Coaching a driven young innovator to collaborate

Asked + Answered is a new recurring feature in The Network. We pose reader queries about workplace and management matters to a panel of three Baton Rouge executive coaches and management consultants to get their take. Submit your questions anonymously.

A young woman in our company has a lot of innovative ideas and is emerging as a real agent for change. The challenge is she sometimes forgets to collaborate with people in areas where she is trying to bring innovation and it is creating resentment. How can I coach her without discouraging her?


Devin Lemoine: Every young professional, as they take on higher visibility projects, can benefit from feedback and advice on getting early buy-in for change, new ideas and projects. Young professionals are often so hyper-focused on showing their ability to deliver results that they may miss the people piece.

I’d keep your coaching approach simple and positive with regular touch points and feedback. I’d explain that along the way you’ve learned that two things make a project successful: the what and the how. The what is a great project plan; the how is the approach. Explain the importance of identifying the stakeholders that will be affected or involved and thinking through what they have to gain or lose from the change. Encourage her to have early conversations with the people involved and be open to hearing their thoughts, ideas and concerns. This will help any young professional—and not just on this project but the rest of their career.

Meet Devin Lemoine.


Craig Juengling: Being the agent of change can be a challenge within many companies; despite declarations otherwise, change is difficult for most people, unless there is a compelling reason to change. As her supervisor, I’d ask her a series of questions that provoke reflection and new thinking. Explore with her why others are resisting her actions: Has she created a compelling purpose for the change? Has she developed trust with her colleagues necessary for buy-in? Act as a mentor and encourage her to change her behaviors; help her connect the fact that her desire to initiate change can only occur through changing her approach. Then ask her to strategically identify a network of people she needs to be successful and have her spend time “connecting” with them. It’s not about “making friends”; it’s more about creating a connection that builds trust, that allows others to follow her willingly—the definition of leading with influence. There are three essential ingredients to leading with influence: a network of relationships, subject matter expertise, and credibility. Coach her to develop competencies in all three areas.

Meet Craig Juengling.


Katie Sternberg: I love that you recognize you can positively impact this young woman as a coach. It sounds like she has tons of energy and ideas but needs to develop skills getting buy-in from colleagues. Your concern about discouraging your young colleague is well founded. According to a recent article, “The Feedback Fallacy” in Harvard Business Review (Buckingham, Marcus & Goodall, Ashley, March-April 2019), we perceive critical feedback as a threat. Even when feedback is intended as constructive, most of us are unable to positively process the information as a guide to grow and change. I recommend that you begin by acknowledging what the young woman is doing well and sharing your reaction to her accomplishments.

“When you ……, this is what got me excited: …… . Tell me how you made the decision to go in that direction.”

Focusing your feedback on what you noticed went well, and your reaction to her great work, will better allow her to hear your other thoughts. With positive feedback as the background, it is possible to transition the discussion of what might have done to make results even better. Keep the conversation specific and focused around the behavior you believe she needs to develop; in this case, collaborating. Ask open-ended questions like: “I like hearing your reasoning. How did your colleagues respond to your approach? What did you think went well? What could have gone better? What do you think you could do next time to encourage buy-in at the front end? What problems do think others might need to work through—and how can we help recognize and facilitate that?”

Asking open-ended questions and encouraging this young woman to think about how she is working, not just what she is working on, may help her expand her perspective. My hope is that you have a conversation that builds trust with her and develops into an ongoing dialogue.

Meet Katie Sternberg.

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