Coaching and Manners

This episode was on Coaching and on Manners — two ends of the leadership continuum. Coaching focuses on your self and your ability to lead, and manners looks at how you relate to people you may not know.

My guests were Ingar Grev of The Growth Coach in the Washington DC area, followed by Susan Fitter Sloane of Global Manners, an expert on social skills, etiquette, and manners for leaders.
Executive coaching has reached a very high level of penetration into the corporate consciousness. It may even be a little over-done. What is coaching really, and how does it differ from other performance related interventions like training, mentoring, or supervising?
Ingar was an engineer by training, and has an MBA. He’s long been looked to for leadership by those around him. After years at large companies like Raytheon and Verizon, he came to understand the value of good leadership and the value of a coach in boosting performance.
As he was getting ready to start up a technology business, he had an insight — that it’s not technology but leadership that makes a business run better.
Being an engineer by training, Ingar takes a methodological approach to understanding business dynamics. He continues to be a big cynic about coaching, simply because so much of what passes for it is almost useless — what he calls “kumbaya”. The real goal ought to be creating effective organizations.
Ingar distinguishes strongly between a mentor — who may inspire you, who may be someone who has done what you want to do — and a coach, who will help you clarify your goals, help you create a plan to reach your goals, and will hold you accountable for reaching those goals and executing on that plan.
If there is any single thing that separates a coach from a book, is that the coach holds you accountable. One is your money – you pay the coach in advance, and you have an incentive to get value from that money. Another that Ingar uses is peer groups, where CEOs go on retreats and work together on their individual plans, and meet together 90 days later to follow up and yes, hold each other accountable.
That peer-group pressure is “plucking on the pride strings of the heart.”
For an executive, picking a good coach is hard. Your best bet, Ingar believes, is to call references, determine success rates, and ask for a full or partial money-back guarantee of some sort.
Manners Maketh Man
Any discussion of manners and etiquette should start with the greeting, or so says Susan Fitter Sloan. Susan is the founder and CEO of Global Manners, and a recognized expert in the field.
You can start by using the other person’s name first. “Charles, I’m Susan.” And you should stand to shake hands — Susan believes women “throw away their power” when they sit to shake hands.
You should have good posture, with the chest open, shoulders back, head erect, and maintain eye contact for two to three seconds, depending on the other person’s culture.
Shake hands “web to web” — with the web of your thumb against the other person’s — as you shake. Give the hand two shakes, firmly yet not rigidly. And smile.
Susan also teaches small talk and mingling — how to make a connection, open a conversation, make conversation, close the conversation and move on.
For example, when you enter a room, you may want to start by standing just inside the doorway where you can survey the room. Jackie Onassis used to do this. You look for the people you know, and you also look for groups that have “open posture” — where members of the group have one foot in and one out, or one shoulder in and one out.
Start with eye contact, then approach and start with what brought you to be there:
“Hello, I don’t believe I’ve met you. I’m Susan. I’m here because my friend Jim is speaking.” If they don’t offer or seem uncomfortable responding, you can prompt them with “What brings you here?”
So, you focus on commonalities. You can continue the conversation by finding out what the other person does for a living, and ask them a little about themselves. Even the shyest people can talk about themselves.
When you’re ready to move on, you can simply say “It’s been delightful meeting you. Please excuse me, I’m going to say hello to some other colleagues.”
Beyond Greetings to Protocol
Once you understand greetings and making small talk, you can expand your skills to understand protocol based introductions.
The most important person in any organization is of course your customer. So when you make introductions, the customer is going to outrank anybody else.
Suppose you are an executive VP and your CEO is with you at a party, when two customers come up — one is a senior executive, the other is a program manager. This can be tricky.
Generally the longevity is the tie-breaker in matters of precedence. When there are two heads of state, the one who has been in her position longer takes precedence.
So for your two customers, you don’t introduce the higher ranked one to your CEO first — you introduce the one who has been your customer for longer, first. So the program manager whose firm has worked with you for 10 years will be introduced before the senior executive whose company is only a prospect.
And of course this also sends a powerful message that we value our long term relationships a lot — more than we value the hypothetical value of new business.
A good general rule of thumb is to figure out who the higher ranked person is and say that person’s name first. When making introductions, following that rule will be more than good enough.
Susan’s final advice — practice. Shake hands with everybody. Go to Home Depot, and when the clerk helps you, stick out your hand, say “I’m Susan Sloan, I’ve learned so much from you, thank you very much.” And gauge the response you get — you’ll be positively impressed.
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