The Secret to Great Leadership

Having dedicated the better part of the past decade to studying highly effective leaders of highly productive organizations, corporate trainer Brian Souza stumbled upon a profound discovery. The fundamental distinction that separated the best leaders from the rest was not necessarily their IQ, strategic vision, operational prowess or even charisma—although these are obviously important ingredients. The fundamental difference primarily came down to one thing: They didn’t act like managers; they acted like coaches.

Like world-class coaches, world-class leaders may not always have the best talent, but they always seem to get the best out of the talent they have.

This is largely due to the fact that world-class leaders understand that the only way to systematically improve individual performance is by giving constructive coaching and developmental feedback. In fact, numerous studies have proved there’s a direct correlation between the quantity and the quality of coaching a person receives and his or her level of performance improvement.

World-class leaders understand that relying on quarterly performance reviews is not nearly enough to move the needle. And relying on someone else to come in once a year and train their team won’t get the job done.

Coaching and developing your people is not an event. It’s an ongoing process that should be inextricably tied to everything you do.

Souza, author of the just-published The Weekly Coaching Conversation and founder of Productivity Drivers, a corporate training program, has spent the past four years distilling these best practices into a simple-to-understand, easy-to-apply four-step framework.

Step 1: Change your approach.

How you think (your mindset/your beliefs) controls how you behave. For example, if as a sales manager you believe that your job is to make your number, you’re likely to cherry-pick the best deals and parachute in at the last hour to close them. Conversely, if you believe your job is to coach and develop your team in order to help members consistently perform to the maximum of their capability, you’re going to behave more like a “coach.”

Understand that coaching is not merely something that you, as a manager, must do, Souza says. A coach is someone that you, as a leader, must become. When you fuse with this identity and get it into your head and heart that this is not just what you do, but who you are, your identity—your behaviors—will change automatically.

Step 2: Create the environment.

Once you’re clear that as “coach” your real job is to pull every ounce of potential from each and every person on your team each and every day, then you’ve got to create an environment that’s conducive to coaching. Thus it’s important to “pull the weeds before you plant the seeds.” In other words, you’ve got to hit reset on your relationship with each team member by being the first to put your cards on the table and asking “How am I doing? What can I do better?”

As coach, you set the standard for your team to follow. And your personal example is the most powerful leadership tool you have.

Step 3: Transform the conversation.

And finally, once you’ve created an environment that’s conducive, you’ve got to lay the foundation for a weekly coaching conversation. Here are a couple of keys to keep in mind:

• Don’t just celebrate the touchdowns—celebrate the first downs.

• Long-term success requires short-term focus. And the fastest way to improve performance is to help your team set weekly process-oriented goals and then positively reinforce small, incremental improvements.

Step 4: Embrace mistakes as coachable moments.

Building a highly productive team can be achieved only through the identification and perfection of seemingly small things consistently done right over time. However, we learn far more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. So as you’re evaluating your team’s performance and giving positive reinforcement, it’s also important to take note of mistakes as well. But keep in mind the objective here is not to criticize; it’s to coach.


Deborah Huso is a Virginia-based freelance writer specializing in business, lifestyle, and travel subjects. She is also a regular book reviewer for SUCCESS. Her publication credits include FamilyFun, Military Officer, Appraiser News Online, Women's Health,, USA Today magazines, Alaska Airlines Magazine, WellBella, and The Progressive Farmer, where she serves as contributing editor. Huso also publishes a popular blog on love, motherhood, and work called "I Only Love You Because I Have To" at Visit Huso online at, or follow her on Twitter @writewellmedia.

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