top of page

What L&D Employees Want & Need From Their Leaders

This is the second blog post in a series about leadership for L&D leaders; however, much of it applies to leadership across industries.

In my last post, I discussed the mistakes many leaders with limited or no experience in L&D tend to make that can derail their team's productivity. In the next few posts, I will focus on what your team needs from you as a leader. 

Your team needs a coach rather than a referee. 

Hear me out on this one, and be patient because I know very little about sports. Here's why you should aim to be a coach.

A coach is there to train, guide, and motivate the players. They are interested in helping everyone on the team leverage their strengths to become better players and ultimately win the game. A coach develops or contributes to the strategy, communicates the strategy, and guides and supports the players in implementing that strategy to win the game. The coach is watching everything, aware of the strategy AND the strengths and limitations of the players, and they determine when to pivot as needed without sacrificing the team. The coach is NOT playing the game, but they understand it and appreciate what the players need to do to win. The coach is the visionary. They view things at a high level and keep the players focused on the vision: to win according to the game's rules.

Now, there's also the referee. The referee's focus is much narrower. The referee doesn't ensure a win at all. They focus on the game's rules and, more importantly, watch for violations rather than guiding anyone on how to play the strategy to win the game. The referee enforces the game's rules and, more importantly, watches for violations and penalties. The referee is the rule enforcer. The players' strengths are less important than their weaknesses. 

So, now, back to you, Leader or Future Leader. You need to coach, not referee the game. You are there to ensure that the team functions at its best and doesn't lose sight of the goals. You need to work hard to create the conditions that allow them to do their best work. This is critical for learning and development teams because the executive team often poorly understands our work; thus, the work is often undervalued. Leaders must be prepared to bolster and champion their team's contributions to the organization. But let's talk a bit more about what your team needs from you:

To have a command of the strategy 

Your team expects you to have a clear grasp of strategy, whether organizational- or project-level; they are looking to you to translate the vision and guide them in realizing it. If you are charging them with making something happen, they expect you to answer, or at the very least be receptive, to the following questions:

  • Why are we doing this? 

  • Who decided on this strategy?

  • How does the strategy impact our team?

  • What role will our team play in implementing the strategy?

  • What is each person's contribution to the strategy?

  • Where does this fit with our existing priorities?

  • What are the deadlines?

  • What resources, if any, do we have?

The coach is NOT playing the game, but they understand it and appreciate what the players need to do to win. 

A willingness to discuss the strategy or goal

Too often, leaders jump to an idea or directive without any reflection. They rush to tell their team what the outcome should be, but they haven't considered and don't discuss whywhathow, and when with the team. Did you notice I added "when" at the end of that list? It's because leaders will get fixated on how quickly they think something should happen without thinking about the process or that there even will be a process!'

To acknowledge & respect their strengths

Your team also expects you to provide opportunities for them to develop and maximize their strengths. Your employees want you to put them in the best position possible to do their best work. That means you must observe their work and listen to their experiences and feelings about work and projects. Effective communication is the only way to do this.

To provide constructive feedback

Does being a coach mean not addressing problems or providing critical feedback? Absolutely not! You are obligated to the organization, department, projects, and team to discuss issues that impede success. Perhaps you notice that one of your team members does excellent work, but they never meet the deadline and fail to communicate beforehand that they will need an extension. You don't have to ignore this to keep the peace; this behavior affects the project and YOU. It's reasonable to discuss this and explore why it keeps happening. 

The team wants to trust that you are moving them in the right direction without sacrificing their professional and personal well-being. They don't need you to simply respond when mistakes occur or offer tactical or task feedback; they want to thrive under your leadership. 

My true story

For example, I worked at one company where my leaders insisted on "placing" people in certain positions without their or the team leaders' input. Sadly, they saw many non-leadership positions as interchangeable. I inherited someone for my learning products team after her department lost a big grant, and someone on my team resigned. My new employee had zero interest or aptitude for developing revenue-generating eLearning products. It made sense to me because her expertise was in managing grant-funded global health programs, and she was entirely out of her depth in creating and managing eLearning products. As she struggled, my leaders attributed all her challenges to her failings rather than their flawed staffing strategy. I advocated aggressively for her because blaming her for her work struggles was unfair and unethical. It also created a ton of issues for me because I needed someone who could deliver the products, but I didn't have a voice in choosing the person. I reminded them that this was the second time a reorganization had resulted in the misalignment of jobs and staff. I quit seven months later. It wasn't easy for me to leave my team under those conditions, but I had to go. We worked for referees, and I don't thrive under that leadership.

You can become a coach. A coach is within everyone when they turn the volume down on fear, perfectionism, and egotism. If you are hampered by your lack of expertise or experience in L&D or in leadership, you will channel a referee..

Tell me: are you a coach or a referee? Why or why not? 


Need Help? I've Got Your Back

Are you a new solo L&D or small team leader who wants to improve your leadership skills and create a strong, high-performing team?

Let me help you. Contact me to discuss this in more detail.



Hey, I'm Kandice

I'm a learning expert with tons of experience managing, designing, and developing learning programs as a solo learning leader. I love sharing my ideas and thoughts on how I do it and manage to enjoy it...most of the time. 

Post Archive 


bottom of page