Q&A: Diane Wilcoxson: “Leaders must find new ways to engage their staff”

Author: PM Editorial | Date: 21 Oct 2015

The Hong Kong executive coach on what a new generation of employees expects from those in the top jobs

Diane WilcoxsonFor many leading executives in Asia, the secret weapon behind the scenes is an experienced executive coach. From her base in Hong Kong, Diane Wilcoxson – who has worked with a range of blue chip businesses – tells People Management how she helps people as they grow personally and professionally, navigate the C-suite and manage others.

How did you get into coaching?
Long before the term ‘coaching’ was coined outside of sports and inside businesses, I began coaching peers in the early 70s while I was at university. In 1979, I returned formally to coaching when I founded and directed a community centre in the United States. I worked almost every day for eight years with individuals, groups, families, staff, and communities, coaching on far-ranging issues and challenges.
I also travelled and lived in Asia in my mid-20s, which ultimately brought me to live in Hong Kong. I work with clients to identify and explore possibilities that they can subsequently take into practical application and transform their lives in ways that make sense to them.
For face-to-face meetings, I travel specifically to meet clients where they live and work, in Asia Pacific, Europe and sometimes North America. There is also demand for me to coach clients around the globe with more cost-effective virtual technologies.
How do executives find you?
It happens in different ways, but always the person I am coaching must be keen to have coaching for me to agree to be their coach. When someone is keen and prioritises their coaching right along with everything else that is important to them in life, amazing things happen.
We identify together what the presenting issues or challenges may be, explore possibilities for how they arose and what would be preferable going forward, and then we identify options for creating the desired transformation and changes.
Are you helping executives resolve specific relationship, or general issues?
Mostly, I work with senior and very senior executives – CEOs, CFOs, COOs, board directors and regional directors to enhance their functioning. I work with female and male leaders and decision-makers on influencing, communication, leadership, decision-making and much more. As I help executives deal with myriad issues, often resolving one thing will lead to other things to address.
I also undertake projects with clients for whom my role is both coach and consultant. For example, I might be working with a team of executives, helping them to form a strategic 5-10-year plan. My role is to set a process in place and ask the odd, unusual or hard question they often either forget or avoid.
What do you find are the most pressing issues today for corporate leaders?
Interestingly, with a new sensibility in the younger age range, leaders are challenged to find new ways to motivate their teams and high potentials. It used to be that a good salary, benefits and job security were enough to keep good people.
Now, a job has to hold greater interest in order to get younger staff engaged, and there has to be obvious opportunities that will keep their attention. With all the easy access to information, so many jobs pale in attraction to what people can see, learn and think about online.
Leadership today is required to be engaged, energetic, creative and ‘present’. Really knowing what’s happening in the company with your staff is more important than it was 20 years ago, when if you knew what your direct reports were doing, you could run a company of thousands. Today, bosses who are ‘hip’ to what is current in popular culture are better able to address the needs and desires of their staff.
Have you seen changes in the issues people bring to the table?
Yes, more people these days express concern about their opportunities going forward. There is more emphasis on being happy’at work, and being balanced in life between home and work, rather than compartmentalising this into days of the week. More people desire a feeling that what they do makes a difference.