Coach-Approach Leadership: 3 Steps to Make Your Teams More Effective

How can you get the people on your teams to be accountable? You can use quick tricks to fix behavioral symptoms, like being late, or you can take a coach approach to leadership and encourage your people to self-reflect so they can solve their real problems. Here are steps you can take to be a better coach.

I recently received an email with five tips to help my team get their work done on time, all the time. The tips were good: Schedule meetings 10 minutes early, don’t do “one more thing” before you leave, etc. The last tip, “trick your mind,” really hit home. It suggested changing your clocks to run ahead of the actual time so you will be less likely to be late (guilty).

These tips got me thinking about accountability, which is all about being effective. In The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability, Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman draw a line where those living Above the Line “see it, own it, solve it, and do it,” while those Below the Line ignore or deny what is going on, don’t take responsibility, wait for direction, and cover their butts so no one can blame them when things go south. In other words, Above the Line = being effective; Below the Line = shame and blame. But it’s not that simple – I find that most of us live somewhere in the middle.

Here’s the question: How do we get the people on our teams to be accountable and consistently see it, own it, solve it, and do it? You can use tips like the ones in that email I received, or you can take a coach approach, encouraging your people to do a bit of self-reflection so they can solve the problem instead of the symptom.

For example, being late is a symptom, and I am guilty as charged. I can change my clocks and trick my mind to increase my chances of being on time, or I can figure out the reason behind why I am late so I can choose to be on time. Pinpointing the “why” gets to the root of the problem, which allows me to transform. This is my approach as a transformational coach, rather than a facilitative coach, helping people to achieve long-term sustainable change from the inside out.

As a leader, a large part of your role is to be a coach to your people. I call this coach approach leadership. Let’s look at three steps you can take to coach your employees to find the root of their problems.

Step 1: Play the ‘Why’ Game

Asking “why” can be powerful. The key is to keep asking “why” until you get to a point of being stumped. This means you must ask “why” at least 3-5 times to get past the symptom to the root cause. That’s where the magic happens.

So, why am I late? I am late because I am always doing one more thing. Why am I always doing one more thing? Because my schedule is so full, I don’t have enough time to get everything done. Why is my schedule so full? Because I feel like I have to get everything done right now. Why do I feel like I need to get everything done right now? Because nothing is ever enough. Why is nothing ever enough?

Good question. This is what I need to reflect on. Doing it alone is scary and makes me want to walk out of my office and see what other people are doing – this is where you, the coach-approach leader, comes in.

Asking “why” gets below the surface and brings issues to light that have been simmering and possibly manifesting in ways the employee is unaware (see step 3). It starts to build awareness of their feelings, which builds emotional intelligence. It lets the employees know that you care about what is happening and, most importantly, why it’s happening.

Step 2: Be a Non-Judgmental, Empathetic Coach

It would be easy for me to say that I am late because I am being selfish and don’t respect other people’s time, or that too many people are pulling me in too many directions. I consider those answers to be the easy ways out, where I blame myself or blame other people. “I’m just a bad person and other people need to change.” Problem solved!

Notice how my answers in step 1 did not reflect any judgment on myself or others. My answers to the “why” questions were honest and non-judgmental. In getting to the root of a problem, the goal is to help people answer “why” with thoughtful insight rather than judgment. While judgment plays a very important role in our lives, it often results in shame and blame that can stop us in our tracks. The goal is to instead build awareness and be curious. As coaches, that means the buck stops with us. I can’t be non-judgmental with anyone else until I am non-judgmental with myself. As a coach approach leader, you need to walk your walk.

Coach approach leaders are vulnerable and sit in the uncomfortable spaces with their employees. They guide employees, support them, challenge them, and hold their hands. They are empathetic. But they also do not rush to turn on the light and make everything okay so that they can feel better. A coach doesn’t think about their own discomfort because it is not about them. Coaches are able to focus their energy on their players because they have already done (and continue to do) the work on themselves. My previous article, How Transformational Leadership Impacts Your Bottom Line, is a good place to start your own self-reflection.

Many times, what is going on in your employee’s world is a mirror for what is going on in your world. Yes, it may make you uncomfortable – there is a lesson here for you, too. However, being a coach approach leader is about serving. Your employee is also feeling uncomfortable. Discomfort will lead to growth for both of you.

Step 3: Teach Your Players to Look for Patterns

Once we get below the surface, find the root of the problem, and start exploring, patterns start to emerge. As I explored why it feels like “nothing is ever enough” for me, I realized that it’s not just about being late. It is also why I have a hard time eating only one Thin Mint, or why when I dive into a project, I work non-stop until my team and I are exhausted. Never Enough is a pattern that shows up in lots of places in my life. I also identified that I have another pattern, All or Nothing, that is closely tied to Never Enough.

Your role as a coach approach leader is to help your employees understand what patterns they have, and to work with them to establish new patterns. It is important to help each employee understand how their current pattern is an asset to their game as well. For example, my Never Enough pattern means that I strive for mastery in anything I do. My team and were able to produce some ground-breaking work because of my pattern. And yes, eating an entire sleeve of Thin Mints requires mastery! The flipside of this pattern is that I am chronically late, I often over commit, and I spend a lot of time judging myself for my shortcomings.

Now you must work with the employee to identify a new pattern – if they could choose exactly how they want to behave, how would that be? This is called a power pattern. This is the new pattern that they want to live into. I have replaced my Never Enough pattern with a pattern I call White Space Is Golden. And I have replaced my All or Nothing pattern with This and That.

Take the Coach Approach

Now it’s time for the experiments to begin! This is where you, the coach approach leader, really start to build a deep relationship with your employees and work with them to say goodbye to their old patterns. Work with them to identify experiments they can try to adopt new power patterns, and empower them to do new things they may have not felt supported or challenged enough to do on their own.

Keep in mind: Your employees will not live into their new power patterns immediately. It’s like learning to ride a bike — it will take experimenting, falling, scraping your knee, maybe even cracking your helmet. It’s thrilling, exhilarating, and a bit scary.

As the coach, you will sit beside them, guide them, support them, challenge them, and hold their hand. You will be empathetic. You will be vulnerable. You will celebrate their wins, listen to their challenges, ask curious questions, and help them be non-judgmental so they can learn, be accountable, and be more effective.

Marketers’ New Year’s Resolution: ‘I Will Give Customers More T-R-A’

The turning of the calendar may mean a new fiscal year for many marketing organizations, but there is one constant that remains paramount for customer-centric enterprises:  TLC (tender loving care) and how we demonstrate such sentiments to our prospects, customers, and donors — whomever applies.

The turning of the calendar may mean a new fiscal year for many marketing organizations, but there is one constant that remains paramount for customer-centric enterprises: TLC (tender loving care) and how we demonstrate such sentiments to our prospects, customers, and donors — whomever applies.

According to its most recent survey of more than 13,400 C-suite leaders, IBM is recommending data users to pursue another approach in their efforts to build consumer trust: T-R-A, as in transparency, reciprocity, and accountability. See the IBM report, “Build Your Trust Advantage: Leadership in the Age of Data and AI Everywhere” (Opens as a PDF)

The report states:

“To satisfy the modern requirement for trust, leading organizations are adopting three basic principles as their guide: transparency, reciprocity, and accountability. Each provides assurance to customers, but is more than good marketing. These principles are the scaffolding that supports the modern enterprise, remade to propagate trust.”

In a time when trust is increasingly harder to earn — and where consumers question the data-for-value exchange — one may think to shun the data quest. But that is not the correct course of action, nor a viable option, at all. Instead, the answer is to triple up efforts — to seek out and ensure higher quality data sources, to ensure chain-of-trust on permissions and consumer controls, and to hold ourselves and data partners accountable for results.

According to IBM, enterprise leaders — “torchbearers” — have fused their data and business strategies as one. “The torchbearers defy data fears, enhancing the trust of customers.”  Eighty-two percent say they use data to strengthen customer trust, compared with 43% of “aspirational” enterprise data users.

So what does T-R-A entail?


“Customers demand transparency of data associated with the products and services, and, in the case of personal data, assurances that it’s used in a fair manner and kept safe,” the report states.

Three Keys to Consumer Love: Transparency, Reciprocity and Accountability. | Credit:

And it’s not just about data used in marketing — it’s also about data regarding how products are developed and manufactured, for example, and user reviews and recommendations. Any data that informs the customer journey, and enables the brand promise, really.


“C-suite executives understand that to get access to data, they have to give something meaningful in return,” the report states. “The challenge? Organizations often don’t know what their customers would consider a fair exchange.”

That’s a fair assessment — as most consumers say they are skeptical about data-sharing benefits; particularly where privacy is concerned. So it is incumbent upon us to discover — probably using data — what truly motivates consumers’ sense of trust and value. I don’t think we do as good a job as we could as brands, and perhaps as an industry, in explaining data’s value to the consumer. Thus, we must do better.


“Accountability is synonymous with brand integrity,” the report opined. “To succeed in retaining trust while growing business or expanding into new marketers, marketers need to establish governance and policies to combat cyber risk and protect consumer trust and brand.”

To me, accountability extends beyond data security — and the lawsuits and brand erosion that may follow data breaches. Data governance is closer to the accountability mark: making sure our data supply chains are “clean,” and that they adhere to industry ethics and best practices.

Here’s Wishing You T-R-A in 2020

So I’m hoping my New Year and yours has a lot more T-R-A in the offing. If the consumers equates sharing of data with a loss of privacy, then no one wins — especially the consumer.




As Amped-Up Ad, Data Privacy Laws Near, Self-Regulated Programs Matter More

As we prepare ourselves for federal (and state) legislation around privacy and advertising, it’s worth taking account of our own industry’s self-regulated programs — both those here at home and worldwide.

As we prepare ourselves for federal (and state) legislation around privacy and advertising, it’s worth taking account of our own industry’s self-regulated programs — both those here at home and worldwide.

Why? Because even in an age of regulation, self-regulation — and adherence to self-regulatory principles and ethics codes of business conduct — matter. One might argue that legal compliance in industry is good enough, but business reputations, brand equity and consumer trust are built on sterner stuff.

Having a code of conduct is exemplary in itself, but I’d like to address a vital component of such codes: enforcement.

Self-Regulated programs
Transparency & Accountability in Advertising Self-Regulation Matter Greatly. | Credit: Chet Dalzell

Credibility in Codes Requires Peer Review & Accountability

Behind the scenes, every day, there are dozens of professionals in our field who serve — as volunteers and as paid professionals — to monitor the ethical practice of advertisers, who devise and update the codes we adhere to, who educate companies that proactively reach out to them, who work with companies and brands that go astray to resolution, and who enforce and refer non-compliant companies to government agencies, when necessary.

They may take complaints directly from consumers, competitors and industry observers. They may employ technologies and their own eyes and ears to monitor the marketplace. They may meet regularly as volunteers as a jury to deliberate on any need for corrective action. And, usually, they have a “contact us, before we contact you” operations effect: brands and businesses can proactively ask ethics programs questions about the “right” way (by the consumer) to execute a marketing practice, so it doesn’t prompt a formal query after a mistake is made after the fact.

Importantly, credibility depends, too, on reporting publicly on outcomes — potentially to “name and shame,” but most often to work cooperatively with businesses and to serve as an industry education vehicle in the reporting of correction and the resolution process. Generally, “punitive” is when a non-cooperative company is referred to a government agency for further action. Government agencies, for their part, tend to wholeheartedly welcome any effective effort to keep the marketplace aligned with the consumer. It helps when brands and consumer interests are in sync.

Accountability Programs Deserve Our Industry’s Expertise & Ongoing Financial Support

All told, these important players in our field serve us well, even as we face what might be referred to as co-regulation (government regulation on top of self-regulation). While any potential business mishap — for example, in the handling of consumer data or the questionable content of an ad — has its own set of facts and ramifications, a demonstration of good-faith efforts to adhere to ethical business practices might be seen as a mitigating factor, even as a brand finds itself needing to take a corrective action.

Agility, flexibility and responsiveness … these are all attributes of successful self-regulation — as well as successful accountability. Effective self-regulation serves to keep pace with innovations in our field, and “point the way” for other companies, as issues arise. (The rigidity of laws rarely can accommodate such innovations.)

While industry professionals may serve as volunteers on juries and review panels — it can be fascinating to serve on such panels — there is almost always an infrastructure of programs and staffs underpinning self-regulation success. Trade associations may finance some of these efforts with membership dollars — but usually businesses can lend their own resources directly, too. It’s great to have a seat at the table.

Marketing Ethics & Self-Regulation Programs — A Partial Listing

In all likelihood, there are potentially many more codes of conduct — particularly in vertical fields (pharma, travel, non-profit, retail, etc.) — but here is a brief listing of advertising-related codes and programs that may be helpful to catalog, bookmark, research and support, with some of which I’ve had the honor to be associated:

Please feel free to use the Comments section to suggest others. And thank you to every volunteer and staff person who serves or has served in an industry accountability capacity. It makes a world of difference, with marketplace trust of advertising and advertisers being the ultimate goal.

Great Marketing Analytics Can’t Drive Managerial Courage

Great marketing analytics can’t drive managerial courage, but the reverse is true. Recently, I decided to have coffee with an old acquaintance of mine. He has been in almost every company imaginable and has such a specialized role that he is in constant demand.

Great marketing analytics can’t drive managerial courage, but the reverse is true.

Recently, I decided to have coffee with an old acquaintance of mine. He has been in almost every company imaginable and has such a specialized role that he is in constant demand. Every few years, there is an explosion on innovative management books designed to put him out of business — yet he remains in high demand.

Nobody was already at the café when I arrived. He was sitting in the middle of the café wearing a shiny grey suit, black shirt and sunglasses perched on his slicked-back salt and pepper hair, purposefully baiting my awe and contempt. He flashed a big toothy grin as I approached.

“Hi, ‘Nobody.’ I hope I did not keep you waiting,” I said, trying to hide my disdain.

“Nah, it’s all good,” he replied. “I was just people watching.”

“So what have you been up to?” I asked.

“Same old, same old … consulting business is as good as ever.” To punctuate his point, he grinned and leaned back with hands behind his head, as if he were ready to fall back into a hammock.

“Yeah, tell me what you do, again?” I asked.

“My consultancy focuses on accountability. It is really a simple model. When something breaks down in the workplace, or there is a failure to perform, I am called in to take accountability. Usually, when I show up, people will be stressed out. The guilty parties think someone else is responsible or are looking to share the blame, leadership does not want to create a toxic environment, and everyone wants to just move on. As a result, I come in. Everyone points to me, and they agree that it is Nobody’s fault.”

“Wow! And what do you charge for this service?”

“Depends, but it is usually a large percentage of gross revenue or net profit, depending on the size and type of failure I assume responsibility for. Business is great!”

My memory of our last conversation is suddenly jarred.

“That’s right; last we talked, we discussed how the wave of data-driven management was going to put you out of business. Wasn’t there some concern that measurement and analytics were the new wave of human capital management and that through measurement, greater accountability would come about?”

“Nobody” brightened up and leaned forward. His eyes opened up and his jaw slackened in awe of his luck.

“Yeah, that was what I was afraid of,” he said, “but it turns out, this big data threat has turned out to be a big hoax. You see, I was not called in because accountability was difficult; I was called in because accountability was icky. No amount of data and measurement will help my clients generate a healthy approach toward accountability if they don’t have the vision of what good accountability looks like. “

I had always disliked Nobody. While he feared the disinfecting power of data, I spent a good part of my career preaching the gospel of insightful data. I had always seen him as a Luddite; someone unaware and clinging to old ways. However, after this insightful confession, I found a sudden rush of respect for him. He knew things about business that I was now just learning for myself.

“Nobody, you are right,” I said. “I don’t deal with accountability directly, but I am often asked to help clients with data-driven customer strategy and marketing effectiveness. I have found that the analytics part is easy. However, it is often lack of clarity, purpose, and vision that prevents data and analytics from being effective.”

He smugly flashes that familiar, self-satisfied, toothy grin and instinctively my resentment reappears. However this time, it’s a different resentment. This time, my disdain is seeded with a healthy and well-deserved sense of respect and fear.

“You know your business model is still destined for obsolescence,” I insist. “It is just a matter of time. Wait till artificial intelligence shows up.” I am embarrassed as soon as the words part my lips. I feel small and helpless, like a kid fighting off a bully by threatening to call in an older sibling.

“Nobody” senses the change in our dynamic. He leans in closer than at any time in our conversation. Like a Bond villain, secure in his advantage, unafraid to share a horrifying truth.

“YOU-DON’T-GET-IT.” He pauses after each word, maximizing the dramatic effect, entirely playing out the Bond villain cliché.

“Data, AI, analytics — none of this matters, unless you have the courage and vision to use it in transformative ways. In fact, in this data-driven age, managers are so enamored by what they CAN do, it is hard to think about what they SHOULD do. As a result, my friend, managerial courage and vision are harder than ever. ”

Damn, he’s good.

The Value of Soft Metrics

In the past decade, marketers and the ecosystem that surrounds them have focused intensely, investing heavily in making direct connections between marketing spend and specific, attributable results. That’s a good thing, and the accountability of digital efforts has largely driven its growth. But we lose valuable nuance when we disregard all that is not accurately and completely quantifiable.

Business meeting, reviewing dataIn the past decade, marketers and the ecosystem that surrounds them have focused intensely, investing heavily in making direct connections between marketing spend and specific, attributable results. That’s a good thing, and the accountability of digital efforts has largely driven its growth. But we lose valuable nuance when we disregard all that is not accurately and completely quantifiable. There is clearly still a relevant and worthwhile tale to be told by customer actions that are not tied to specific marketing triggers. That tale can inform and enhance budgetary and other marketing decision making if we are smart enough to listen.

Soft Metrics: A Matter of Definition

Some of this debate over hard vs soft metrics is a matter of definition. We can take cues from audience actions in a geography that has been receiving marketing spend to determine whether that spend achieves lift over control geographies that were ignored. Is that a hard metric if it does not tie the specific spend to the specific outcome by channel, by campaign, by message, by offer, by customer?

Soft metrics are often those that demonstrate intent or interest but may not be ultimately quantifiable down to the buyer, the sale or other valued conversion. Often they are generalized effects like a rise in site traffic that can be tracked but may not tie to direct conversions or customers. Other types of soft metrics are those that can’t be tracked reliably at all – like many offline ad expenditures. But we have to stop and remember that it doesn’t make them valueless just because we can’t place a value on them.

Soft metrics are still critical because they often establish behaviors that signal intent. Sometimes, for instance with highly considered purchases, the soft metrics can be personally identifiable or at least allow for customizable content delivery even if the individual is not identified. This supports additional follow ups and identifies those most relevant for particular messaging or offers. Setting the stage, if you will, for that measurable conversion down the line.

Make Sure You Have the Full Picture

For brick and mortar retailers, restaurants, CPG marketers and others, the drive to reveal the path from online messaging to offline conversion has been powerful. But tracking the results of online messaging or experiences to foot traffic or in-store sales is a tricky and incomplete effort. We often don’t know if the least traceable efforts are the most or least impactful. Most important, however, is the sum impact of all the efforts. Looking at all the insights available – both hard and soft – will give you the best picture to trend over time and use to make decisions.

Hard metrics have their own limits. We may think of them as an absolute straight line in a controlled environment but that is an illusion. First, there are limits on the accuracy of tracking across channels and platforms and even the smartest marketers still struggle to establish clean data with baselines and trends that are reliable. Secondly, it’s not clean. We can’t discern a myriad non-traceable influences like some competitive actions, or offline influences like first person recommendations – even a consumer’s mood. Macro effects that can be expressed by things like sales rises are most often the result of many, many efforts. Some are in are control and trackable and some are not.

The best marketers can do is measure what we have available and take into account all the information at our disposal – whether it is hard or soft. Information is never complete. A marketer’s job is to use the information at hand to understand consumer needs and reactions to certain stimuli to the best of

their ability. That means making use of everything at their disposal, weighting it for confidence and relevancy. Consider the hard data just the tip of the iceberg and ignore the rest at your peril.