Entrepreneur / Founder
Being a visionary means having to source not only ideas but also energy and determination. It’s up to you to keep people inspired and buying into the vision. This means managing not only the complexity of the market, but also the complexity of people. The complexity of both increases, as the business becomes more successful.
Sometimes you find yourself in unmapped territory with no signposts. Knowing which inner voice to listen to can become a quest in itself. Likewise, which investor, mentor or staff member you can rely on. An executive coach is someone who has no vested interest in the outcome, and who you can test all those voices against. Even better if it’s someone who’s been in the same situation.
I have been the founding editor of two men’s magazines in South Africa and founded an Internet startup. In addition, I have run my own business for most of my adult life. I have coached a number of entrepreneurial CEO/Founders. All of these have achieved great success during or beyond the coaching engagement.
In the cutthroat world of business, any sign of weakness can be fatal. At least, that’s the conventional view. Shareholders do still expect leaders to be tough. However, staff and customers want them to be more available and even show their vulnerable side. Either way, it’s a tightrope that often doesn’t feel safe, and having a trusted confidante can make all the difference between getting it right, and getting it horribly wrong.
My exposure to the C-Suite level began in my twenties, when, as a young journalist, I interviewed a swathe of South Africa’s top CEOs from Koos Bekker to Zwelakhe Sisulu to Louis Luyt. As a result of my published work, a number of high-level media players invited me to consult to them. During that time I spent half a day in the exclusive company of Richard Branson, who invited me to send him a business proposal for the magazine I worked for. (My then boss wanted to fire me after I suggested it to him.) Later, I had a similar audience with Donald Trump.
Of course, this name-dropping counts for nought when it comes to coaching. The point is that I have had significant exposure to, and have high comfort levels with, the C-Suite, and have coached successfully at that level.
Executive and Senior
The size of the organization will determine how many levels there are and how clear the role functions are between levels. In general, the executive and senior levels report into the C-Suite and find themselves having to manage stakeholders in three directions: their own reports; their peers; their seniors.
The playing field becomes quite sensitive and political. Ethical issues are less cut-and-dried. Communication needs to happen more in terms of values than technical issues.
These are all areas in which I have extensive experience. I have worked as a managing director of an Internet services company and co-founded an Internet startup. I have had audit experience and have been exposed to organizational politics at the highest level.
Having learned and applied coaching principles and practices in the above contexts, I have seen first-hand what works and what doesn’t.
I support my clients to develop the sensitivity to read the environment, to get the measure of what the environment can handle, and to work at that frontier. In general, my clients find that with less force, their effectiveness increases. I support them to understand and manage that paradox.
Junior to Middle Manager
Managers deal with problems, leaders deal with issues. Problems can be solved, whereas issues can only be moved forward. For example, a machine not working is a problem. Improving efficiency is an issue.
People at junior management levels generally deal with problems. However, there are always those bright sparks who can see the bigger picture and want to make a contribution to moving the issue forward. They are often seen as the troublemakers. Yet very often, these are the future leaders and the talent that a business can least afford to lose.
My approach is to help work with these talented individuals to manage their frustrations while growing them.
People at middle-management levels may be those mavericks mentioned above who have managed to survive. They may have expected that they could do more at a higher level and find that they can actually very often do less as there is more and more politics and compliance to deal with. My approach is to continue to nurture them and support them to reframe their expectations and remain inspired.
The above are the exception. Very often your middle-manager is the most stable and reliable, and/or the most technically competent, person in the team. They now have to manage their former peers, but they may lack the spark or the nous to really innovate and lead. My approach is to support them to become more decisive and to forge a unique leadership brand for themselves.