Make Virtual Coaching Better

Of all the jobs a manager/leader has, one that we often feel we could do better, is coaching.

Experience shows that it is the part of the role we often feel gets ignored or isn’t done as well as we’d like. Your employees, especially those who work remotely, most likely agree with you.

So, what can we do about it?

Here are some things you can do to make your coaching more effective when you can’t be face-to-face.

Decide to have a real coaching conversation.

A coaching call is not a “check-in.” Good coaching requires focus on both ends of the line, planning, and attention to detail. Look at it this way: if you were going to coach someone in the office, you’d take them somewhere private. You’d sit down, maybe have a moment of casual conversation and demonstrate relaxed, positive body language.

When coaching virtually, the same things apply.  Be somewhere you both can relax and not be distracted. Take enough time that you’re able to engage in some social conversation before you dive in. Any conversation that starts with, “Let’s not waste time, let’s get down to business,” is probably going to restrict real conversation and the chance to explore what’s going on with the other person.

Read How Silence Is Critical To Good Conversations

Make coaching conversations as rich as possible.

Coaching can be an emotional experience. When we are face to face, we can hear the tone of the person’s response as well as their facial expressions and body language. The best results happen when you’re having rich, real-time conversations. For that reason, you want to have as “rich” a conversation as possible.

You want to make sure you are communicating effectively, and are understood, and any unspoken objections or questions get surfaced. This is almost impossible to do over the telephone alone, so use your webcams. Get both parties used to the idea of being on camera when the stakes are low and the conversations casual, so you’ll both be less self-conscious when your discussions get deeper and more important.

Read How Coaching Is More About the Person Than The Problem

Have a list—but not a checkbox.

A rich, constructive coaching conversation has a lot going on. You need to know what you’re going to discuss, have supporting evidence or questions you need to ask, and there’s a process to a well-run coaching call. Most of us can’t keep everything clear in our head and wind up hanging up and then thinking of all the things we forgot about or could have said or done differently.

So having a list of topics and reminders is a good thing. On the other hand, if we treat it like a checklist, with the goal just to tick off boxes, we often focus on that, rather than listening to the other person for clues that we should probe deeper, or some things aren’t being said. It’s a fine line, but an important one.

Open the call to possibilities.

Coaching means you must actively listen to the other person. One of the challenges for a lot of us is that people will answer the questions they’re asked. Many of us start with well-meaning requests for information that prematurely focus the discussion and don’t always open the door to more productive conversations. For example, there is a difference between “What’s going on with the Jackson account?” and “What are you spending most of your time on?” 

Get Our 27 Open-ended Questions

Here are some open-ended questions to kickstart coaching conversations:

What’s up?

How’s it going?

What’s working?

Where are you stuck?

How can I help?

Notice that you’re leaving the responses up to the other person.

You may want to get to the problem at hand, but if there are other priorities, or challenges or the person has something they need to discuss first, you’ll have a better talk when you get to it.


For more information on coaching at a distance, consider our Coaching Services.

Better Coaching is a critical skill development that we offer to help you become a Better Leader!



The 7 Step Coaching Process

For indepth analysis please check out the full book by Michael Bungay Stanier titled

the COACHING HABIT: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever on Amazon.

Coaching for Performance is about addressing and fixing a specific problem, sorting something out. Development is turning from the issue to the person dealing with the issue, calling individuals forward to learn, improve and grow. The remainder of this blog will follow this structure:

  1. The Kickstarter Questions “What’s on your mind?”
  2. The best coaching question in the world… “And what else”
  3. The Focus Question: What is the real challenge here for you?
  4. The Foundation Question: “What do you want?”
  5. The Lazy Question: “How can I help?”
  6. The Strategic Question: “If you are saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?”
  7. The Learning Question: “What was most useful for you?”

These simple triggers should form a line manager’s 101 bible for helping coach their team around them.

20 Tips To Avoid The 40% Failure Rate When Onboarding A New Leader

Most of the onboarding of new leaders and managers is common sense. Still, different people latch on to different nuggets that help their chances of success in a world where 40% of new leaders fail in their first 18 months.

These tips all nest under the importance of getting a head start, managing the message, setting direction, building the team and delivering results.

1. Failure to deliver is the #2 cause of failure. Get done what they need you to get done.

2. Adjusting to the culture. Keep your eyes open and adjust to changes as they arise.

3. No one cares about you. They care about what you can do for them.

4. Avoid the 100-Day Plan for Interviews trap. If asked to prepare a 100-day Plan for a final interview, position your plan in the context of the company’s objectives and 12-month goals.

Want To Explore This Topic Further?

Join the Better Leader Inner Circle On Thursday, May 23 at 11:00MT/1:00ET

Click Here To Register And Get A Recording If You Can’t Attend

5. Plan your meetings. Live meetings can have flexible agendas. Virtual meetings need deliberate and detailed content, meeting flow, and technology planning, preparation, and rehearsals.

6. Answer three due diligence questions:

      • What is the organization’s sustainable competitive advantage? (Organizational risk.)
      • Did anyone have concerns about this role; and, if so, what was done to mitigate them? (Role risk)
      • What, specifically, about me, led the organization to offer me the job? (Personal risk.)

7. Dig into the culture. Make sure you understand:

      • Behaviours: Flexible vs. stable discipline | Interdependent vs. independent | Enjoyment vs. order
      • Relationships: Purpose vs. authority | Informal vs. formal communications | Diffused vs. hierarchical decisions
      • Attitudes: Innovation vs. minimum viable strategy | Proactive vs. responsive | Learning vs. safety
      • Values: Purpose as intended vs as written | Open/shared vs. directed learning | Caring vs. results focus

8. Assess the onboarding risk. 

      • If it’s low, do nothing out of the ordinary. 
      • If it’s manageable, manage it in the normal course of events.
      • If it’s mission-crippling, resolve or mitigate before accepting the role.
      • If the barriers are insurmountable, walk away.

9. Identify the contributors, watchers, and detractors. Contributors share your agenda. Detractors want to stop you. Watchers haven’t decided yet. Turn the contributors into champions, the watchers into contributors, and get the detractors out of the way.

10. No one will believe what you say. They will believe what you do.

11. MAP your communication efforts across Messages.

      • Switching the “we” immediately, never talking about your old company again,
      • Stand on the shoulders of those who built the organization as you go forward,
      • leverage new change models to turn the old guard into partners.

12. Do not talk about yourself. No one cares about you. Their only question is “What does this mean for me?” 

13. Clarify your organizing concept. Get the strategy behind your communication points right.

14. Make your communication emotional, rational, and inspirational– in that order. Emotionally connect with people, then be honest about the truth and facts of the situation. Then provide an inspired solution with a specific call to action to inspire.

Want To Explore This Topic Further?

Join the Better Leader Inner Circle On Thursday, May 23 at 11:00MT/1:00ET

Click Here To Register And Get A Recording If You Can’t Attend

15. Create an imperative.

      • If you tell people to do something, the best you can hope for is compliance.
      • If you want people to contribute, sell, test, or consult.
      • If you want their commitment, you need to co-create.

16. Put in place milestones. Strategies are practically useless until turned into actions with clarity. Make sure someone owns the process and follows through on milestone tracking regularly.

17. Get the right people in the right roles early on. The #1 regret leaders have when reflecting on their careers is not moving fast enough on people.

      • Invest in under-performing people in the right role.
      • Support effective people in the right role.
      • Move out under-performing people in the wrong role.
      • Move up outstanding people who are in the wrong role.

18. Systematize a management cadence. Manage core talent, strategic, capability and operating processes annually/quarterly.

      • Track programs monthly.
      • Track projects weekly.
      • Track tasks daily – perhaps with huddles.

19. Observe. Assess. Plan. Act.

      • Downplay minor and temporary changes. Control and stay focused on priorities.
      • Evolve through minor and enduring changes, factoring into ongoing team evolution.
      • Manage major and temporary changes. Deploy your incident management response plan.
      • Restart following a major and enduring change. Jump-shifting your strategy, organization, and operations to lead through the point of inflection.

20. Keep going. Keep growing, conducting a self-assessment, and getting stakeholder feedback to inform course corrections in culture, priorities, and leadership approach.

Want To Explore This Topic Further?

Join the Better Leader Inner Circle On Thursday, May 23 at 11:00MT/1:00ET

Click Here To Register And Get A Recording If You Can’t Attend

5 Steps To Calming The Waters When A New Boss Enters The Pool

… of all the things that can cause ripples in our ‘pond,’ changing leaders should be considered the equivalent of doing a cannonball dive into the water …

A quick note from Steve:

This article focuses on the new manager or leader, but the discussion can apply to anyone taking on the role of ‘New Boss.’



As leaders, we often consider organizational changes that impact our culture or progress toward successfully achieving our goals.

The change could be a location change, IT changes, new strategic plans, economic downturns or a myriad of organizational changes that can cause ripples in our corporate waters.

In my experience, one of the least managed organizational changes is a leadership change.

And of all the things that can cause ripples in our ‘pond,’ changing leaders or managers should be considered the equivalent of doing a cannonball dive into the water.

An additional complication is that boards of directors increasingly seek leaders from outside their organization. 

In 2017, 44% of US companies & organizations searching for new leadership hire from outside the organization.

Often, outsiders are chosen to deliver strategic course corrections, restructures, mergers, culture change, or digital transformation, and under short timelines, incoming leaders or managers need to have a deep understanding of their leadership competencies and effectiveness. 


The new leaders or managers as an organizational change challenge.

Most incoming leaders or managers, internal or external, get off to a rocky start. 

Society for Human Resource Management research shows that 58% of senior leadership hires struggle in their new positions after 18 months. 

18 months!

Therefore, carefully planning a new chief executive’s integration is crucial. 


What is the key to success? 

Your success must be gained by building momentum across the whole organization.

Not by acting frenetically but by thoughtfully choosing the speed to help the organization mobilize, execute, and transform effectively. 

The incoming leader or manager must need to:

  • gain knowledge of board expectations,
  • understand the bench strength of the leadership team, and,
  • appreciate the organization’s culture.

This will help leaders or managers understand when to gather insights when to make fact-based decisions, and when to execute quickly.


Five steps to speed up new leaders or managers’ integration

In my experience, new leaders or managers who take the following five steps have the best chance at successful acceleration.


  1. What are your unique strengths?

The characteristics that have served you well so far may not lead to success in a new role as a leader or manager. 

Success in your new role depends on navigating the organization’s current cultural context and quickly understanding the roadblocks to performance. 

Self-awareness is crucial. The ability to reflect upon and assess one’s strengths, weaknesses, and leadership style will enable proper planning on how to change the culture and increase performance.

Consider the following questions to help align your and the organization’s unique strengths: 

  • Why was I hired for this role; what is my differentiation?
  • What is my vision for this organization? 
  • What distinctive strengths can I leverage in this context? 
  • What might derail me within this organization?
  • How do I become more self-aware and plan for my blind spots? 
  • What do I hope my legacy will be?

 Read the seven career-saving questions you should ask before starting a new project.

  1. Build an adequate influence base.

External leaders or managers are typically brought in to drive transformational change.

Everyone expects change, so every move of the new leader or manager is evaluated and scrutinized for meaning. 

Understanding the formal and informal sources of influence within an organization takes time.

You need to talk to your people to get a clear view of what they love and hate, what they see as most broken, and what excites them. 

As a new leader or manager, you will be under a lot of pressure—from the board, your leadership team, and the culture itself—to show up and make change happen quickly. 

Don’t fall into the trap of making big decisions too quickly—you don’t know enough to know whether they are the right decisions. 

Getting to know the key stakeholders will help new leaders or managers develop a plan to build relationships that can quickly transform influencers into advocates.

Addressing the following questions is a significant next step: 

  • How do I identify the key influencers? 
  • Where are the real influencers within the organization below my leadership team?
  • What questions should I ask key constituents to build my knowledge base?
  • How do I effectively structure a listening tour?
  • How will I structure my story and share my vision for the organization?

Want To Explore This Topic Further?

Join the Better Leader Inner Circle On Thursday, May 23 at 11:00MT/1:00ET

Click Here To Register And Get A Recording If You Can’t Attend 

  1. Define success and priorities.

Incoming leaders or managers typically align highly with the board and other senior executives regarding what constitutes success and what the priorities are. 

The new leaders or managers need a detailed definition of success and what needs to be addressed first. 

It is essential to take the time to define the high-impact opportunities that will impact customers, products, systems, and people. 

Careful management of the first 100 days is critical to the success of the new leaders or managers. 

This is the time when the stakes are high for both the organization and the reputation of the incoming leaders or managers. 

Ideally, the 100-day playbook will accelerate the integration of new executives into their new environment while prioritizing quick wins and longer-term strategic capabilities.

Addressing the following questions will get leaders or managers started on this step: 

  • What are the performance indicators for this role?
  • How will my performance be evaluated in six months and a year? 
  • How (and from whom) will I receive feedback?
  • How will I get oriented to our markets, customers, and organization?
  • How will I get clarity on and manage board expectations? 

Read more about managing competing priorities.

  1. Mobilize the top team quickly.

Most often, a new leader or manager makes changes to the senior team. 

In 2017, 91% of S&P 500 companies indicated that changes in leaders or managers would accompany changes at the director or senior executive levels.

Given the change agenda, new external leaders or managers need to develop an understanding of the senior team’s performance and quickly make decisions on how to bolster the team’s effectiveness.

Addressing the following questions will help new leaders or managers shape and mobilize their top teams: 

  • How will I assess my team’s baseline level of performance?
  • What are the business goals or outcomes for which my team members are mutually accountable?
  • How will I determine membership on my top team?
  • What operating norms do I think are needed on this team?
  • Who will support me in developing my team to accelerate performance?


  1. Shape the culture

Organizational culture is a crucial driver of change and a barrier to execution. 

In my experience, everyday cultural strengths and liabilities have become so ingrained and automatic that they are not questioned. 

If the cultural fit between the new leaders or managers and the organization is off, execution can feel like pushing a rope.

This challenge has been defined as the Culture Eating Strategy’s lunch because dysfunctional cultural habits can chew up any improvement the new leaders or managers try to make. 

A major study shows that 70% of all change efforts fail to achieve their objectives. 

The new leaders or managers must quickly become familiar with the cultural values, unwritten rules, and practices of their new organization. 

Addressing the following questions will give new leaders or managers a cultural grounding:

  • What are the strengths and liabilities of the current culture?
  • How do I shape the culture to align with our new strategic direction?
  • How do I improve high-performing behaviours such as accountability and collaboration?
  • How can I better understand the shadow of my leadership team?
  • What is the execution effectiveness of my organization?

 Read more about culture.


Newly appointed leaders risk failure unless they address the obstacles to their organizational and personal success. 

If poorly made, a new leader or manager’s initial set of decisions and actions will create unintended consequences that will be difficult to reverse. 

Therefore, initial actions and decisions must be carefully planned.

An acceleration requires new leaders or managers to:

  • assess and develop themselves to be most effective in the new context; 
  • understand their organization’s influencers and culture, 
  • how to leverage both for success; 
  • develop a detailed and shared understanding of success and priorities, and 
  • mobilize their top team. 

Those who take the time to do so put themselves on the best path toward lasting success.

Want To Explore This Topic Further?

Join the Better Leader Inner Circle On Thursday, May 23 at 11:00MT/1:00ET

Click Here To Register And Get A Recording If You Can’t Attend 

Why 75 Is The Single Most Important Number You Will Ever Need To Lead



I have been in the leadership business for over 40 years and have worked with thousands of leaders, and I have found people consistently struggle with the same three things:


Making Decisions; and,


 Well, Ladies and gentlemen -Drum roll-  here for your leadership pleasure is the 75% solution:


A great friend of mine, Hugh Culver, used to speak a lot about time management. The first time I met Hugh, he gave me productivity advice that I started using immediately following the workshop and still use to this day.

 Hugh made the point that, as leaders, we should not schedule more than 75% of the available time in our calendars.

 If you jam your calendar full of back-to-back appointments, you will never have time to deal with all of the things that you need to do, from the inevitable emergency to walking around talking and checking in with team members to going to the bathroom.

 read more about time & millennials


One of my all-time favourite leaders is General Norman Schwarzkopf. He is best known as the Commander of all the Coalition Forces during the 1st Gulf War, and he said that the quality of your decisions would not increase beyond knowing 75% of the available information.

 His point is that at a certain point, you have all the information you need to make a good decision. Trying to gather more information will seldom improve that decision. In common parlance, avoid analysis paralysis.

Learn about making good decisions.


Have you ever pushed yourself to your maximum discomfort and physical ability threshold?

Once you hit that threshold when your mind believes you are done, your body only uses 75% of your energy.

Special Forces soldiers know that when you think you are done, your body can still do 25%—40% more. Humans are evolutionarily designed to have energy in reserve, so when you are trying to run down a mammoth or escape a sabre-tooth tiger, you feel you have nothing left to give. You still have a reserve, hopefully enough to either escape or bring dinner home.

Learn More about Sabre-tooth Tigers

In the Citizen’s Interest: A Dynamic Talk with Steve Armstrong

A quick note to my Readers.

In addition to my work and business, I serve on several Boards and working groups in the healthcare field. Through volunteering with Imagine Citizens Network, I was asked to share my thoughts on improving the healthcare supply chain following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thank you, SCAN-H, for the privilege.

(Scroll to the bottom of this page to watch the video of the interview)

In the intricate web of healthcare supply chains, disruptions can have far-reaching consequences, profoundly impacting the everyday lives of Canadians. Recently, the SCANH team convened a Citizens Forum, bringing together diverse voices to tackle the challenges of the healthcare supply chain. At the heart of this forum lies the Imagine Citizens Network is an Alberta-based network dedicated to amplifying citizen voices and driving transformation within the healthcare sector.

Reflecting on the discussions held at the forum, it is very evident that citizen perspectives are indispensable in shaping resilient healthcare supply chains. Drawing from insights shared by Steve Armstrong, a recent guest on our podcast, we recognize the importance of incorporating citizen voices into the healthcare Supply chain resilience dialogue.

As Armstrong aptly stated, “Most of us don’t care day to day until we need it… even with toilet paper, nobody thought it was a precious commodity until someone thought we were running out of it.”; This sentiment underscores the reality of what many people take for granted: the seamless functioning of healthcare supply chains until confronted with shortages or disruptions.

“They just want to be able to go to a hospital, go to the doctor, go to the pharmacy, get what they need, and come home because we’re kind of spoiled that way,” Armstrong further emphasizes. This desire for seamless access to healthcare resources underscores the importance of citizen-centric solutions prioritizing accessibility and reliability.

Armstrong highlights the need to humanize the conversation around healthcare supply chains, recognizing patients as individuals with unique needs and experiences. “I think what I offer as a potential patient… is how we level out the information and how we bring the conversation down to earth that we talk about patients as human beings,” he remarks. In doing so, we recognize that the endpoint of the healthcare supply chain is a person, a human being, and humanity must be central to healthcare supply chain solutions. Healthcare supply chain solutions must foster empathy and ensure that they are tailored to meet the diverse needs of every citizen.

As we navigate the complexities of healthcare supply chains, Armstrong stresses the importance of inclusive dialogue and citizen participation in shaping solutions. “I think we have to make sure that we’re having these conversations, so people feel heard and participatory in the solution,” he asserts. Indeed, engaging citizens as active stakeholders in decision-making processes is essential to fostering trust and driving meaningful change.

Moreover, Armstrong urges a shift towards collective problem-solving, recognizing that “We need more citizens and conversations. We need more citizens at the table. Your voices matter, and it is essential to understand how the healthcare supply chain impacts you.” By leveraging citizens’ collective wisdom and experiences, we can Identify innovative approaches to enhance the resilience and effectiveness of healthcare supply chains.

Against this backdrop of local insights, global events are stark reminders of the far-reaching consequences of supply chain disruptions. From the recent cyberattack on a major health insurer in the United States, disrupting prescription drug orders for thousands of pharmacies, to ongoing drug shortages affecting individuals managing health challenges, the imperative for action looms large.

In the face of these challenges, citizens emerge as potent agents of change, wielding collective power to advocate for their needs and catalyze meaningful action. As SCANH Citizens Forum and the Imagine Citizens Network chart the path forward, citizen perspectives must remain central to supplying resilience strategies and providing solutions. They are not just about health systems and logistics but are fundamentally about people.

This partnership embodies the vision of a healthcare system designed in collaboration with citizens to achieve optimal outcomes for all. As we navigate the complexities of healthcare supply chains and build solutions to advance resilience, let us remain steadfast in our commitment to putting people first and ensuring that no one is left behind in the quest for healthcare resilience and equity.

Check out Steve’s episode here.