executive coaching the ceo magazine

There is nowhere to hide. Not even the executive suite is safe from the changes sweeping business today. In fact, the impact of those changes is felt most keenly at the executive levels. CEOs, COOs, CFOs and senior vice presidents — like everyone else — have to hit the ground running and keep running fast.

Stockholders and stakeholders demand fast results. Teams must work more efficiently under greater pressure. High potentials and emerging leaders need to be identified and developed earlier and more effectively. Business savvy has been taken to new heights. Add to this the quest for job satisfaction and life balance, and you have the dynamic tension that creates the vital need for executive coaching, especially in the c-suite.

Executive coaching is a professional process that links individual effectiveness to organizational performance. It is a strategic process that helps organizations attract and retain great leaders, enables executive teams to improve leadership and team performance, and supports senior executives responsible for making crucial business decisions and achieving outcomes. At the top, c-suite coaching can provide the shock absorbers on the often bumpy road to unlocking and unleashing executive potential, as this is the critical foundation to helping prepare the organization and its’ people for achieving breakthrough operating results and seizing opportunities that ensure a powerful compelling future—individually and collectively. When CEO’s are asked what they expect when they hire a coach to partner with, invariably it is about helping them strengthen their leadership skills (i.e., conflict management skills, listening skills, mentoring/coaching skills, etc.). 

The powerful advantages in the leadership development process, particularly in areas where performance goals always seem to be at risk, have made coaching top-of-mind for boards and c-suite executives. Yet there is still a tremendous contradiction between what is expected of c-suite executives from their boards, customers, clients, their employees, even themselves and their sheer willingness to commit to a powerful process that can equip them with the needed tools to achieve those expectations. Recent research by Stanford University and The Miles Group cite the massive gap between CEO’s being receptive to coaching (i.e., 95%) and the percentage who actually receive coaching (i.e. less than 33%). More often than not, this is due to the “stigma” that is still attached to coaching by both boards and CEO’s, that it is “remedial” in nature rather than “performance enhancing”.

We just completed our bi-annual 2014 Trends in Talent Management and Executive Development global research study that will be published by Pearson in January and here’s the harsh reality we uncovered after interviewing and surveying over 150 CEO’s and VP’s of HR: Of the 35% of organizations that use executive coaching, only 48% of those same organizations use executive coaching for their vice president level and above executives (not including the c-suite). Similar to the Stanford/Miles Group Study, only 30% of CEO’s received outside coaching. While we were surprised to learn that 52 percent of the organizations we surveyed do not cite executive coaching as an important developmental strategy for their VP and above executives, we were frankly more surprised and alarmed to learn that greater than 66 percent of CEO’s do not receive any outside coaching. Here are the two most significant concerns:

1. The “inner-core” attributes of a CEO — their self-image, character, values, thoughts, emotions, references and behavioral tendencies — are enduring and most difficult to change. Yet, these are the very attributes that predict the success with which a leader executes his or her “outer-core” competencies and skills.A few years ago, Dennis Kozlowski, then CEO of mammoth Tyco, was asked to resign amid strong speculation he was siphoning company money for his personal use. The courts later determined that Kozlowski indeed saw Tyco’s checking account as an extension of his personal checking account to the tune of over $80 million. Kozlowski is currently in jail in a New York State correctional facility. Kozlowski is an extreme example of leadership immaturity. Character flaws clearly drove this unleader like and unquestioned illegal behavior. There are other numerous examples—CEOs and other c-suite executives who were skyrocketing one day and falling from grace the next. When an executives’ character is involved—even the question of character– they never recover. When they reach the pinnacle and then suddenly plummet, there are no limbs to break the fall; their drop is as swift as it is unforgiving. All executives, especially those in the c-suite, need to understand that you “can’t be” unless you “are”. Executive coaching, therefore, is a powerful way, perhaps the only way, for a c-suite executive to strengthen their “inner-core” attributes (i.e., what they can only see), as a critical pathway to strengthening their “outer-core” attributes (i.e., what the world can see). It is the only way for a c-suite executive to correctly and positively manage how they are perceived from any angle. Ultimately, these perceptions will determine success or failure. The key for c-suite coaches always, when they work with a c-suite executive is to help them make the most important decision they will ever make as an executive—which is the decision to be vulnerable. This is the one decision that will unlock true greatness in CEO’s.

2. “It is lonely at the top”, is a sentiment heard a lot when CEO’s partner with executive coaches. Effective CEO’s will often cite their appreciation of having had a partnership with their coach where they could confidentially explore their “inner- and outer-core” strengths and vulnerabilities, while staying laser-focused on “worthy achievement” leadership goals and strategies, becoming more altruistic and “other-oriented”, and building powerful relationships with their constituent groups. CEO coaching is all about removing unseen “self-imposed” barriers so the CEO becomes even more effective as a leader.

CEOs and their boards need to make an adjustment from the point of view that seeking a coach is not a sign of a fundamental problem or weakness to understanding that executive coaching is all about helping talented CEO’s become even stronger, more effective leaders. It’s all about “performance enhancement”. For boards and other stakeholders, they should understand that executive coaching in the c-suite will help make the difference between having a good organization, with good people and having a great organization, with great people who come together every day to create real, sustained value for all its’ constituent groups. Ultimately, it is in this worthy pursuit that long-term organizational survivability and success is ensured. Executive coaching in the C-Suite, therefore, is no longer a “nice to have”. For the progressive, savvy boards, CEO’s and organizations, it is a “must have”.




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