Article: Why CEOs are never too high up the corporate ladder for life coaching

Training & Development

Why CEOs are never too high up the corporate ladder for life coaching

The coaching engagement develops senior executives in the context of their current jobs and the process sharpens the skills required for a leadership position.
Why CEOs are never too high up the corporate ladder for life coaching

Everything in life is determined by a simple decision – whether you want to take a step forward or stay content, where you are. Coaching could raise one’s gaze beyond the restricted, ordinary, everyday world with an effort to achieve something more profound and fulfilling. Results from the coaching process transcend the normal pace of growth. It’s marked by steady improvement, enabling development in various areas of an individual’s life. Complete actual change can happen only when an individual changes his fundamental attitude, acknowledges issues, and then focuses on taking action. 

To shift one’s thinking and see things from another’s perspective is the first step to changing both oneself and the organisation’s environment. Coaching works when you have a vision and know where you want to go. A classic situation is when you know where you want to go, have made some effort to work on the goals, but are not sure how to go about it. There was a time when coaching was viewed as a process to address underperformance but now the belief is that the co-creative interaction coaching can provide to create focus, no other form of organisational support can.

For coaching to be successful, the executive and the organisation need to be committed to the process and results. Senior executives could engage a coach on their own or the idea could originate from HR. “Great CEOs, like great athletes, benefit from coaches that bring a perspective that comes from years of knowing [you], the company and what [you] need to do as a CEO to successfully drive the company forward,” argues William R. Johnson, CEO of the H.J. Heinz Co., “every CEO can benefit from strong, assertive and honest coaching”, he adds.

In my view, following are the benefits to be accrued from coaching:

A coach plays a role no one else can, within or outside the organization

“No one in the organization needs an honest, close and long term relationship with a trusted advisor more than a CEO”, says John Kador, author and independent business writer. A CEO is like any individual who is defined by his personality, skills, and experience. All of these factors are intertwined and linked and influence his performance on the job, which is unique. He is accountable for all decisions made within the organisation. He may feel a sense of frustration and resignation and at times burned out with a feeling that no efforts can change the way things are. This can result in a very high level of stress and stress related ailments like anxiety and apprehension. He cannot speak to anyone in the organisation as he may not want to divulge anything about his insecurities out of concern that his capabilities would be judged. A good executive coach listens to all the concerns and trepiditions, believes in his capabilities  and supports him to find his unique solutions and make better decisions at every stage. Speaking to family and friends and asking for  their advice does not work as they may not be able to see the CEOs perspective either. 

The head of an organisation or function may tend to be more focused on the business aspect of his organisation and other deliverables and he may lose out on people engagement. Every CEO comes from some function. He may have the skills to manage that particular function, but he may be dealing with his own fears, apprehensions and may be in need of some directional value. The coaching engagement develops senior executives in the context of their current jobs and the process sharpens the skills required for a leadership position. The coach challenges the client while helping him go from the now to whatever the client wants to achieve.

Gives valuable feedback that puts things in perspective

Coaching can play an invigorating role. Feedback , specially developmental feedback becomes extremely important at the C-level. Internal feedback may be infrequent and may not be reliable. While giving feedback, a coach needs to be cognizant of the following. Does it give any direction or solution to the area where the client may need to work on? Is it a skill or behaviour that needs to be refined? Would the executive benefit from an outside perspective? The answers to these questions would also help understand the value that coaching can provide. A coach can play a very active role here by giving objective and non-judgemental feedback in real time, while maintaining confidentiality. The coach does not have an agenda of his own and therefore aims  to support the client achieve his goals by working on his challenges, beliefs, and his strengths so as to be more effective in his current role.

Build awareness and positive changes around behavioral and interpersonal skills

The higher one goes up the corporate ladder, the issues and challenges are more behavioural than around skills. Most leaders are very up to date with their technical skills. People skills or the lack of them stand out more in the upper rungs of the corporate world. Executives do plateau in leadership skills and interpersonal skills at this stage. Some of these behaviours could hold the executive back. This could be anything from a basic negative attitude, making destructive comments, to speaking when angry. “As we advance in our careers, behavioural changes are often the only significant  changes we can make”, says renowned leadership coach and author, Marshal Goldsmith.

The CEO needs soft skills for conflict resolution & motivating his people. Executives who work with a coach seldom get stuck in making decisions and also learn appropriate skills for each situation. The CEO enjoys status, brainpower, wealth, and achievement but studies show that most of them have at least one incredible career damaging interpersonal  challenge. Marshall Goldsmith speaks about twenty such behaviours that CEOs and others at the helm, need to be aware of. 

There are senior executives who know who they are and what they want to achieve. They are obviously successful and may have a perception about themselves based on their success and failures. They may view future failure and success through this paradigm. However, the CEO may be clueless or completely unaware about how his decisions and interactions are perceived by people within the organisation. This may be true in their personal life as well. These blind spots can be worked on with a coach. The change is not easy but is extremely essential to creating an organizational environment where vision, openness, and integrity are required. 

This is just the beginning of the laundry list which a CEO can benefit from, from having a coach. It goes on to getting help in what one would consider basic areas of leadership such as managing time and balancing priorities in a world where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Executive coaching, at the end of the day, recognizes that CEOs are human and need help in areas we all do such as dealing with the unknown, egos, emotions, morality versus pragmatism; and needless to say the stakes are much higher!


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Topics: Training & Development, Culture

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