Following the insightful Master Class, we sat down with Mark Schumann for a deeper dive into what it takes to coach a leader.
What's your recipe for coaching a leader?
Every leader communicates. And every leader can be a better communicator. And as a leader becomes a better communicator, the leader becomes a better leader. But to be a better communicator does not simply mean working with a leader to strengthen presentation skills. Every leader can strengthen how to inform, interact, involve and inspire. And those are the four key ingredients.
What makes a successful diagnosis? Can you give us an example?
When I work with a leader, I first spend a block of time talking with him or her, getting to know how the leader thinks, explains, reacts, listens, challenges, persuades, disciplines – as he or she informs, interacts, involves and inspires stakeholders essential to the organization. And then I talk with people the leader interacts with to learn how effective a communicator the leader actually is. From these views I put together a tailored curriculum of communication skills and behaviors that will strengthen how the leader is perceived.
How do you coach a leader who feels no need for help?
Actually, I haven’t experienced that! Quite the contrary, actually. I meet leaders who may believe they are stronger communicators than they may be, and the coaching experience is designed to help them see what can be strengthened. But I have never encountered total resistance.
Protecting relationships is key in your practice - this is the secret to turn from a 'communicator' to a 'strategic advisor'. How do you successfully identify the relationships that matter at any given time?
This is, when working with a leader for the first time, one of our first discussion points, is to learn which relationships are essential to the leader and the organization. This discussion provides a context for all consideration of communication skills. Because how a leader communicates is as valuable as the relationships this communication can strengthen.
How can a leader find her/his authentic voice?
By getting to know the leader, what makes him or her think, what inspires big thoughts, what can challenge, what can frustrate, what can excite. Leaders use their real voices every day. Only when they step on a stage, or in front of a meeting, or a camera, do they sometimes think, “it’s show time”. And it’s not. Effective communication requires the same voice in every situation.
How important is it for a leader to be genuine during a crisis?
Authenticity is essential in every situation, from routine to tragic, from the mundane to the chaotic. People look to leaders for many things. Essential to how a leader communicates is how he or she learns how to look at self through the eyes of those essential people.
Why is it important for leaders to take a hands-on approach instead of having someone else do the task on their behalf?
This may be where our communication world has changed most. The people we reach can see through the layers of preparation. The temptation to spin. And each time people see something less than real, they become less trustful of a message, of a person. So even if a leader seeks help – from a coach, a communicator – the ultimate delivery must be his or her own. There are simply things in this experience that a leader can’t delegate. That’s why every leader should work to become a better communicator.
How did you get started in this line of work and what motivates you?
I have been fortunate to work with CEOs and other senior leaders for more than 35 years, since my first job working directly with the CEO of the original Frontier Airlines. Over the years, I have worked with hundreds of business leaders. And it never gets old. I love what I do. I love it when a leader gets better at this essential part of the job.
Can you share a most memorable experience when dealing with a crisis?
Over the years, I have helped many leaders cope with crises, from tragedy to opportunity, personal to organizational. And the essence of each experience is helping a leader become comfortable with revealing real reactions. There’s no room for spin in our transparent world, especially at a moment when people look a leader for strength, solace, clarity and concern. When working with a manufacturing company, I coached a leader on how to react when an employee died in a work-related accident. Rather than try to “spin” the situation, I helped the leader discover his comfort zone to speak candidly – in his words – about the lessons to be learned from the incident, standing in the spot where the accident occurred. The result? Rather than appear packaged, he was authentic; rather than appear rehearsed, he became the real voice of spontaneous reaction. And, in just a few moments, he helped his organization begin to recover.
Thanks so much for asking these questions! Please feel free to write me any other questions you have, at firstname.lastname@example.org