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3 Ways to Coach Young Leaders Without Frustrating Them

This is a blog post by Dillon Smith. Dillon is the content manager for Carey Nieuwhof Communications and a member of the Speaking Team. You can book Dillon to speak at your church, next event, or on for an interview on your podcast here.

By Dillon Smith

Do you ever wonder how to best coach young leaders?

If you think back to when you were just starting out, you might remember how it felt to be told what you were doing wrong.

Too many senior leaders tell young team leaders what they’re doing wrong but rarely explain to them how to do it right.

At age 21—and a year and a half into my career work—I’ve found there are at least three things I regularly need coaching on.

And, in my time working at Carey Nieuwhof Communications, I’ve noticed 3 major things that Carey (my boss/coach) says that keep me motivated as a young employee.

A lot of young leaders like me have the right desire, but we miss the mark because we don’t see how our actions impact others or how we missed the mark.

While no coaching is ever perfect, here are 3 ways Carey’s coached me that have really helped me make progress:

Too many senior leaders tell young team leaders what they’re doing wrong, but rarely explain to them how to do it right. Click To Tweet

1. “Here are the things I care about, and I want you to care about them too.”

It’s hard to hit a target you can’t see.

It’s hard to hit a target you can't see. Click To Tweet

It’s deeply demotivating when your team has no clue whether the numbers they directly impact are up or down, or what the outcome are that you want them to hit.

So what should you do instead? Show them exactly what you’re trying to achieve.

Over the last 6 months, there have been multiple occasions where I have been on a video call with Carey and he takes control of the screen and says, “Here are the metrics I want you focusing on and caring about.”

Then he opens up some backend page of the website that I didn’t even know existed that shows numbers on how our platform is performing.

He then explains what the numbers mean and tells me what he knows influences them, and how I can help him keep those metrics moving in the right direction.

Looking back, I see that something big happened during those conversations.

When he showed me how to monitor those deeper metrics, I took responsibility for making those needles move the way we needed them to move.

When you show people what you want them to do and why you want them to do it, it’s far easier for them to stay motivated to do it.

When you show people what you want them to do and why you want them to do it, it’s far easier for them to stay motivated to do it. Click To Tweet

This completely changed how I approached my work.

Now, rather than just writing content that sounded good to me, I write content that more people actually engage with.

When I know what my boss cares about, I know what to care about.

So who on your team could be a key player in “moving the needle” for your organization that you need to bring in?

When I know what my boss cares about, I know what to care about. Click To Tweet

2. “You have permission to keep going until it’s done.”

It’s really easy to just focus on hours worked rather than outcomes accomplished.

It’s really easy to just focus on hours worked rather than outcomes accomplished. Don't. Click To Tweet

I’m not quite full time with Carey, and like most hourly team members, it’s not that hard to run out of hours during a week—to hit the maximum we’ve agreed on.

When I’m coming up to my maximum but would like to finish the project and have the energy to put more work in, I’ll let Carey know I’m coming to our agreed-upon limit.

Every time, he’s said, “If you have the energy, feel free to keep going until the work is done.”

So, I end up loving working those bigger weeks, because I do something significant and get a big paycheck!

This kind of cause and effect relationship between hours worked, pay received and mission accomplished is not what I normally see in many workplaces.

Normally, especially salaried situations, you see employees that are compensated at 30 hours a week working 40 or 50 hours during the holidays or big launches and getting ZERO extra pay.

Sure, they did something cool, but whoever made them stay the extra time just robbed their personal time from their family.

This can be extremely demotivating for employees over the long run.

They may have had some mega-successful event, but they are behind on laundry, haven’t seen their friends in a month, and are getting paid the same amount of money to spend less time doing what they personally want to do.

When this happens they begin to dread future intense seasons.

When you cap an employee’s pay, you cap their motivation.

If an employee has good reason to work longer, give them the extra hours AND PAY THEM.

And if you can’t pay them, let them know ahead of time.

If they’re salaried, and extra compensation isn’t in the budget, trade them extra time off or give them some kind of other reward for their effort.

When you cap an employee’s pay, you cap their motivation. Click To Tweet

3. Tell young leaders: “I only know what you tell me”

Under communicating is an issue that impacts every relationship in life, including work relationships.

One example of this is with blog posts like this that I get to write. I assume everyone has seen them.

When they go live, I post them all over all of my social media channels. Facebook, Insta-stories, twitter, and anywhere else I think it might help people.

And then I go back to regular life, and inevitably have a conversation with someone who follows me on at least 2 of those platforms that goes like this:

Them: “Hey Dillon. How’s it going?”

Me: “Great! My blog post from last week got some great traction and was able to help a lot of leaders.”

Them: “Oh, I didn’t see that post, what was it?”

Me: *Dies a little inside and is surprised that they didn’t see it. “Oh, yeah you can find it on my facebook page. It was about ______.”

I don’t know why I am always surprised and hurt by these conversations.

But I’m sure you’ve had these conversations too.

Have you ever been surprised that someone…

Didn’t see your recent sermon?

Doesn’t know about the big promotion you just got?

Didn’t hear about your relative who’s sick?

Didn’t know about that thing you’re trying to sell.

I think the internet has given us a false feeling that we have effectively communicated what needs to be communicated when we really haven’t.

I think the internet has given us a false feeling that we have effectively communicated what needs to be communicated when we really haven’t. Click To Tweet

And although this is just an inconvenience in your personal life, it’s totally dangerous in the workplace.

I’ve learned that miscommunication at work is one of the most demotivating things a young leader can go through.

Carey has delegated a lot of authority and responsibility to me. That means he really relies on me to keep him informed of what he needs to know.

I’ve learned that I often assume he knows something when in fact, there’s no way he would know it. Why? Because I didn’t tell him.

So how should you approach that if it’s an issue on your team? One of the best approaches Carey’s used to encourage me to communicate more is to remind me “Dillon, I only know what you tell me.”

So young leaders, people only know what you tell them directly. In today’s noisy world, we can’t “just assume” that they know.

Older leaders, we need to know when and how we can communicate important information more effectively.

One theory I have, is that as the world gets more and more noisy, we will need to communicate important information through more and more avenues. Not just one.

People only know what you tell them directly. In today’s noisy world, we can’t “just assume” that they know. Click To Tweet

Want More?

If you want to dive a little deeper under the hood, Carey, myself and my fellow team member Sarah Piercy had a detailed conversation about the dynamics of coaching and working with young leaders in this podcast.

What Do You See?

Leave a comment with any coaching you’ve found helpful (or unhelpful)!

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3 Ways to Coach Young Leaders Without Frustrating Them

7 Comments

  1. Mark on December 13, 2019 at 9:24 am

    Please do not make people afraid to tell you something that needs fixing. While it is always presumed that the highest level people know what is best for the organisation, the lowest level tends to know what the problems are or what will blow up soon. Also, if possible, try to act on the issue. Sometimes it is a very easily fixed problem or a lack of necessary information that is causing a lot of grief. It might just be that they want or need license to fix the problem. This is empowering.

  2. God on December 12, 2019 at 7:19 am

    Can i get a TLDR and Hi, Mr. Nieuwhof I would like to speak with you personally.

    • Still God on December 12, 2019 at 7:23 am

      ah seems mr. smith wrote this one hello.

  3. Danny on December 11, 2019 at 9:43 am

    Great article! I am a 32 year old and this was thought provoking not only for how I lead my Gen Z team members, but also that I need to change my thinking and increase my communication with the Gen X & Boomers I report to.

    • Dillon Smith on December 11, 2019 at 6:06 pm

      I’m so glad the article was able to help you!

      Keep going!

  4. Brandon Boos on December 11, 2019 at 9:25 am

    Dillon, I am also 21 and a year and a half into my work in the church. I loved your thoughtful insights on how older leaders can coach younger ones. I definitely can relate to these things.
    My question to you would be this, how can a younger leader effectively ask their boss for this type of coaching without seeming to be complaining about their leadership style?

    • Dillon Smith on December 11, 2019 at 6:11 pm

      That’s a tough situation.

      I think direct communication is always a good idea with a superior.

      If you are talking about point 1, I would start by asking him what key metrics your position helps impact, and how you can better help get the results you need.

      As for the other 2, you might have to share this article with him in a “I want to hear what you think of this” way.

      I know that’s high-risk, but if he’s a good leader, It should be a great conversation.

      Hope this helps!

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