38 episodes

Leaders aren't born, they're made. This is the audio journal of Dave Stachowiak, host of Coaching for Leaders, a top-ranked management podcast downloaded 15 million times. Each entry is less than five minutes and captures an insight or reflection for leaders. Activate your FREE membership to access full transcripts and discover the entire episode library at CoachingforLeaders.com.

Dave's Journal Dave Stachowiak

    • Business
    • 4.7 • 15 Ratings

Leaders aren't born, they're made. This is the audio journal of Dave Stachowiak, host of Coaching for Leaders, a top-ranked management podcast downloaded 15 million times. Each entry is less than five minutes and captures an insight or reflection for leaders. Activate your FREE membership to access full transcripts and discover the entire episode library at CoachingforLeaders.com.

    Your Toolbox

    Your Toolbox

    A few weeks ago, I was assembling a new desk in our studio. Mostly the project was going smoothly, but one pesky bolt wasn’t fitting onto a brace for the desk.

    The wrench I had clearly wasn’t working well for the job, but I figured I could just force it a bit instead of having to go all the way back to the garage to get the wrench I really needed.

    I pressed on with the wrongly-sized wrench, only to have it slip out of my fingers and slice into my thumb. This resulted in me having to stop the work, address the minor bleeding, get a bandage, and then eventually make it back down to the garage to get the wrench I should have gotten in the first place.

    This of course took way longer than if I had just started with the right tool. The entire rest of the assembly also slowed down since I had to be mindful that I didn’t lose the bandage and risk dropping blood on the furniture.

    You’ve done something like this too, right? Sometimes it’s just easier to use tool you already grabbed than to stop and get the tool you need.

    I fear this happens sometimes with leaders when it comes to the skill of coaching.

    All of us have heard about the importance of having good coaching skills. It’s an essential tool in the toolbox of every leader — one of the most important ones, in fact. It’s useful, powerful, even inspiring, when used well.

    But it is only one tool and, just like an actual toolbox, one tool isn’t enough for every situation.

    Feedback for leaders is also important. So is training. In some situations, being directive is right. Facilitation is essential when trying to surface new ideas. And of course, so is accountability when expectations aren’t met.

    If you go onto our website and look in the episode library, there are more than 60 categories of skills databased from podcasts episodes I’ve aired over the years. One of those categories is called “Coaching Skills” but there are a lot of others.

    In fact, of the over 500 episodes I’ve aired on the Coaching for Leaders podcast, only about two dozen directly address what I would call coaching skills.

    Don’t get me wrong…nobody is happier to see a lot more leaders appreciating and using coaching skills in recent years.

    Yet, I fear that I and others have unintentionally sent the message that coaching skills are critical, while other skills are perhaps secondary. After all, I’m the one who named a podcast “Coaching for Leaders”.

    But the podcast could be as easily be called Training for Leaders, or Management or Leaders, or Conversations for Leaders, or probably a dozen other words that would reflect the full repertoire of skills that most leaders need.

    This is one of the reasons I’ve always appreciated the Situational Leadership model created by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard. They challenge leaders to first assess the situation and then respond with the appropriate behavior.

    Just like you would do if tackling a house project. Determine what’s needed first. Grab the correct tool, second.

    If your coaching skills aren’t getting people where they need to go, it could be that improving your skills might help. But it also could be that you’re using the wrong tool for the situation.

    I hope that you’ll use coaching a lot as a leader. It’s a wonderful place to begin from — and it will serve you and others well throughout your career. And, I give you permission to not be so coach-like, if the situation dictates something else.

    Dave's Journal is available by audio on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Stitcher, and Spotify.

    • 3 min
    Changed My Mind

    Changed My Mind

    When I was 16 years old, I discovered that the police department in the town I grew up in had an explorer program. Since I was interested in a career in law enforcement at the time, I attended a meeting and quickly joined.

    I was never a sworn police officer - nor have I ever done any of the difficult work in policing. However, I did spend two years volunteering in uniform at community events, riding along many times with police officers on patrol, and even graduated from a junior police academy. I once witnessed a police officer get assaulted right in front of me.

    I had an up-front view of how complex the job of police officer is and, although I concluded that law enforcement wasn’t for me, it shaped a lot of my worldview - especially from the perspective of the police.

    If you’ve ever listened to the Coaching for Leaders podcast, you know that I often ask experts at the end of interviews what they’ve changed their minds on. It’s a question I also pose to myself.

    It’s relevant to speak on the events of the day, because George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the police has direct implications for how many of us in organizations do better.

    In the recent years, and reaffirmed in the last month, I’ve changed my mind on at least three things.

    First, I used to believe that, unless there was substantial evidence to the contrary, we should generally give police departments the benefit of the doubt, since excessive use of force seemed rare and isolated.

    On this belief, I was wrong.

    Thank goodness for smartphones with cameras. They have opened my eyes to what Black folks have been saying for years about police brutality. After seeing hundreds of these videos in recent years, it’s clear that many of these incidents are deeply rooted in systemic racism, not only in our policing, but in American society as a whole.

    Yes, of course police work is dangerous, but so is commercial fishing, agriculture work, and construction. Yes, there are police leaders who have taken significant action to address racism in policing, but many also have not. I’m done giving police departments the benefit of the doubt.

    Second, I used to believe that, it’s just a reality for us as a society to accept some “bad apples” in our police forces.

    Comedian Chris Rock points out that there are some jobs that are too important to allow for bad behavior. Take pilots for example. No airline allows a margin of error for a certain number of crash landings each year. No nuclear power plant allows its engineers an acceptable number of meltdowns. No hospital allows surgeons a quota for ignoring the needs of certain patients.

    I’m left with the uncomfortable conclusion that, particularly on this issue, racism is why I haven’t held police officers to the same standard I would expect of any other professional dealing with life-safety issues. As a result, I’ve changed my mind on allowing a different standard in policing - and in my thinking.

    But the most important thing I’ve changed my mind on is my own contribution.

    If George Floyd’s murder had happened five years ago and you asked me who killed him, I would have said, “Four police officers.”

    I’ve changed my mind on that, too.

    Today, I know his blood is also on my hands. While my contribution is different than the people who physically killed him, I and others with privilege contributed to his murder by:

    Not speaking out against the militarization of America’s police departments.

    Not recognizing that we need better options for responding to complex situations in our society other than just sending in armed officers.

    Not pushing any of my elected representatives on this issue.

    Not having enough empathy for my Black brothers and sisters who have been doing...

    • 4 min
    Apps and Operating Systems

    Apps and Operating Systems

    Most of the devices we use each day have two essential software components: apps and operating systems.

    The best apps usually do a few things really well. The browser app on my iPhone makes sure I can view websites easily. The task management app makes sure I don’t miss a deadline.

    I just looked and I have 149 apps on my iPhone. I have no idea how that compares with the general population, but my guess from casual interactions with others is that I’m not alone with a large quantity of apps.

    That also means lots of updates. It seems like at least 2-3 of them get an update, just about everyday. Often, these fix a problem with the app or make it better in some meaningful way.

    All of these apps run on top of Apple’s iOS operating system. Unlike individual apps that do one specific thing, the operating system provides a broad foundation for the entire device to perform well.

    Operating system updates happen less often. They also take longer to install — usually 5-10 minutes instead of just a few seconds.

    When the operating system gets better, the entire device gets more useful and also opens up the potential for apps to do a lot more. While iOS alone doesn’t make the iPhone useful, it provides an essential foundation for everything else.

    The overall strength of iOS has enabled a robust ecosystem of apps from developers to flourish — and turned the iPhone into the most successful consumer product of all time.

    The reason I’m illuminating this distinction is because I get this question all the time when I open up applications for our Coaching for Leaders Academy:

    What’s better for me? Hiring an executive coach or applying for your Academy?

    If you can appreciate the difference between updating an app and updating an operating system, it will illuminate how I respond to this question:

    Talented executive coaches like my friend Tom Henschel are really good at contracting with leaders and organizations to help them get better at a couple of key areas over a short period of time. When there’s a specific behavior or skill that’s holding you back (or would benefit from focused refinement) coaching is a great way to go.

    Good coaches are masters at catching things quickly that aren’t working and noticing the thinking errors that you may be making. They will challenge you and help you change your behavior quickly, assuming you are willing and ready.

    That’s just like getting an update for an app. It’s specific, it’s focused, and ideally, it’s done in a fairly accelerated period of time.

    Unlike coaching, our Academy is far broader in focus. While we do zero in tactically on specific commitments, the overall aim is comprehensive leadership development.

    The Academy helps leaders get really good at articulating what the future should look like, assess where there are today, and develop a practice of implementing tactical commitments that help them and their teams achieve results. Plus, they learn how to give and receive objective perspective from others who are outside of their organizations.

    A leader with a strong foundation in these areas has the ability to do a lot with it — and the potential to take a lot of other people along with them.

    While coaching is usually done one on one, our Academy members work together with me and the same 5-6 colleagues for eight months. It means that, each person moves slower than they would with one on one coaching, especially in the initial stages. But it also means that they get a far broader perspective, because they benefit from (and implement) the discoveries their colleagues are making along the way.

    While I’m always thrilled to see people getting results from their commitments, the real achievement is at the end of our Academy year when leaders have made beh...

    • 4 min
    Jumping In

    Jumping In

    A client told me recently that his manager was concerned about a behavior he’d observed in customer meetings:

    You’re not jumping in fast enough.

    My client agreed with the feedback. He even offered to me that he’s noticed the awkward silence in some meetings when people look to him, expecting his input.

    As we started discussing what he might do, I couldn’t help but empathize with the situation. Early in my career, I noticed that same awkward silence in some meetings when people would turn to me.

    Like my client, it was an annoyance early in my career, but become a more apparent issue after a few promotions. At the management level, it’s important to be able to jump in. At the executive level, it’s essential.

    Sadly, the unstated assumption that’s sometimes made in western business culture when someone doesn’t speak up is either that they aren’t sharp — or they aren’t engaged.

    Ironically, sometimes those of us who are naturally quieter in meetings are the ones thinking most deeply about the issue at hand. Then, when we’re suddenly turned to for a recommendation or decision, we’re caught off guard. I’ve come away from a handful of meetings in my professional life feeling like I just got punished for thinking too much.

    Years ago, I stumbled on this tactic:

    Always have a question ready.

    Whenever I didn’t know what to say next, I’d immediately ask a clarifying question. This resulted in three benefits:

    First, the perception that I wasn’t engaged or thinking quickly enough started to change. In fact, after doing this awhile, some stakeholders actually started asking me for my questions, since they often helped us achieve better outcomes.

    Second, it gave me time to think. I realized that one of the reasons I previously hesitated to give input was because I didn’t have all the information. Being curious yielded more information, making recommendations and decisions easier.

    And finally, it got me used to jumping in. Now as a learned skill, I ironically have the opposite challenge of sometimes jumping in too quickly.

    If this is a struggle for you too, I invite you to always have a question ready. If you do, it’s lot easier to jump in when it matters most.

    Dave's Journal is available by audio on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Stitcher, and Spotify.

    • 2 min
    The Cheshire Cat

    The Cheshire Cat

    My son and I are reading the original Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. This exchange appears in the book:

    Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?”

    The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”

    “I don’t know,” Alice answered.

    “Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”

    I’m often asked for advice on what to do next in complex situations. The question I find myself asking is:

    What’s the outcome you want?

    The most common response to that question is:


    Often followed with, “Good question,” or “I probably should have more clarity on that,” or “I hadn’t thought much about it until this moment.”

    Like most animals, we are good at seeing what’s right in front of us. Unlike most animals, we have a capacity to envision a different future.

    There’s nothing wrong with walking around aimlessly. In fact, we should all be doing more of it. David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, says:

    Not only do you need to spend time thinking, you need to spend time not thinking – absolutely daydreaming.

    So, daydream away.

    And then, when the time comes to make an intentional turn, decide first where you’re going. If you do, it’s easier to see which road to take.

    Dave's Journal is available by audio on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Stitcher, and Spotify.

    • 1 min
    Did You Notice What I Didn’t Say?

    Did You Notice What I Didn’t Say?

    One of our Academy members reached out to me awhile back. He was handling a delicate situation in his organization, requiring him to navigate tons of internal politics.

    He needed to suddenly give a lot of people a company line he didn’t exactly agree with. He didn’t have ethical objections to the change, but it noticeably didn’t align with the path he’d been cultivating for his team.

    He knew people would officially accept it, but also that some of his most trusted employees would ask him questions in private.

    The complex politics of the moment were such that it simply wasn’t appropriate for him to say anything in the short-term, even in private, that deviated from the official message. He was part of a large bureaucracy and playing the long-game.

    His question to me:

    How do I say something when I shouldn’t say anything?

    It reminded me about a discussion I had years ago with a former boss. I was making a courtesy request for something that I thought was a formality. Instead of the “yes” I was used to, I got an uncharacteristically quick denial, followed by silence.

    Surprised, I asked for a bit more explanation, only to get basically the same response, worded in a slightly different way. I didn’t quite know what to make of it, since I had a great relationship with my boss and he regularly shared his thinking behind almost every decision.

    Before I determined how to proceed with the conversation, he offered this:

    Maybe you noticed what I didn’t say.

    I instantly understood: I see you, I’m with you, but I can’t touch this politically right now.

    I am an optimist who believes in transparency and trust in organizations.

    And I’m a realist too. As much as I’d love to convince myself that every leader, customer, and organization is ready for full transparency, sometimes the moment isn’t right, and may do more harm than good.

    Use this sparingly with the right people. However, when you’re playing the long-game, sometimes it’s helpful to acknowledge what wasn’t said.

    Like that country song goes, occasionally you say it best, when you say nothing at all.

    Dave's Journal is available by audio on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Stitcher, and Spotify.

    • 2 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
15 Ratings

15 Ratings

esscomm ,

Precious gems from Dave

As a long-time fan of Dave's "Coaching for Leaders" podcast, this new contribution is a treat. Instead of Dave being the interviewer, here we get to hear him share his personal experiences and explain how he makes sense of the world of work. Thanks for adding this to your body of work, Dave. It's a pleasure to listen to!

Sandra_reasonablediet.com ,

Good advice in bite size doses

Thanks for getting right to the point as you are sharing what is obviously years of experience. Appreciated.

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