How to Differentiate Yourself as a Leader

Five steps to developing a strategy to excel in increasing productivity, retaining talent and recruiting those who will be a good fit.

In today's challenging environment, most managers and executives are desperately trying to excel in three areas: increasing productivity, retaining talent and recruiting those who will be a good fit. Despite the ongoing need for focus in each of these areas, most people have no long-term strategy to ensure success.

The most effective strategy is to become known for how you intentionally develop those on your team. If you differentiate yourself by truly becoming a master people developer, your recruiting, retention and productivity will greatly improve. I'm sure you are assessing your own abilities and past efforts as you read the opening sentences of this article. I will give you credit for already doing some intentional people development, but most would have to admit it is not being done in a proven, intentional way.

Most leaders succeed in building their teams by mentoring them, not coaching them. The difference is that these successful individual contributors, now managers and executives, share their insights and solutions with teammates when a crisis hits. They always seem to have the knowledge required to help others get out of a bind. As mentors, their past experiences help their teammates find the right solutions. This is a very common attribute found in many good managers and executives. But does it really differentiate them? Does it really make them unique and highly sought out? It has not proven to be enough to give these leaders an advantage when it comes to retaining or attracting top talent.

Building Champions coach Bill Hart calls this advantage your ULP, or Unique Leadership Proposition. The concept is that in order to really set yourself apart from your competition, you must be skilled at executing and articulating the strategies you employ that make you better than the rest. So as a leader, what is it that sets you apart? I'll walk you through an easy-to-implement set of steps that will do just that—set you apart and make being a Coaching Leader your ULP.

But first you must understand and believe the following: Most people do not leave their companies—they leave their leaders. Countless employee surveys have been done, and the results continue to pin the majority of retention challenges on the employee's direct supervisor, not the company's structure, systems, pricing, compensation or lack of products. Building and retaining a champion team is about how intentional and skilled you are at leading and growing each of your team members. What we have seen is that by improving how you coach, your culture, leadership effectiveness and overall results will improve.

The benefits of making this your top initiative are far-reaching. The three entities that will benefit most are the individual teammates you choose to coach, your organization and you, yourself, as a leader. Most of your teammates are longing to have someone who cares about their success, both on and off the job, take an interest in helping them to improve. By intentionally coaching them, you will give them more clarity, deeper convictions, better plans and defined action steps that will lead to their desired improvements. Your company benefits as a result of you raising the bar and helping your teammates grow in effectiveness and productivity. Even in the rare cases when you help your teammates do the same amount of work with less effort, the company benefits because this leads to higher employee satisfaction. And finally, you benefit as you reap the rewards of knowing that you are truly making a difference in the lives of those who call you leader.

So let's now walk through some easy-to-execute steps that, if followed, will enable you to add more value to those on your team and gain even better results.

Step One: Complete the Team Assessment and Development Tool for those who directly report to you and whom you want to coach in the months ahead. I suggest you start off with no more than eight direct reports.

Step Two: Create your coaching model. How often will you meet with your teammates one on one? How long will each coaching session last? What we have found is that by starting off with one 60-minute coaching session per month, you can really begin to add value to your teammates. So go ahead and block out the time for your monthly coaching sessions with those you want to coach for the remainder of the year. We have found that most Coaching Leaders like to have coaching sessions with their teammates on the same day or two every month. They are also more focused if they conduct the sessions in one block of time instead of spread out over the day or week. Your model should include an action plan follow-up and should always end with an action plan recap.

Step Three: Meet with those you want to coach and invite them to participate in this process. Share your desire to help them reach higher levels of success in all aspects of their business and life. Share how your coaching model is going to work and ask them if this is something they would like to try for a six-month trial period. Let them know that the only things that will be discussed in these coaching sessions are their goals, their plans, their opportunities and their challenges. Remember, this is all about them!

Step Four: Complete the Team Assessment and have all of them do the same for themselves. Meet with them individually to review your findings and map out their areas to focus on in the months ahead. This initial coaching session should include any ground rules you want to agree upon so that both parties know what to expect. Examples include showing up for sessions, being prompt, instruction on how action plans are to be created and followed up on, etc. Again, you will end this first session by stating what was agreed to and when it is to be completed.

Step Five: Take notes during each session and highlight all action plans and due dates agreed to. Then schedule your own follow-up reminders so you can encourage and hold your teammate accountable to the action plans he agreed to. This step is key and needs to be a priority for the coaching to really make a difference.

Above, I have given you a very concise version of this coaching system (it usually requires 208 pages to cover it all!), but my hope is that this shows you a new vision for what it means to be a leader. I have seen this very model lead to great results for leaders and their teams, and the beauty of it is that it is also one of the easiest models to master. By becoming a Coaching Leader, you will truly differentiate yourself from the pack and enjoy even greater success as you attract, develop and retain your teammates.

Daniel Harkavy is the CEO of Building Champions and author of Becoming a Coaching Leader, the Proven Strategy for Building Your Own Team of Champions.(http://www.becomingacoachingleader.com/Coaching-Tools/default.aspx)

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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