Whether you are a coach like me, or a manager or even a peer, you play the role of “coach” as you empower and equip leaders for success. I believe everyone needs coaching. Premier athletes, corporate CEOs, and world-class musicians all have coaches—people who bring out their best, prod them toward greater growth, and help them face weaknesses. We all need people who walk with us through our failures and cheer on our successes. Someone who is for us and will help guide us.  

As a leadership coach, I bring out the best in leaders by 1) providing accurate assessment and truthful feedback to a leader, 2) identifying growth goals and ways to measure progress, and 3) working to create a plan for a leader’s ongoing personal growth, team development, and effective leadership. 

And all this begins with something simple…yet very strategic. It all begins with a conversation. Yet it is important to understand which conversations are needed for what situations, and how to navigate them, so that self-discovery, focus, inspiration and real change will result over time. 

Here are 4 life-changing conversations that I have found to be invaluable. 

The Caring Conversation  

Offer leaders genuine empathy, seeking to encourage each as a person, not just a name on the org chart. Focus on individual needs and challenges, and offer relational or emotional support. Be careful not to over-promise and under-deliver. Leaders do not need to hear another “I’ll be thinking of you” kind of comment. 

Instead, invest in them right now. Be attentive to the condition of their soul and connect them with soul-filling words, listening, resources and relationships. Empathic listening, reflection, and sometimes just silence, are gifts to a leader who needs to know you care. When a client lost an aging parent, I needed to give extended time to just sit and process. It was emotional…and very healing. You can do this and maintain a professional relationship. Just remember….People first, Role second.

The Development Conversation  

When meeting with a leader always provide something of value: creative ideas learned from other teams or leaders, an article for personal growth, or specific, targeted resources for leadership challenges they face. Brainstorm together and identify areas of personal growth and skills to be mastered, connecting your leaders to solutions and resources.

I keep a file for leadership articles, websites, stories, book summaries, and other tools so that I can send ahead of time, bring to the conversation, or send afterward. Leaders are busy so no, “Hey read this book!” Few will have time. I offer a specific post, blog, tweet, article, summary, chapter, link to a short leadership talk, or scan a few pages from a book with highlights and send it along. And I try to connect a leader with a person or group that can be a resource or mentor.

The Difficult Conversation

Sometimes leaders need to hear hard truth about performance, missed opportunities, or character flaws. A caring coach who has been developing and supporting the leader has earned the right to address problems or issues. But never discuss a failure without also providing a way back. People need to know that failure is normal, not fatal. Explain exactly what can be done to make progress or correct a wrongdoing, so the leader can move ahead. Offer to help along the way and provide hope for change.  

An executive team leader had a blow up with a peer, and they were not getting along. I became a third-party process driver, using a tool I have to walk them through a difficult conversation – all 3 of us. But I first had a one-on-one with each and spoke hard, focused, clear truth, designed to show the consequences of their actions to themselves and the team if they chose not to hear this truth and work it out together. We had much success over the next couple months getting it done. But it started with a hard convo.

The Inspirational Conversation

Leaders are engaged in a battle – and they get worn out or lose focus. I find it is essential  to cast vision for them,…not just to them. Vision for them reminds them they are wired for this work, that they matter to the group and to our reaching the ultimate goal, and point them to what can happen when we get this done and get this right. Don’t simply describe the vision to them—this is not a vision talk or even about THE vision. This is about how they see themselves. Help them embrace their personal worth and value, and how it contributes to the whole. Help them see the possibilities that lie ahead.

Sometime just noticing and naming the team’s work and effort, their individual labors and actions, is all it takes. No big pep talks or speeches. Sometimes just a few words at the end of a Zoom call or passing through the lobby. “Hey, I know it’s hard right now but your team and your leadership really matter. Hang in there. We can do this. How can I help?” A little inspirational coaching goes a long way…no matter if it’s from a manager, a peer, or a professional coach. 

Everyone needs some life-changing coaching. And it all starts with a conversation.

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