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Are You Leading As a Hero or a Coach?

Several years ago when I was still in the corporate ranks, I told my leader that I wanted more practice in developing my executive presence skills. Without delay, she let me know that I could plan on delivering my business unit report at the next month's executive meeting. I was scared, excited and insecure at all once. So I gathered our training results, customer experience scores, and sales results. I projected our revenue and expenses for the next quarter. In the meeting, the CEO started rapid-firing his questions. I could feel my face and neck glow bright red. I was starting to stutter in my answers a bit. Quite frankly, he was asking some questions I didn’t have ready answers to. I felt like I was observing my own train wreck in action. I don’t know who felt the most pain in that meeting, me, with the hot neck and sweaty armpits, or my boss, who was watching the train wreck go down in real time. (Have you ever had to watch these?!) But she embraced a key leadership skill: She didn’t intervene. She let me carry on with my presentation, let me handle the answers, and only answered when the CEO directed questions at her. You might be thinking that my boss was a horrible leader for letting me commit a slow form of career death in that meeting. But what if this type of leadership is exactly what women need to lead more confidently, develop others, and cultivate their teams so they can lead more by doing less? My boss knew exactly what she was doing. I asked her for an opportunity to build my executive presence and presentation skills, and she delivered. She prepped the leaders that this would be my first time. The stakes were low - everyone was having a little fun with me as a first time presenter. Instead of jumping in to rescue me, to play the hero, she allowed me to struggle and coached me after the fact by asking me questions on what I would try differently next time to be more prepared. As you level up in your leadership, it's important to notice where you are unintentionally taking over to prevent discomfort and struggle, which is exactly where the learning happens. It teaches people they don't need to fully prepare, because you'll step in to save them. Two people lose confidence in this scenario - the employee who doesn't grow new skills and the leader who is overwhelmed from taking over her team's work. PS: This is great reminder for those of us who are parents and love to take over mid-task from our kids… ask me how I know ;)


Pick one situation where you tend to intervene and take over when someone isn't doing something exactly as you would and it's hard to watch them struggle (i.e. a work task, a home chore, etc): 1. First, make sure you are delegating this task when the stakes are low.

  • Many leaders wait until they are too overwhelmed, and then they delegate high-stakes tasks when there is little margin for error, causing them to jump in a take over

2. Allow for the discomfort of the struggle:

  • Pause one moment longer when there is uncomfortable silence when someone is answering a question

  • Notice and allow for your own discomfort as someone makes a small mistake, or struggles through learning a task

3. Use great coaching questions:

  • For yourself: What is the short term relief I get from taking over? What is the long term cost?

  • For others: How do you think that went? How do you feel about your performance? Who do you admire that does this well - what can you incorporate? What do you need to try differently next time?

Practice giving grace. Grace doesn’t mean you tolerate poor effort or careless mistakes. Grace is offering kindness and accommodation in the face of someone not doing something exactly how you would do it. ☺️

Kelli Thompson is a women's leadership coach, speaker and author who helps women advance to the rooms where decisions are made. She offers 1-1 private coaching and is the founder of the Clarity & Confidence Women's Leadership program (online group training for corporate women leaders). She is the author of Closing The Confidence Gap: Boost Your Peace, Your Potential & Your Paycheck.

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