How Executive Coaching Has Proven to Help Senior Leaders

Senior leaders getting executive coaching
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio:

Why more and more C-Suite Leaders are getting executive coaching

Why would a senior executive want a coach? 

There are many assumptions that people make (including senior leaders) which can create a negative answer to this question. Executives are seen as having achieved a great deal, so what further goals would they want to accomplish with a coach? They are already at the top of an organisation, so what more do they have to learn about leadership? Some leaders are even worried that having a coach might seem to be a sign of weakness, a crack in their façade of being the infallible commander. So why seek assistance?

But as we look at these assumptions we can see where the falsehoods lie. No matter what we achieve in life, there is always something new to strive for. Despite rising to a high position, we can always learn more about leadership. And wanting to be better, and getting help to do so, should never be seen as a sign of weakness. 

And how do I know this? Well, I have worked in various senior leadership positions, I have been coached and am also an executive coach. Having had experience on both sides, I can offer some reasons why I see an increasing number of senior executives invest in coaching.

In my experience, several factors make coaching attractive to executives. Coaching supports decision-making, provides space to think strategically, supports personal development, provides a confidential space to talk about concerns and allows leaders to focus on their work-life balance. Also, I have found that investors and board members encourage it. 

Being an executive means making hard decisions

An Executive, by definition, is someone who makes decisions and puts them into action. Senior executives generally have a lot of experience they can lean on when making decisions. But being at the top, particularly being the CEO, means that you will face novel choices and situations.

Even with some prior knowledge, the stakes are higher. Take conflict management for example. A breakdown in relationships may have a small operational effect at a lower level, whereas at the board level, it can bring a whole organization down. This is where the opportunity to talk through decisions can be vital.

The challenge increases further for CEOs, directors, and senior leaders in start-ups. Founders and entrepreneurs can rapidly find themselves in leadership positions that are not only outside of their prior experience but also put stress on their passions. Senior leadership can challenge the gifts that got the idea off the ground in the first place. What’s more, as an organisation grows, the management style needs to change, and leaders need to recognise this if they want growth to continue. 

Vision and strategy require time to think

The higher you climb up the leadership ladder the more demands there are on your time. Above other demands, the most important thing as a leader is to set the direction for the team. Most people would agree that you need quality headspace to refine the vision and strategy for an organization. But often these same people struggle to do so. It takes real discipline to carve out time to think in a busy schedule.

Coaching can provide a thinking environment. A good coaching experience should be a place where a person feels completely at ease. It provides more than just a sounding board; it is a creative exercise. Coaching is a place where assumptions can be challenged and overcome. 

Visionary leaders such as Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt, and Bill Gates knew this and used coaches to help them. Whatever level of leadership we operate at, this fact should give us pause to think about what we could achieve with a coach. It certainly challenged me. Now, despite my leadership position and the fact I am a coach, I still have a mentor and coach of my own. 

The higher you go, the harder it is to find a mentor

Having brought up the topic of mentors, it is probably worth pointing out that there are differences between coaching and mentoring. There is a lot of overlap but generally, mentors are someone more senior or experienced in your sphere of work. A mentor is someone who can guide you and open up new opportunities in your line of business. 

Therefore, it goes without saying that the higher up you go the harder it is to have a mentor of this type. That does not mean you shouldn’t look for a mentor if you are in a senior position, but it does mean that coaching becomes even more important to help with your personal development. 

It can be lonely at the top

Even at the top of the pyramid, you need a good team. Within an organization, the number of people who you can reach out to support you are fewer and therefore senior leaders must have a network that expands beyond their immediate situation.

At the top level, especially as a CEO, there may be no line manager to lean on. As mentioned previously, it is harder to find a mentor. Family and friends, therefore, become ever more important but at the same time, it is often unfair to overly burden them with work concerns.

Many important issues are hard to discuss with work contacts, family, or friends. Take for example talent management. When you are considering the sensitive subject of hiring and firing people it requires a level of confidentiality and objectivity. Many C-level executives find that a coaching environment can provide the appropriate context.

You can say what you were too scared to say to anyone else

Even with a great network of friends, colleagues and even mentors, some concerns are hard to share. Sometimes people don’t want to appear vulnerable in a work context, at other times the issues are just too sensitive. 

The confidential nature of a coaching relationship can provide a safe environment to explore any subject. In a good coaching relationship, any challenge can be discussed, without judgment or unsolicited advice. 

As a coach, I have listened to issues of the most personal nature from leaders at the top of business, government, and international organisations. Many of these things have been so sensitive the person has not even shared them with their closest family. When these sorts of challenges come up for executives it is vitally important – for their own health, as well as that of their family, friends, and team – that they have someone they can speak to in total confidence. 

Maintaining life-work balance

Being a senior leader is rarely (if ever) a 9–5 job. Even if you can contain your office hours, the concerns and demands of leadership will go far beyond the average working week. The lines between work and other aspects of life can also become blurred. Balancing priorities of leading an organization alongside other roles we have — be that spouse, parent, friend, or whatever — can suffer in the competition.

The phrase ‘work-life balance’ makes the choice sound binary but for those with significant management responsibility, this is rarely the case. It is more akin to spinning multiple plates than just choosing between two things. Coaching, for people at the boardroom level, can help take this into account. Life must be looked at holistically and coaching can help explore how values and priorities play out in every area of life. 

I have got it wrong and burnt out. I use my experience to help others to hopefully avoid the same car crash, but unless you know how to best monitor the dials on your dashboard, you are at risk. 

Investors and board members increasingly want their leaders to be coached

When new leaders step into a top-level position or entrepreneurs go after funding, board members and investors alike hedge for success. Increasingly, oversight boards and investors want to ensure continued good leadership of an organization as well as the potential for good financial returns. That is because — often through bitter experience — investors and shareholders have learned that without effective leadership they are unlikely to see a return on their investment.

Investors and advisors are therefore looking favourably — and sometimes even mandating — that the executives they are investing in financially are also investing in coaches to assist the leaders as they navigate the challenges that come with success. This is particularly true for accelerated start-ups and businesses seeing exponential growth as these challenges can outmatch even the most competent manager. 

Do I need a coach or mentor, especially if I am in a senior leadership position?

Need is a strong word but yes, a coach can certainly help.

Yes, I am biased. I am a coach so of course I am going to say that people can benefit from having a coach. But don’t take my word for it. In the words of one CEO that I coached:

If I could change anything in my CEO career, I would have had a coach from day one!

An increasing body of scientific evidence shows that we learn faster and more effectively when coached, so both anecdotal and academic evidence support the efficacy of coaching at every level, but especially for those who are (or aspire to be) in the highest leadership positions.

So, no matter what level of responsibility you hold at the moment, take a second to think about the points above:

  • Do you need to make some difficult decisions?
  • Would you like more time to think about the future?
  • Do you want a relationship where you can be completely open and honest?
  • Are you struggling with work-life balance?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then you might want to consider a coach. 

If you would like to find out more about coaching and have an initial free coaching consultation then please email us using the contact page. Just click on this link: Contact Form

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