Even Great Leaders Need A Coach
You think you’re a pretty good senior leader. Your people seem to like you (at least they say they do). Results and performance reviews are good, and you receive the occasional accolade. Maybe you’ve even had a recent promotion or two and there isn’t a lot of negative feedback. Why would you hire (or ask for) an executive coach?
Having coached at the VP to the c-level for nearly 30 years, I can confidently share that people in this position see some of the BEST results from coaching. Generally, at this level, you’re expected to know what you’re doing and be pretty good at it. Often, these leaders are confident. They don’t spend a lot of time thinking about personal development because they don’t have to. Neither do their bosses. Leadership feedback is scarce because numbers and results speak for themselves.
But do they, really?
The Benefit Of Coaching “A” Players
I would argue that this is one of the most significant missed opportunities in business today. Even good or great leaders can improve. And research has proven time and time again that moving an “A” player to an “A+” player has an incrementally greater impact than moving a “C” player to a “B” player. That means if you are in HR trying to figure out where to allocate development spend, you will earn far greater ROI by investing in your “A” players. Not in a classroom, but in individual coaching.
Coaching Moves Leaders From Good To Great
For starters, feedback. A good coach… one that is used to working with and building champions (not the kind that only gets the call when a company is making one last effort to save a leader who’s partly off the rails), will start with detailed feedback. Our interview-based approach begins with identifying issues the coachee wants to know about, designing a set of questions that provide balanced information we can work with, and conducting interviews of a cross-section of stakeholders that can help narrow down areas for development. This allows us to surface the “unspoken” opportunities and impressions people have that the coachee may not be aware of. Not everything is a surprise, but there are always a few nuggets we can leverage to help someone move from good to great.
If you are that great senior leader, ask. Focusing on your development is not only good for you, it will reap great rewards for your organization.
How A Coach Supports Great Leaders
Once armed with the feedback and an action plan, we start working on situations that arise. Here are some of the situations we have worked through with coaching clients in the past year:
- Helping a senior leader integrate into a new role…assessing the team and opportunities, clarifying key messages and vision, and setting them up for success
- Determining whether to pull out of Russia during the war with Ukraine…and figuring out what to do with the employees in the country who depend on them for their livelihood
- Helping a President figure out what to do with multiple expatriates completing international development assignments when there were not roles for them to come home to after a significant downsizing
- Helping a “rock star” head of sales figure out what she needed to develop to be promoted to a much larger P&L role
- Helping an established leader figure out how to get the most out of a more junior team
- Setting up a new product incubator function to buy time to drive innovation and take more risks than usual at a Fortune 100 company with very established ROI expectations
- Helping a new CEO implement major changes and set himself and the team up for success as the larger-than-life founder stepped down from leading an established company
- Setting up and sustaining a revenue growth management center of excellence and shifting the company’s mindset to view it as an opportunity to add value vs. oversight
- Role-playing difficult conversations with senior leaders who needed to manage performance and upgrade their teams
- Helping a President decide when is the right time to step OUT of an organization …for them and for himself
- Working through what to do when 20% of an organization left due to COVID vaccine mandates
- Helping a new CFO integrate into a team with very different styles to his, virtually
These kinds of complex, multi-faceted (adaptive challenge) issues are the norm today. Even great leaders need to flex their development muscles to get better, but putting them in “training” isn’t always the answer. A great senior executive coach can quickly get a handle on how to help a leader get laser-focused on what will take their performance to the next level, while at the same time making progress on real, relevant, and complex issues.