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Alexandra Reese's Growth Guide

Actionable insights to improve your leadership, life, and impact

If you want to maximize your leadership effectiveness, you must learn to lead as a coach (1, 2). In this edition of the Growth Guide, I share three essential coaching skills for leaders that you can begin using immediately. 


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Skill #1: Intuitive Listening

What it is:

Intuitive listening is a practice to deeply understand and connect to the speaker’s real message. It involves paying attention to all sensory components available in the conversation:

  • What the speaker is saying
  • Their tone of voice
  • Their breathing and pacing
  • Their body language
  • Their emotional presentation
  • Their energetic presentation
  • What they don’t say


Why you need this skill:

I want you to imagine the last conversation in which you felt deeply connected to your conversation partner. What did that experience look, sound, and feel like? 

I’d wager lunch that some variation of “active listening” is high on your list. When you deeply listen to someone, you gain their trust, improve your understanding, and dramatically improve the quality of your communication. These are just a few of the many reasons experts say listening is the most important communication skill. 

But simply listening to the words someone says is not enough. Most communication is non-verbal (55%) or vocal (37%). Words convey only 7% of the information available in any given conversation (3). To really understand and connect with someone, you must pay attention to other cues. 

When to use this skill:

Intuitive listening is a powerful skill to use in any conversation. It is particularly valuable in conversations in which connection, understanding, and trust are high priorities.

Tips to put this skill into practice:

Pause to prepare: Intuitive listening requires being fully present and engaged. So, take a moment before important conversations to set your intention for the conversation (e.g., “I am going to listen to understand and gain insight”), eliminate distractions, and center yourself. 

Listen with your eyes: Regularly make eye contact to demonstrate your full presence and engagement in the conversation. Periodically, let your eyes drift to capture other visual inputs, like body language. An interesting aside: Dr. Huberman found through his research that periodic breaks in eye contact actually build comfort and trust. 

Listen beyond the spoken word: Pay attention to breathing, pacing, and tone. These will tell you as much—if not more—about how someone is feeling than their actual words.


Skill #2: Clarifying Questions

What it is:

Clarifying questions deepen your understanding of the speaker’s message and it’s underlying intent. They also deepen the speaker’s understanding of a situation or experience. 

Here are some examples of clarifying questions:

  • “What does that word mean to you?”
  • “What else can you tell me about your experience?”
  • “What do you mean by…?”
  • “Tell me more about…”


Why you need this skill:

In December 1977, President Jimmy Carter traveled to Poland on a mission to improve human rights for Polish citizens. It was a politically-sensitive, high-stakes trip, as Poland was still behind the Iron Curtain at the time. 

Though meticulously planned, the trip ended in humiliation due to a small—but vital—misinterpretation. President Carter wanted to express his interest in learning about the Polish people’s political and economic desires. Unfortunately, Carter’s Polish translator misinterpreted his remarks, telling the Polish people that Carter wanted to learn about their carnal desires!

Clarity is key to effective communication. Don’t assume you know what someone means when they use an ambiguous word or phrase (they may not even know what precisely they mean!). Ask.

When to use this skill:

Use clarifying questions anytime you want to elicit more information about meaning or intent. Here are two common use cases:

  1. When the speaker uses an ambiguous word like “burnout” or “balance” that can mean something entirely different depending on the person or context. 
  2. When the speaker makes a point I do not understand and/or agree with for which examples or supporting data would be helpful.

Tips to put this skill into practice:

Wait until the speaker has finished: You might be tempted to politely intrude when you hear an ambiguous word or phrase from your speaker. Don’t. It will interrupt the speaker’s train of thought. Wait until they’ve finished speaking and then ask. 

Ask without judgment: Unless you’re practiced in this skill, do not start clarifying questions with the word, “why.” Questions like, “Why do you feel out of balance?” may feel judgmental to the speaker, as though you don’t believe their experience is valid. 

Instead, ask questions that start with “what.” For example, “What would more balance look, sound, and feel like to you?” 

Keep your question short and sweet: You don’t need to explain why you want to ask a clarifying question, or provide a lot of context. Curiosity is a compliment, so just get to the question. For example, “You mentioned you’ve been feeling out of balance. What does that mean to you?” 


Skill #3: Acknowledgement and Validation

What it is:

This is a two part skill. It begins with acknowledgement, which is the practice of mirroring back or paraphrasing what you heard. For example, “Let me paraphrase what I heard to ensure I fully understand…”

When the speaker shares a feeling or emotional experience, you want to follow your acknowledgement with validation. This is the practice of normalizing the speaker’s experience. For example, “It makes perfect sense you feel X, having experienced Y.”

Validation does not confer agreement. You will notice that I did not use “I” in my validation statement. I centered the speaker and their experience. As experience is entirely subjective, you do not have to agree with someone's experience to understand and validate the feelings they associate with said experience. 

Why you need this skill:

This is among the most powerful skills you can practice as a leader, if you want to create trust, belonging, and psychological safety. Acknowledgement demonstrates intuitive listening, which shows the speaker you value and respect them. Validation demonstrates understanding and non-judgment, which shows the speaker they are safe being their authentic self with you. 

When to use this skill:

Try using this skill in every meaningful conversation, professional and personal. It is one of the fastest ways to deepen trust and strengthen relationships.

Tips to put this skill into practice:

Use acknowledgment to drive clarity: When a speaker makes a long or winding statement, use this skill to clarify the key points. Not only does it demonstrate active listening, but it moves the conversation forward.

Validate when you don’t agree: You may be tempted to skip validation when you’re in an argument. Don’t! Validation is even more important when you disagree. 

Let’s say your direct report comes to you to vent about unfair treatment by another team member. You know there’s more to the story, so you disagree. Your first instinct is probably to correct their understanding of the situation and assure them they’ve been fairly treated. 

Despite your best intentions, your dismissal of their experience will likely cause them to withdraw, dig-in, or push back. When someone is stressed out, they’re not immediately open to new perspectives. You need to validate their experience to diffuse the stress before you can move forward in the conversation.


Together, these three skills represent the foundation for healthy communication and thriving relationships. If you’re not practicing them already, I encourage you to try at least one this week. 

It might feel uncomfortable or forced at first. That’s perfectly normal, as you’re now putting conscious effort into something you’ve been doing unconsciously for years. 

If you are uncomfortable, try these skills out with your partner, a trusted colleague, or friend. You might even start the conversation by sharing that you’d like to try out a new skill and would appreciate their support. 

In the next edition of the Growth Guide, I’ll provide more concrete guidance about HOW you can develop your coaching skills as a leader, including a special invitation to a new developmental opportunity I’m kicking off this spring. Stay tuned!


When you're ready to improve your leadership, life, and impact, I'm here to support you through the opportunities below. Please note, I have only 1 spot remaining for new coaching and advisory clients in Q1. If you may want support, please schedule your complementary consultation today


Opportunities to Partner

One-on-one and Team Coaching: If you're ready to rapidly transform your leadership, life, and impact, I'm here to guide the way. As your coach, I'll work with you (and your leadership team, if desired) to clarify your vision and purpose, set bold goals, build an actionable strategy, and cultivate the mindset, beliefs, and behaviors necessary to achieve sustainable results with confidence, ease, and joy. If you're ready to improve your coaching skills, one-on-one and team coaching are great opportunities to do so.

Your Leadership Mindset Blueprint: What could you achieve if you felt engaged, motivated, and fulfilled--even when times are tough? How would you show-up differently for yourself, your team, and those you love if you felt calm, confident, and in control of your actions and reactions? How would it feel to navigate life with the support of someone who only has your best interests at heart, who listens without judgment, and who supports you in creating the life and legacy of your dreams? This life is possible! And it starts by shifting your mindset. This 4-hour experience will empower you to do just that with dramatic results. Read more and sign-up here.

Growth Advisory: You've been working diligently to grow your organization, but have yet to achieve sustainable results. Or perhaps you've done exceptionally well and are ready to take things to a new level. I can help you hone a compelling vision and strategy, then execute with confidence, ease, and joy. 


Links to Past Editions

Here are links to the first 17 editions:

Feb 2: The #1 investment you should make to drive outstanding performance in 2023

Jan 26: The do's and don't's of transformation leadership in 2023

Jan 19: To hire a GREAT coach/ consultant, avoid these 3 mistakes

Jan 12: Four strategies to achieve goals with greater confidence and ease

Jan 5: The secret to setting effective goals

Dec 22Glean powerful insights from 2022 w/ this 3-step reflection process

Dec 15: Nine proven strategies to eliminate stress

Dec 1: Three things you can do now to boost success in 2023

Nov 17Eight signs you've got a feedback problem & how to fix it!

Nov 10: Make performance management your unfair advantage

Oct: 1/ The four elements of a high-performing leadership team, 2/ Cultivate an empowered leadership mindset

Sep: 1/ Replan for Q4, 2/ Jumpstart growth through self-awareness, 3/ Three Qs to save you BIG in your next strategy process 

Aug: 1/ Adapt your strategy process, 2/ Support your mid-level managers, 3/ Halt your mid-career crisis

Jul: 1/ Win with values, 2/ How to get hybrid work right, 3/ Vacation like a European

Jun: 1/ The mid-year review, 2/ Sharpen your creative skills, 3/ Win through failure

May: 1/ Prepare for downturns; 2/ Better, faster decisions; 3/ Embrace difference to improve performance

Apr: 1/ The Q1 review, 2/ Prime yourself for success, 3/ Focus your innovation investments for impact


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