What Excellent Leaders Do (Part 1)

Excellent Leaders Are Also Excellent Coaches

“People are best convinced by reasons they themselves discover.” ~Benjamin Franklin


Welcome to my blog, The Leader’s Playbook and my inaugural blog post! The purpose of The Leader’s Playbook is to share what I have learned over the past 20 years as an executive coach and leadership development leader. It is an extension of my clients’ discoveries from their coaching and learning sessions.

An executive coaching client of mine recently told me that she wished she could “bottle” the coaching questions that I ask during our sessions, so she could unleash them during her meetings with her leadership team.

I thanked her wholeheartedly for this lovely endorsement and, after sending her a list of coaching questions, I decided to share them in my blog here with you, so you can benefit from them as well.

To start, here are few ground rules to keep in mind when coaching your team members.


Coaching is an Investment

Let’s face it, simply telling someone what to do saves you time. You don’t have to explain yourself, nor debate the merits of your reasoning. Your employee will do their job the way you want them to (which is the right way, anyway) and you, as the leader, can spend time doing your “real work”. Right? Wrong!

The number one quality of effective managers is being a good coach. And, coaching takes time because it is an investment in high-quality conversations.


“Coaching is an investment in high-quality conversations”


Coaching is a development tool that enables your employees to confidently pursue new ideas and alternative solutions to workplace challenges. When you ask someone to share what they think, instead of telling them what to do, it instills resourcefulness and resilience because they are using their own mind to come up with ideas.

It establishes ownership over challenges and tasks and it inspires them to take action towards achieving goals. And here is why it is worth your investment — It enables your team members to become more self-reliant because they are not relying on you to solve their problems!

This time will pay off in dividends because they will come to you less asking for solutions because you have instilled a sense of self-reliance, trust and creativity in them.


Know When to Coach – And When Not To

Despite all its merits, there are times when coaching is not the right approach.

Some examples are: when you and your employee are in a potentially dire situation and someone’s safety is at stake. Or, it is a highly-charged situation where you, as the leader, need to make a unilateral decision.

Finally, when your employee is brand new to the role or a project, a more directive approach may be warranted. These are times when you need to “tell” rather than “ask”.


Be Curious

Excellent leaders are genuinely curious. The point of coaching is to deliberately engage in simple, direct, open-ended questions that prompt your employee to think and come up with their own ideas. And, asking powerful questions is also something that takes practice.


“The point of coaching is to deliberately engage in simple, direct, open-ended questions”


If an employee comes to you and says, “I’ve got a problem, what do you think I should do?” After asking them to briefly describe their problem, start coaching by asking:

  • What approaches come to mind?
  • What has worked effectively in similar situations in the past?
  • What do you see as your options?

As they talk through the possibilities, to help them weigh their decisions, ask:

  • What would be the advantages or benefits of that approach?
  • What is the biggest unanswered question about that decision?
  • Where else can you look to find out the answer?

Asking “What else?” throughout the conversation will help prompt them to cover all their bases until they’ve reached a solid next step and action.


Create a Dialogue

Coaching is a two-way conversation. Don’t simply lob questions at your direct report until they come up with the solution.

Coaching isn’t something you do to someone, it is something you do with someone.

As you engage in conversation, let your organizational knowledge, work experience, past achievements (and failures) help guide the conversation. And actively listen to your employee. Effective coaching creates guardrails for your employee to solve their own problems. So, share your opinions and insight.


Effective coaching creates guardrails for your employee to solve their own problems. 


End with Action

If you have coached them to a point where they have come up with a solution or a next step, close out the conversation with:

  • How will you move forward with what we’ve discussed?
  • What is your plan?
  • Who else would benefit from knowing this?
  • What can I do next to support you?

Finish your coaching conversations with a way forward, asking your team member to clearly outline the next steps they will take. Talking about next steps deepens their accountability and ownership.

If they have not come to a decision yet, that is OK. Continue to support them in coming up with a solution by asking them:

  • What next steps will you take to determine the best solution?
  • Who else can help you figure this out? And when will you discuss it with them?

Tell me how you coach your direct reports in the comments below!

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Loren led four amazing communication workshops, spread over two different dates for our University this Spring Semester which were so well received and incredibly helpful for our students. She engages so well with people and has a teaching style that is fun and very impactful. These workshops were unusual for a Career Office to sponsor, but I am so glad we went in this direction with Loren-she gave over 100 students just the tools they needed to be a successful team member, network effectively, and market themselves. Thank you Loren, we look forward to having you back!

Kathleen Lindenmayer

Director, Career Success Center at Western Connecticut State University


I was a participant, along with 27 other managers, in a leadership development program where Loren led 12 seminars. We benefitted a great deal from her knowledge about leadership and management skills. She is full of energy, has a highly engaging teaching style, invites everyone’s opinion and helps all parts of the room participate. Loren has a gift for using storytelling, role-playing, “fishbowls” and many other interesting and meaningful activities that helped us process and practice innovative ways of leading our teams.

I’ve attended many training classes over the years, and without a doubt Loren provides an ideal atmosphere for learning. I consider myself very fortunate to have had her as a trainer. It’s not just the skills I’ve learned from her but the confidence she instilled in me that have made me a much better leader.

Hanna Gungor

Administrative Director, Emergency Medicine & Special Projects, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Queens


Loren is an incredibly gifted executive coach. She challenged me in ways that truly helped to me to grow as a leader and helped to guide me through my transition into a new executive role. I appreciate the structure and guided conversations we shared through my first 90 days (and beyond) and believe our work together gave me the confidence to transition to a new organization and new leadership role.

Loren is a trusted confidante and I look to her for continued development. She is insightful and thoughtful in the areas of personal growth, leadership development and feedback. I always looked forward to our coaching sessions as I knew they would be filled with opportunities for me to reflect on my recent accomplishments and include strategies for me to tackle upcoming challenges. Our coaching conversations were thought-provoking and dynamic. I believe I am a better leader, colleague, and mentor because of our work together.

Tracey Lewis Taylor

COO, Stanford Hospital-Valley Care


Loren is a wonderful facilitator. She led a 4-part team development program for our senior leadership team, focused on deepening trust, communication and collaboration. Even though our journey as a team has just begun, she has aimed us in the right direction and given us tools to succeed. Thank you!

Dr. Manish Sharma

Chairman of Emergency Medicine, NewYork-Presbyterian Queens


Loren is able to anticipate organizational training needs and has strong curriculum design and facilitation skills. Loren designed and developed many of the leadership and professional development programs for our corporate university and facilitated these sessions virtually organization-wide. She engages her participants with her delivery, energy and excitement and I always looked forward to attending her sessions. If you need of a dynamic facilitator with great depth and knowledge of leadership development and executive coaching skills look no further.

Karen Dallesandro

Human Resources Business Partner, Grassi & Co.

Michael Prystowsky

It has been a pleasure working with Loren Margolis at Training & Leadership Success to coach two of our physician leaders. The first leader was a faculty member directing a core research facility who had little management experience or knowledge of how to deal with difficult customers. Loren developed an excellent program for giving this leader essential skills as a boss and interpersonal skills to navigate challenging situations. These learned abilities were put to good use during the coaching as the leader was guided through real work situations, creating a memory bank of problem-solving tactics.

The second coaching engagement involved bringing out the real, caring personality of a senior leader whose “old-world” communication style offended direct reports. Loren customized coaching program revealed the caring person inside and enabled this leader to engender loyalty and increased productivity from their team. Loren created a complete turn-around in this leader that only a few of us thought was possible.

Michael Prystowsky

M.D, Ph.D. - Professor and Chairman of Pathology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center