? What steps can you take to enhance your growth in this area? What gaps are there between how you see yourself and how others might see you?