Moving From Command & Control to Coaching & Collaboration: Donya Ben Mlouka Of Smida Grow&Glow On How Leaders and Managers Can Become Better Coaches

An Interview with Karen Mangia

Karen Mangia
Authority Magazine

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Listen carefully and identify the shortcomings (emotional, skills, stress): The number one skill of every coach is to be a good listener and this can be learned with time and practice. It’s about listening to opinions, emotions and suggestions.

The number one leadership initiative in any organization today is improved coaching. Coaching empowers employees, empowerment drives engagement, and engagement drives performance. At its core, coaching is about transformation. Leading distributed teams requires transforming how we coach and changing our play calls and playbooks to get things done. As a part of our interview series called “Moving From Command & Control to Coaching & Collaboration; How Leaders and Managers Can Become Better Coaches,” we had the pleasure to interview Donya Ben Mlouka Smida.

Donya Ben Mlouka Smida is an expert on maximizing efficiency and is a stress management coach featured in Authority Magazine, Up Journey and TED ed.

She is a highly successful International Corporate Senior Executive, having led teams, supervised large teams and managed multi-million regional complex projects for the past 17 years. She is married, has 3 children and is passionate about personal development and sport.

She consistently follows her inner voice to empower entrepreneurs and executives to build their businesses and careers around their lives, not the other way around. She is devoted to her mission to accompany people to become more efficient and less stressed in order to achieve their dreams.

Thank you for joining us to explore a critical inflection point in how we define leadership. Our readers would like to get to know you better. What was a defining moment that shaped who you are as a leader?

First thing first, when I started managing dozens of staff and a massive financial portfolio, I was confusing management with leadership. I naively thought that any manager is a leader but throughout the years, I stumbled across the bitter truth and reality that in business, we need fewer managers and more and more true leaders. Two years ago, I asked one of my closest colleagues to me if she feels happy in her daily work and she said “yes, I feel extremely lucky to work with you and with the entire team” I said “what in particular makes you happy” and she responded: “I work and deliver from a place of trust and not from a place of fear”. This was the debut of my journey with the concept of leadership. Leadership is used often to represent a particular way of management of the responsibilization of staff and trust vis-à-vis your collaborators. For me, leadership is way more than that. Leadership is listening carefully to the need of people as much as you listen to the need of the market and your clients. Leadership is listening and then communicating regularly and transparently with your people, motivating them, coaching them and mentoring them. Leadership does not only mean that you think about the benefit to be made but also and more importantly think about the career path of your collaborators and the entire team and support them to grow even if this means you will lose them.

John C. Maxwell is credited with saying, “A leader is someone who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” How do you embody that quote as a leader?

I definitely agree with the fact that a leader should assume the responsibility of showing the route and leading to the end of the way. Nonetheless, this quote is omitting two critical elements accompanying this journey of leading which are the participative approach and accountability. In fact, before choosing the way, a true leader should consult, listen to the people around and put together the way. A leader then, based on the consultation, should lead the journey and assume the entire responsibility. I met so many managers trying to differ their mistakes to their team and not assuming responsibility. A leader should promote that any win it’s a team win and if it is a loss, the leader should assume responsibility and share the lessons learned from the mistakes and improve the process.

How do you define the differences between a leader as a manager and a leader as a coach?

A leader as a manager should be more in mentoring, training and motivation part while a leader as a coach should focus more on listening, communicating and articulating daily routines ideas and solutions. The leader as a manager should give orientations, and a clear vision and anchor the enterprise culture while the coach as a leader should reinforce the belonging feeling, that not feeling fine is ok and foster the positive feeling into the person to be a better person of her/himself.

We started our conversation by noting that improved coaching is the number one leadership initiative in any organization today. What are some essential skills and competencies that leaders must have now to be better coaches?

Be a good Listener: The most important skill is the capacity to truly and attentively listen and then communicate. Expressing emotions and feelings and articulating them into a roadmap and actionable plan is the cornerstone to be a great coach.

Be a good Guide: A coach should know that we do not have a list of incidents to be used for everyone. Every person is different and solutions should be truly bespoke to their needs and feelings.

The coach accompanies the “coachee” and does not show him/her the way nor does he/she push him/her; the coach walks next to the “coachee” during his/her journey.

Be humble and give credit to the team: results are to be attributed to the team members and not to the coach. Every person is responsible for his life and choices when the coaching is done properly. will have tools and means to help him/her in other situations even in the absence of the coach.

We’re all familiar with the adage, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” How are you inspiring — rather than mandating — leaders to invest in upskilling and reskilling?

Inspiring is not about showing the “best way” or the “perfect way” that does actually not exist, inspiring is unlocking the potential lurking underneath deceptions, defeat and losses. Inspiring is giving those keys to everyone to be the person that she/he can be or would like to be. As a coach, we are not here to dictate what to do but to help others find out what treasure they have inside themselves. The leader light’s up the way until the person can do it by him/herself.

Let’s get more specific. How do you coach someone to do their best work? How can leaders coach for peak performance in our current context? What are your “Top 5 Ways That Leaders and Managers Can Be Effective Coaches?”

For me these are the 5 key steps to be followed:

1-Listen carefully and identify the shortcomings (emotional, skills, stress): The number one skill of every coach is to be a good listener and this can be learned with time and practice. It’s about listening to opinions, emotions and suggestions.

2-Identify long-term goals, mid-term goals and short-term goals: In order to support your team and hold a common vision, it’s important to identify together the goals the team is working towards. It’s about what I need to achieve and not how. I usually do this during kickoff meetings where all important milestones are identified to have a common understanding;

3-Put together a roadmap that included every day or week small steps of improvement. Steps leading to short terms concrete achievement and helping to march towards the bigger goals: Our brain needs to have digestible steps in order to understand that the bigger goals are achievable. Putting in place a roadmap that is done in a collaborative manner does make the work easier and paves the path for a common journey;

4-Put in place a system of accountability and continuous learning for improvement: All processes can be changed, adapted and corrected at any time if things are not going in the right direction. It is comparable to a GPS, if you change the route, or you see that you are not heading to the correct destination, it will recalculate and show you the best way the following from the new place you are at.

5-A regular check IN to identify what worked best and what can we improve the aspects that did not work as expected. Check IN are deeper than monitoring and continuous improvement, it is about the person and can be done during and after the process. It will give lessons learnt to improve the future process.

We’re leading and coaching in increasingly diverse organizations. And one aspect of workforce diversity on the rise is generational diversity. What advice would you offer about how to effectively coach a multi-generational workforce? And how do you activate the collective potential of a multi-generational workforce?

It is undeniable that the workforce is more multi-generational than before, however, being in an international environment we are already confronted with “mixed” culture, “mixed” ideas, ideologies and expertise. It is important to realize for an effective leader the differences among the generations and that each person is unique.

Leaders of multigenerational teams must be proactive in addressing the differences in communication, experience, work styles and perspectives among their employees and focus on managing challenges such as stereotypes and expectations.

I see the collective potential as an asset regardless of whether it is multi-generational or multi “cultural” or multi “expertise”. The leader activates this potential by:

1. Put the community goal / vision first;

2. Leverage Expertise and he/she might cross fertilize the expertise within the community;

3. Clarify everyone’s role and responsibility;

4. Set participative goals with a continuous improvement of the process.

You’re referring to emotional intelligence, in a sense. What are two steps every leader can take to demonstrate a higher level of emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence in a nutshell for me is empathy. To what extent you can put yourself in the situation of the person that you are listening to, this will give you the keys to truly understanding without any judgement of any capacities. It is not an easy thing since we are all influenced and disturbed by external factors but we have to strive to completely be immersed in the words of the person and her/his situation. We need to start by understanding and managing our own emotions (self-awareness) and the second step is to put ourselves in the position of the other person without any pre-judgements. You should put on your own oxygen mask before helping anyone else, this is what the flight crew says. It is the same logic for emotional intelligence: start with yourself.

Words matter. And we’re collectively creating a new leadership language right now. What are the most important words for leaders to use now?

As a leader, I follow Albert Camu’s quote that says: « Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend”.

The most important words will be: I’m next to you, sharing, compassion, acceptance, brave, WE, together, possible, potential, inner voice.

I keep inspiring quotes on my desk. What’s your favourite “Life Lesson Quote,” and why does it mean so much to you?

“Lessons in life will be repeated until they are learned”. Each difficult situation, emotional burden, and deception will hurt us as long as we do not understand the lesson behind it and as long as we keep ignoring it.

For each difficult situation, you need to sit with yourself and understand what it is trying to teach you, when you understand the lesson, you can grow and thrive until the next obstacle arises.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation. What’s the best way for readers to connect with you and to stay current on what you’re discovering?

LinkedIn: LinkeIn Donya

Webpage: Grow&Glow

Facebook: Facebook Donya

Instagram: IG Donya

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.

About The Interviewer: Karen Mangia is one of the most sought-after keynote speakers in the world, sharing her thought leadership with over 10,000 organizations during the course of her career. As Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, she helps individuals and organizations define, design and deliver the future. Discover her proven strategies to access your own success in her fourth book Success from Anywhere and by connecting with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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