Taking You From Good To Great!
Executive coaching is one of the key factors that turns ordinary careers into great ones. For some people, it’s about excelling at the top level. Others want to map a path to get there. For many, its about adjusting yourself to the new level you find yourself at. In all of these cases, executive coaching can provide you with perspectives and tools to perform at your best.
THE NEED for executive coaching falls into four broad categories. For established business leaders, executive coaching is a more reflective and supportive process. For those who are “on the way to the top”, building a “leadership brand” is important. The broadest and most common bracket are those who find themselves recently promoted. They need rapid exposure to new leadership tools, language and behaviour. In addition, we find the “problem children” who get sent to the school counselor to “sort themselves out”. They either need to face themselves, or find a way to be heard in a system that is equally not behaving at its best.
For those in the first three categories listed above, one of the most common challenges is the transition from being a technical or subject matter expert. Generally, that means having to shift from working to solve technical or operational problems, to being a leader working through people to advance issues and improve overall performance. To use an analogy: when you were a subject matter expert, you fixed the machine; as a leader, you’re responsible for the team of mechanics. In other words, instead of doing the work yourself, you’re going to achieve your goals through other people. You’re going to get them to do the work instead of doing it yourself. If you don’t, then you’re not doing leadership right.
Learning to have leadership conversations
For people with a strong work ethic, high standards and/or a need for control, this will be difficult at first. Learning to do that and be comfortable with it, is the first step. The second step is to recognise that the material you’re working with is no longer the nuts and bolts of the machines. The material you’re working with is people and personalities. So, instead of spanners, the tools you’ll be using will be words. You’ll be having conversations. The more skilled you are at having those conversations, the better you’ll be able to do your job as a leader and the more you’ll enjoy it, too. A large part of executive coaching is learning to have those conversations.
Here is a short video of me talking about this shift from being a technical or subject matter expert to being a leader:
What category do your executive coaching needs fall in?
An executive coach can be a valuable listening partner. They can give you your best chance of managing the complexities of an owner-founded and owner-run business.
For established business leaders, executive coaching provides a process for reflection and support. Most of all, this happens in a confidential context with someone who is not part of the system that one is dealing with.
For those who are less established, or less senior, than they would like to be, mapping a career path is essential.
Your HR Business Partner may help you to develop the plan. An executive coach is a skilled partner who will guide you and hold you accountable when you begin to execute the plan.
Transitioning between levels is a common reason why people turn to executive coaching.
The shift from expert to leader
As one climbs the levels, the leadership challenge changes. In particular, the job is no longer to solve people’s technical problems, but to lead them in a way that they can solve their own. This requires a whole new approach, new tools and even new language, which executive coaching provides.
Some people get sent for executive coaching when their own behaviour is seen as an obstacle to their progress.
Sometimes this is true and executive coaching can make a massive difference to the person who is willing to face themselves and deal with the issue.
When the problem is systemic, the coach needs to identify this and support the coachee to resolve it.
My Executive Coaching Approach by Level
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.
Executive Coaching Outcomes
These are some of the outcomes that you can expect from an executive coaching engagement:
Developing reflective self-awareness and, through that, new responses to situations;
Linking that self-awareness to the benefits of improved relationships and performance;
A calm and confident attitude towards the future;
The ability to achieve fast, effective and lasting shifts from unwanted to desired behaviours in oneself and in others (individual and group);
The ability to inspire others to improved individual performance, and improved cooperation and teamwork;
Shifting from a top-down, command-and-control style of leadership to inclusive and value-aligned styles which are more relevant to Gen Y’ers and allow for greater collaboration and creativity;
Increasing performance standards, accountability, initiative and loyalty through values-aligned leadership.
What is an executive coach?
An executive coach is a confidante who has been through similar situations, who knows how things work at a big picture level, and who knows more than a thing or two about life, about people, about the mind and about how things happen.
The executive coach is skilled – ideally professionally trained – to communicate in a way that does not interfere with the client’s actual process.
An executive coach’s primary skill is to enable the client to reflect effectively. This usually involves a questioning technique that enables the client to see his or her own situation objectively, including him- or herself within the situation.
The correct approach by an executive coach will lead the client to insights (a-ha! moments) with regards to the current situation. This is ideally done in a way that the client can take those away and apply them universally to other situations. These will include insights into his or her own potential as a leader and how to realise that.
What is the typical process?
A coaching process always works within a framework of agreed goals.
Organizations usually sponsor executive coaching. The business will naturally, therefore, want to make a contribution towards the individual’s goals and objectives.
A process of reporting happens. This is done in a way that reports results, but does not breach confidentiality of content.
Executive coaching sessions are usually held fortnightly over an agreed period of anywhere from three to 12 months.
Sessions can be conducted in the office premises or at a neutral venue. Removing oneself from one’s normal operating environment is recommended in order to promote the process of free thought and reflection. In order to maintain momentum during times when the client is travelling, sessions can be conducted via telephone or Skype.
The Value of Executive Coaching
The importance and value of executive coaching is well illustrated by this quote from an article in the Huffington Post by business psychologist Douglas LaBier:
“Self-knowledge and the relational competencies they’re linked with are central to a CEO’s ability to formulate, articulate and lead a strategic vision for a motivated, energized organization. Self-knowledge builds clarity about objectives; it fine-tunes one’s understanding of the perspectives, values, aims and personality traits of others. When that’s lacking, you often see discord and conflict among members of the senior management team; or between some of its members and the CEO.”
For a further perspective on this issue of value, or ROI, read this article on my blog.