Maintaining the status quo, even an impressive one, is not enough
I work with senior leaders on their own or with their executive teams. I’m brought in to maximize their effectiveness on both an individual and team level. The majority of my practice is focused on building the depth of executive talent in organizations and ensuring that practices are in place to retain top talent.
The approach I take varies depending on the need, but the majority of my engagements begin with gathering the views and opinions of those people who are significant players in the day-to-day success of the coachee. It is their perceptions that become critical in the coaching relationship. In most cases, they are the reason that the coach is being hired in the first place.
In today’s companies, most of the really problematic performers have been removed. We are now dealing with an individual whose financial and technical performance is noteworthy, but the impact of their behavior on others in the organization cannot be ignored. They can fall into one of two categories: either they have such strong technical skills that the organization believes that it would not benefit from their departure, or they are the strong choice for future roles in the organization but there are several areas that need attention for the leader to be successful at the next level.
The impact of a coach is based on his or her ability to provide another level of understanding to the leader and the team on how they can be more effective individually, as team members and in steering the organization. To be successful today, organizations really need to harness the unique skills and characteristics that each outstanding individual has and find a way for them to succeed within the team or organization. Generic coaching seems to end up finding ways for individuals to lose some of their unique characteristics in the interest of organizational harmony. But a masterful coaching job builds on a leader’s or leadership team’s strengths while helping them manage the offsetting irritations that can hamper effectiveness in a team or company setting.
Many times when I first meet a coaching candidate, they ask why they
should consider a coach when they have gotten to their current level
of success without any assistance. It’s a valid question -
successful leaders are highly marketable and have little motivation
to change. But coaching is not about maintaining the status quo,
even if it is a status quo that is already very impressive.
Impactful coaching is about optimizing performance.
I tell leaders that they shouldn’t engage me or anyone else if they are doing it just because the company thinks they would benefit. Instead, the engagement should take place because they think that a coach will help them navigate the whitewater rapids of today’s business climate and enable them to use their skills more effectively.
In fact, there’s another level of benefit to good coaching that we don’t always talk about, but which always emerges: when a coach is able to bring about desired behavior change in a highly successful leader it not only helps that leader inside their organization, but also with their family and any other leadership setting they may find themselves in.
There are a number of critical traits a good coach must have. The
first is the ability to leave his or her ego at the door. It’s
important to remember that the coaching relationship is not about
the coach - it’s about the leader. To really add value, a coach
needs to be able to listen, not only to what the coachee is saying,
but also to the deeper meaning of the words.
The good coach has to be flexible and rigorous at the same time. There are times when the last thing that a leader needs is more feedback. Some days, they just need solutions. But the success of the relationship also hinges on the coach’s ability to help the leader grow and evolve. Sometimes this requires pushing the leader to the edge of discomfort. They may not want to go there, but that’s where the real learning takes place. A coach has to know when to push for the significant and when to focus on the urgent.
To achieve that kind of relationship with the leader, a coach needs to be able to build trust quickly. In today’s business world, speed is not just important as speed is everything. It does not help for the coach and leader to take several months to get to know each other. That kind of time span is an eternity in a business setting at senior executive levels.
So much is happening in an executive’s world. The coach must have the competence, confidence, and knowhow to take charge of the leader’s growth and learning in a way that supports and does not distract from their responsibilities. It’s the coach’s job to judge the pace and frequency of interaction. Over the years, I have learned that some leaders require contact every week while others require little communication once they are clear on the action required and are comfortable on next-steps. This doesn’t mean the relationship should be guided totally on the leader’s wishes - it needs to be guided by the leader’s needs.
One of the keys is the leader’s ability to focus on the benefits of
change for the future, rather than dwelling on or overanalyzing the
past. Can the leader leave that past behind? Some people have
difficulty letting go. But the leader and coach need to be
future-focused. Just as important, can the people around the leader
leave that past behind? Some colleagues and reports may not want
Overall, it’s the leader’s desire to be the best they can be and commit fully to the coaching effort that most influences the value of the work. The leader must be able to trust their coach and themselves before any forward movement can happen. They also need to be able to experiment a little in order to find the right solution. After all, if the solution were easy to find, why would they need to hire a coach?
The efforts have been successful when the leader and the key players
around the leader agree that the leader’s actions are providing more
positive impact and effectiveness in their day-to-day business
conduct. While this may sound intangible, that impact should be
concrete and notable to all involved. They see and feel the change,
and they also see and feel the impact on the business.
The sustainability of that change is measured by how comfortable the leader feels with the new behaviors necessary to perform at their optimized level. Put another way, the company can measure its Return On Investment when the leader’s new sustained behavior change is driving it forward and really impacting the business.