Leadership Lessons from Executive Coaching (Develops Others)


You’re most likely giving coaching feedback wrong; probably because you’re still using that old “sandwich technique.” You know, start with a positive comment, give the criticism you really wanted to deliver, and then close with another positive comment. It’s a crappy sandwich. It’s the opposite of John Wooden’s wisdom that “Young people need models, not critics.”

My job as an Executive Coach, like yours as a manager, is to give meaningful feedback – people want it! The problem with “constructive criticism” is that it’s backward looking. Constructive criticism doesn’t offer a better way – a growth oriented way – and it’s, at best, vague about clear desirable performance. Criticism without vision is simply bullying. But where coaching can work magic, is by combining problem solving (criticism) with performance goals (vision).

Coaching to strengths is more powerful than advice for overcoming weaknesses. This was proven through Marcus Buckingham’s research and book, Now, Discover Your Strengths. Coaching is more powerful than criticism. When I’m coaching, and when you’re managing, we get to recognize strengths and qualities in people, and how to set them up for success. By giving directional feedback rather than just observed feedback we take the old crappy sandwich off the table.

It'b because our minds are naturally goals oriented that this technique is so natural and powerful. Effective feedback energizes us when it provides direction, and doesn’t stop at pointing out faults of ineffective actions.

So, drawing on my 16 years of Executive Coaching, I offer six lessons to up-level your leadership effectiveness. These tips will help you transition from critic to coach, and will build the bench strength of your players.

  1. Strengthen their strength:

    Make a daily effort to notice and articulate your people’s strengths and abilities. Then assign them tasks and challenges that play to those strengths. If you spend all your time on development conversations, you’re in criticism mode, and focused on weaknesses. Why focus on strengths? First, it’s deeply engaging. Second, the perception of weakness dims when strengths shine brighter.

  2. Challenge and encourage:

    A basketball coach has two modes – courtside and locker room. On the courtside its all about strategy, real-time feedback, and tactical changes. In the locker room it’s about praise, encouragement, regrouping, and extracting lessons learned. You, too, can divide reactive from proactive feedback – give real-time feedback on projects and in meetings, and absolutely be sure to set one-to-one time for big picture reviews, too.

  3. Commit to the long haul:

    My coaching contracts are minimally six months. A single conversation does not coaching make. Competence grows with repetition over time, and as it develops, so does confidence. Uncaring leaders pray that people will “just get it.” Involved leaders walk the coaching journey with their people. This builds more than skill; it develops engagement and loyalty.

  4. Master a range of interventions:

    When I’m coaching, I know when I’m over my head; coaching isn’t a fix all. Some players get suspended, and some are cut from the team. You are most effective when you work with your people based on their ability and attitude. Coaching works, but so does teaching, delegating, disciplining, and firing. Use the right approach for the situation; it will bring more power and accuracy to your coaching moments.

  5. Develop individuals AND teams:

    Saying “there’s is no ‘I’ in TEAM,” is popular, but wrong. A team is a complex matrix of individuals; and it also takes on a unique “personality.” You get to walk a fine line – developing individual ability while looking out for the good of the many; keeping both needs in mind simultaneously is the mark of great leader coaches.

  6. Have a game plan:

    Don’t just wing it, have a game plan for your key people. Define your vision of team work, develop individual members’ decision making skills, and develop the players’ abilities to collaborate and make decisions together. Then leave lots of space for coaching individuals.

Eric’s diverse and varied life is a commitment to understanding and teaching wisdom. His published book, The Four Virtues of a Leader, shares practical ideas and tools that deepen a leader’s ability to be efficient, effective and deliberate; a leader whom people are drawn to follow. The crucible of Eric’s journey contains 16 years of leadership consulting, management at Fortune 100 firms, degrees in business and psychology a quarter century of Zen practice, living in Israel and South Africa, teaching as a Master Scuba Diving instructor, and working as a certified hypnotherapist.