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“In order for your employees to do their finest work, you need to help them cultivate a sense of inner steadiness. Especially in tumultuous times.” As I presented to 40 CEOs at a recent retreat, my intention was to help them achieve their business objectives by fostering an environment where their greatest asset, their employees, could thrive.

I asked the leaders to turn to each other and discuss their biggest business challenges and their correlation with the obstacles their key employees face. My aim? To create an awareness that bolstering their employees’ inner experience of career success is a key driver to corporate and startup revenue generation and market leadership.

I’ve spent 20 years studying the patterns that keep professionals stuck in their careers and documented the findings in my book Your Finest Work: Career Fulfillment in a Complicated World. TL;DR: there are seven traps people fall into that keep them stuck, blocked from experiencing their career as fulfilling, successful, impactful, and meaningful. For these traps, seven corresponding strategies serve as antidotes, each representing a pillar of attention and practice that professionals need to experience a sense of their career humming along successfully. A person may fall prey to one or more of the traps at any given time, and effort spent on the strategies to counteract those stuck places compounds and produces significant benefits.

CEOs and senior leadership teams need to familiarize themselves with these patterns of stuckness and learn to recognize the blockages that arise for their key employees. They can then focus efforts to help their team members reverse the unproductive patterns. The good news: this is easier than it sounds! What it requires is to embrace the role of the coach-leader, incorporating the best practices from professional coaching into the day-to-day cadence of their leadership style and approach.

Here are some key tenets from coaching to help you wrap your head around this: 

  • You don’t have the answers for someone else. They do.
  • Change happens when people energetically opt-in themselves.
  • Your energy impacts the interaction. You need to be aware of this and self-manage.

Bottom line: good leadership is about how you hold space for others. This allows your employees to self-manage, find their own answers, and clear the obstacles keeping them from success.

Are you intrigued and want to experiment with this approach?

The easiest way to do this is to practice some of the best techniques from world-class coaching and observe how small adjustments to your behavior will shift that of others. Here is one powerful tool to start with:

Co-create the agenda of any meeting (in 3 steps)

  1. Clarify the topic of conversation for the session. Do this by asking the other person or group to confirm what we are here to discuss.
  2. Define the desired outcome for the interaction. In other words, what do each one of you want from the conversation as a takeaway to make it a valuable interchange?
  3. Identify the success measure(s) for the desired outcome(s). What is the evidence of the outcome being reached in the conversation?

This last step is the one many people skip, but it is the most important. How will we know that the time has been well spent? Spending time here is the difference between a meeting creating meaningful progress or being a waste of time. Once these three items have been defined, you can refer to them during the meeting when things get off track (“We said we were here to discuss ‘X’, accomplish ‘Y’, and that we would know we had accomplished it if ‘Z’ happened. How does what we are talking about right now contribute to that outcome?”). You can also refer to them at the end to wrap things up and determine next steps. This framework allows all constituents to feel their needs are getting met through the interaction, even if some objectives outlined at the start of the conversation get put in a ‘parking lot’ (tabled) to tackle at a later time.

Here’s an example: A VP, Priya comes to her one-on-one session with you complaining about all the performance reviews she has to write. Okay, that is her presenting topic. What are her desired outcomes for the conversation? Does she need to spend five minutes venting and then you can both move on to something else or does she want some strategies for how to make this process easier? If the latter, asking her how will she know that it has happened in the conversation allows you to help solve the right problem vs. guessing what she needs and missing the mark.

There are more simple frameworks from coaching that help CEOs tune in to the seven traps enabling them to bring out the finest work in their employees. This technique is a powerful one to use as a foundational layer of your leadership approach. The point is to have your employees lean in and take responsibility for their own experience. Cultivating a sense of professional agency in interactions and therefore a sense of control is just one of the pillars of attention in action. Use it in any meeting and watch your outcomes change.

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