Developing New Leaders

In this installment of MindShare, we feature Lynne Viscio, Principal of MG Strategy, a company that focuses on alignment through internal communication, accountability and measurable business results.

Lynne-BW-133x143Lynne, you are a former educator and sports coach. Can you compare coaching executives to coaching athletes?

Whether you’re coaching athletes, executives, or anyone really, it’s important to meet people where they are. To get clear on their current capabilities, as well as their needs, beliefs, and goals—and then help them grow from there. It’s about finding ways to help them learn what they need to know, how and when they need to know it. People have their own way of processing information—and one size does not fit all. Most importantly, it’s about helping people explore and experience new ways of being and leading—ideally through small experiments or small commitments to change.  There’s just no substitute for learning, growing, and evolving through action.

In your experience, what are some of the biggest challenges leaders face?

One is certainly time. Finding the time to coach, develop, guide, and inspire your team. Also finding the time to proactively, thoughtfully, and strategically build relationships with other key stakeholders throughout the organization. These things often take a backseat to operational issues and the daily fire drills that seem more urgent. However, the most effective leaders tend to relationships (direct reports, team, and other stakeholders) with the same heightened sense of importance and urgency as they apply to tasks.

New leaders and emerging leaders are also typically challenged to step up to higher levels of leadership without any training or guidance to help them manage the obstacles, opportunities, and next-level challenges.

Are there cost-efficient ways for new managers to get the training they need?

Good question. One-on-one coaching is often used with executives, but it can be cost-prohibitive to provide it for emerging leaders.  As an alternative, we’ve delivered  tremendous results using peer cohort training—which involves pulling together a group of 6-10 high-potential peers  We create a customized curriculum for the group, and  deliver it over a six-month period in six ½-day team sessions. In the sessions we facilitate dialogue and share “coaching tips” covering essential leadership issues and challenges, and then outside of the sessions we also provide each participant with two one-on-one coaching sessions. This process is a great way to experience coaching and leadership development alongside really bright peers—and to build relationships with other talented emerging leaders.

Can you tell us about a particularly successful peer cohort training you’ve facilitated?

I once worked with an IT-based group, at a healthcare facility. They were in the midst of a very intense transformational process. They needed all hands on deck, and getting things right the first time was critical. There were a number of middle managers who lived with the operational challenges and pressures everyday—and many were in new leadership roles. We established a cross-functional group from every area of IT and focused on developing their leadership skills, while helping them build relationships with other high-potential peers.

We also helped these IT folks interact more effectively with clinicians—their key client group. IT, of course, sees the world through a different lens than clinicians do. So, how did we help? We started by helping them understand how clinicians see the world. What’s the same? What’s different?

We also talked a lot about the language and word choices we use—and how some choices are inclusive—and how other choices can alienate the very people we hope to engage. We coached them to drop the “IT speak,” and use language that resonated with clinicians. It took a good deal of effort on their part, but they learned that good things happen when you frame things appropriately for your audience or listener.

In your experience, what are the most important attributes of a high-performing team?

You need a competent, capable, and confident leader—one who believes, first and foremost, that his or her most important job is to develop and lead the team. Next, the leader has to provide the team with a strong, shared sense of purpose and connection to the aspirations of the organization. And finally, the leader has to do a great job establishing accountability within the team. Of course, it also helps to have the right people sitting in the right roles; a culture of trust; and processes that support constantly getting smarter and better at our work.

 How do you teach new leaders accountability?

We teach leaders that—if they want to get things done—they must establish and manage three critical conditions for accountability. First, set clear and credible expectations. Second, create and consistently deliver compelling consequences (positive for performance; negative for the failure to perform). And third, engage in frequent conversations that provide a huge dose of reality. Sometimes people are surprised that accountability comes down to these three, seemingly simple conditions—but it does take a highly committed leader to manage toward these conditions day in and day out.

You can reach Lynne directly at, or at 215.421.9306.