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Walking Your Talk - The Coach's Role in
Maintaining Integrity

by Cynder Niemela


I'd like to talk about how coaches should respond to storms and squalls – those inevitable conflicts and struggles for power that emerge when human beings attempt to accomplish goals together.

Managing Differences

I'd like to talk about a delicate matter that coaches may be tempted to avoid. When coaching a team leader, there is a temptation to stick to procedural and managerial matters while ignoring issues of character. This is a mistake. Part of a coach's duty is to see that team leaders hold themselves to the highest standards of character.

Example: During a corporate turnaround initiative, Jim, the newly hired CEO, noticed that members of the executive team constantly gossiped about each other. Knowing how poisonous gossip is to any team effort, he lectured his team in a meeting to put a stop to this undermining habit. So far so good. But at another meeting we, as coaches, observed that he was also guilty of talking behind people's backs. We provided feedback that modeled nonjudgmental truth-telling, saying, "Jim, we know you are committed to transforming this leadership team. Can we share an observation with you in the spirit of that commitment?" When we got his agreement, we shared what we had observed. "We noticed you were complaining about an executive on your team with other team members. Instead of complaining about that person, what request have you not made of him or what feedback have you not delivered?"

Being in Alignment

Jim immediately understood what we were getting at. His actions contradicted his words. That undermined his credibility, and therefore his authority as a team leader. Jim saw that he had to change as an individual - no easy task - before he could lead change in the organization. Slowly he did indeed begin to change. He began communicating more constructively and in a more timely manner with his team members. When his character was in alignment with his demands on team members - when he started to truly walk his talk -- his effectiveness skyrocketed.

Managing Differences

In ordinary life, people shy away from pointing out obvious contradictions between a person's walk and their talk. "I'd hate it if someone called me a hypocrite," they think, and bury their observation. But a coach cannot afford this kind of supersensitivity. A coach needs to see all of the team leader's behavior as within her purview, not just managerial or procedural behavior. She must be cognizant that moral and spiritual alignment form the bedrock of any high-achieving team. Knowing how to broach issues of integrity, character and honesty - without offending or pushing away -- is a number one requirement of the coach's job.

Coaching Takes Courage

In the traditional command and control model, the leader's trust of the abilities of others is low. Hence leaders command employees in what to do and then control how they do it. The natural intelligence of team members is never given a chance to grow. Creativity, willingness to take initiative, and active ownership for results by team members is suppressed. Such teams remain low-impact teams, no matter how hard everyone works. The leader will have a hard time holding on to a vision for the team when she is constantly ensnared in micro-managing the team's work. The team members feel stunted, their energies trapped. In this atmosphere, it is impossible to develop the kind of synergy that characterizes high impact teams.


The Author

Leading High Impact Teams

Cynder Niemela coaches executives and business teams to Peak Performance. Her book, Leading High Impact Teams: The Coach Approach to Peak Performance was voted one of the Best Business Books for 2001 by The CEO Refresher.

For additional information email: or visit .

Many more articles in Coaching and High Perfomance Teams in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2002 by Cynder Niemela. All rights reserved.

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