Leadership and Team Development Strategies: An Interview with Judy Knight of Thumbprint Coaching
"If the company was going to survive, innovation was definitely going to be needed, and by showing the CEO and the team the consequences of their actions, they were able to find ways to work differently."
Welcome to this insightful interview with a distinguished expert in leadership and team development, Judy Knight, the founder of Thumbprint Coaching – https://thumbprintcoach.com/. With years of experience in the field, Judy has dedicated her career to creating more humane workplaces and helping individuals reach their full potential.
- Could you start by giving us a brief overview of your journey in establishing Thumbprint Coaching?
I worked for a training, coaching and consulting company in the UK for four years when I lived there, and I really loved the work. I had come from years of working in technology companies in sales, marketing and leading customer training departments, and some of those environments were not as supportive of me being my authentic self as I would have liked. This was many years before psychological safety became a known vital element of employee and team success. At the UK company, I felt appreciated for who I was and what I had to offer from a personal and skills perspective.
When my husband and I moved to the US, I decided I didn’t want to return to working in large corporate entities. So, I went through formal coaching training and set up my own practice. My purpose has always been to make workplaces more humane, and that is why I have focused most of my work on leadership development.
- The Thumbprint Coaching approach emphasizes personalized solutions and the development of the individual. How do you ensure that each coaching plan is uniquely tailored to meet the specific needs of your clients?
First of all, I have a call with a potential client to see if we are a good “fit”. The relationship between a coach and client is critical to success. I want to find out what the person wants to accomplish as a result of the coaching and how they will measure success.
If we go ahead and decide to work together, we take those goals and design action plans to accomplish them. Since most of my work is with organizations, I meet with the person’s manager to understand what they want my client to achieve through coaching. To further define the goals, I often will do 360-degree feedback interviews to understand how the client is perceived by peers and direct reports and what they are looking for their colleague to continue doing that is working, as well as what behaviors they think could be improved to increase the person’s effectiveness.
I have a coaching session about every other week with my clients where we focus on those goals and action plans we have established and address any challenges the client is having.
- Can you describe your process for leadership development coaching? What strategies or techniques do you employ to foster effective leadership?
The 360 feedback interviews (and sometimes a 360-degree feedback instrument) form the focus of the leadership development aspect of the coaching since the questions I ask are to determine the current and desired state of the person’s leadership behaviors. Depending on the outcome of the interviews, we may focus on interpersonal skills as a leader, emotional intelligence, coaching skills, conflict management or team engagement as some examples.
- Your work involves team development, which is critical for organizational success. Can you explain how you approach this aspect of your coaching services?
Teams go through stages as they come together and move towards (hopefully) becoming a high-performing team.
If I am working with just the leader, we focus on what that leader can do to help their team develop the qualities of high performance. I prefer to work with an entire team and, through team coaching, help the team understand how to appreciate their differences, build trust, deal with conflict, learn how to hold each other accountable and focus on the team goals. I use topical workshops as well as facilitation of team meetings to accomplish what the team needs to be high-performing.
- Could you share an example of a challenging team situation you’ve helped navigate and the steps you took to bring about positive change?
I worked with an executive leadership team (CEO and the rest of the C-suite members), and the leader dominated every discussion. The CEO had a very strong personality, and he was stifling the creativity of the rest of the team because his ideas were always the best ones, according to him. I worked with each individual in the team to help them get comfortable with ways to challenge the CEO and helped the CEO realize that his behaviors were getting in the way of the team coming up with innovative ideas. If the company was going to survive, innovation was definitely going to be needed, and by showing the CEO and the team the consequences of their actions, they were able to find ways to work differently. One solution was for the team members to pair up to present their ideas so one person wasn’t in the spotlight on their own. Another solution was getting the CEO to be the last person to speak on a topic rather than the first one to put forward his ideas. Over time, they were able to deal with their different perspectives in a more productive way to ensure the ongoing success of their company.
- You recommend a number of Psychometric testing methodologies, to gain insight into personality traits, abilities, and aptitudes. Could you share your perspective on the benefits and limitations of using psychometric testing in your practice? How do you ensure its effective use while acknowledging its potential limitations?
I use assessments primarily to increase self-awareness on the part of my clients. Whether it is an assessment to help them understand their preferred communication style and then how to adapt to others or one to measure someone’s emotional intelligence so we can develop strategies to strengthen it, I find these tools open up deep and meaningful conversations with my clients.
I have also used psychometrics to help organizations match candidates and employees to job openings. A limitation is that these assessments are just one data point and must be used, in these cases, in conjunction with a candidate’s experience, interview process and other measurements.
- What are the most common challenges that your clients face when it comes to leadership and team development, and how does Thumbprint Coaching help address them?
Interpersonal communication skills are the most common challenge for leaders.
They don’t know how to have useful and productive conversations with their team members or don’t take the time to engage with them. When they do have 1-1s, it is mostly to get task updates and give advice rather than to coach and connect with the team member as a person, not just a resource.
For teams, conflict management and how to have challenging conversations come up most frequently in my team coaching.
Everyone I work with wants to do a good job, so the intention is there and that good intention is what I work with to develop effective work practices.
- Lastly, are there any leadership or coaching books that you feel every business leader should read?
I am really not an expert on the best books. I have always recommended Marshall Goldsmith’s “What Got you Here won’t Get You There.” I like “5 Conversations” by Nick Cowley and Nigel Purse and “The Good Fight” by Liane Davey. I wish I had time to read more great books that I know are out there!!