The Line - Self Leadership - Development

The Two Wakes of Leadership

Results and Relationships

by Greg Mutch | July 2024

Two Wakes. Two Bosses.

One of the best bosses (and colleagues) I’ve ever had is Matt (not changing his name for confidentiality!). The first day on the job we sat down together to connect and to give me some direction. And I’ll never forget these words. “Don’t hit the ground running, hit the ground sitting.” In essence, take it slow, learn your role, get to know the team and understand the contribution you can make here. The results will follow. Matt may not have used this language to describe his approach, but the more I learn about the different styles of leadership, it is clear to me that Matt was a “Leader As Coach.”


Leader As Coach


This method of leadership stands in contrast to another style of leadership that is (thankfully but too slowly) dying off – command and control. We had a boss like this in the same organization and it was one of the worst I’ve endured. Here is the mixed bag with this approach. It often delivers results. And dollars. Henry Cloud once wrote about leaders recognizing they are like a boat moving through the water leaving two wakes. Results is one… and “people and relationships” is the other. When you are only paying attention to one of the wakes, there are dire and toxic consequences for the success and culture of the organization.

I highly recommend this HBR article that says it this way,

“The coaching we’re talking about—the kind that creates a true learning organization—is ongoing and executed by those inside the organization. It’s work that all managers should engage in with all their people all the time, in ways that help define the organization’s culture and advance its mission. An effective manager-as-coach asks questions instead of providing answers, supports employees instead of judging them, and facilitates their development instead of dictating what has to be done.”

As I’m finalizing this blog, I’m en route to Tallahassee to deliver one of our cornerstone programs with a group of managers, directors, and supervisors at a regional credit union. While we often call this program “Manage Like A Boss” they insisted on calling it something different–”Transformational Leadership.” Built into the design and outcomes of this program is the belief that managers (people leaders) do not have all the expertise, ideas, and answers. Rather, they are the ones that maximize the potential and impact of the people and teams in their charge. A transformational leader develops a Leader As Coach mindset and intentionally leverages the tools of a coach. Let’s explore that mindset and one of those tools.

Adopting a Coaching Mindset


This move to leader as coach often requires a significant shift in mindset and practice. In many of the organizations we have worked with, the managers and executives have risen to those ranks because they were highly effective at executing and solving problems. The shift they are after is a move from “doing the work” to “leading the people” and that only comes when a leader can scale their influence. The best way to scale is not to be the primary problem solver telling the team what to do but rather to maximize your team members through the power of coaching. With the speed and complexity of our professional worlds, putting on a coaching hat feels slower and less effective but in truth it is the skill that will activate and generate the effectiveness and impact our organization’s need the most. Reflect on your own leadership practices and consider these questions:

      • What would be different if you made the shift to a coaching style of management?
      • What person or character could you channel to lead in this way?
      • In order to lean into this way of leading, what might you need to say “no” to? And what might you need to say “yes” to?
      • What is the possible impact of continuing on as you are?


The Art of Asking Powerful Questions


One of the key skills to develop and practice to become a Leader as Coach is the art of asking powerful questions – like the questions above. These are the kinds of questions that open up, tap into, and expand the potential of the people you are leading. They are driven more by curiosity and possibility than by speed and solutions. Most of us have not had this modeled for us and we haven’t learned it along the way so we default to what we know – which is to ask tactical questions and then go straight in for the solve or give direction. Or better yet, we think we are asking questions but they are really bits of advice or solutions with a question mark at the end.

      • Have you tried…?
      • Have you thought about doing…?

Basic tips and guidance for asking powerful questions:

      • Open ended – not easily answered by yes, no or one word replies
      • Generative – they expand, open up and deepen
      • Short – 7 words or less is a good rule of thumb

Want to take it to the next level?

      • Avoid asking “why” – that word almost always has a slight edge to it and can put the person on the defensive or put them into explanation mode rather than digging for insight.
      • Pair your question with space. Don’t rush in after asking the question if there’s a pause. A good powerful question will likely cause the person to dig deeper and really think through a meaningful response, so try to get comfortable with some silence.
      • Use AND instead of BUT – again, this tends to create a more generative and open direction.

Asking powerful questions is a skill that likely takes some time to develop so we recommend using a cheat sheet. Have a few prepared questions or regular “go to” questions you can use. Here’s a PDF of powerful questions you can explore to get started.

I’ll leave you with this. We all paid thousands of dollars developing a host of coaching mindsets and skills, so you might think we come up with complex and wild powerful questions. Nope. Most of the time we are asking something as simple as these –

      • And what else?
      • Tell me more?
      • What do you want?

Keep it simple. Lean into curiosity and some of the discomfort of this approach and find yourself scaling your influence as a leader who coaches. Rid your self of the command and control approach and step into being a transformational leader like Matt. Both wakes matter. Be Like Matt. That’s who I want to be when I grow up.

Coffee or Cocktails on us! 

If you’d like to see more Leader as Coach mentality in your organization, then let’s connect! Fill out our Contact Form and we’ll be in touch to get a discovery call scheduled – hopefully in person with coffee, cocktails or your favorite beverage involved.


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