Some CEOs have been able to create an organisational climate that encourages ongoing coaching and open constructive feedback within their senior teams.
Yet this is not common, and it takes a strong executive team to directly challenge their CEO in the same way that an executive coach would.
The CEO is the person most likely in the organisation to be operating in a vacuum, seldom getting useful feedback from subordinates or boards – although their performance is evaluated by all stakeholders, with constantly rising performance standards and expectations. At this level, you have the broadest sphere of influence, the largest ability to impact the business and, with this, the most risk.
Most successful CEOs have invested heavily in their professional development early in their careers, yet tend to place far less focus on this as they rise up the ranks. It’s actually at this point in their career that CEOs should make their greatest investment as increased performance pays the biggest dividends.
If you are a CEO or MD, how often do you stop, reflect on what’s going on, and think deeply? Is there anyone you can truly trust to listen to you, explore ideas, and work through difficult issues, in a non-judgemental and impartial manner? Is anyone on your team comfortable enough to challenge you to consider new perspectives, or feed observations back to you and share insights? Success today is not an indicator of success tomorrow, and timely, accurate and specific feedback is for you to stay at the top of your game.
How self-aware are you? The higher your position, the greater the focus becomes on relational issues. Self-awareness and the relational competencies linked with this enable clarity about objectives, and the ability to understand the perspectives, values and goals of others. These are crucial in formulating, articulating and leading the strategic vision for a motivated, energised organisation. Without these, you often see discord and conflict among members of the senior management team.
The coach to the CEO takes the role of a strategic thinking partner, providing him or her with the ideal conditions in which to do their best thinking about issues of importance. Clarity comes through having the time and space to think expansively, and voice all kinds of thoughts. Having a trusted partner to actively listen and pay total attention as you do this, asking just a few carefully targeted questions, is a powerful way to elicit this clarity. This stimulates broad perspectives for understanding the problems and unpredictable challenges facing CEOs.
CEOs who don’t maintain their peak will be replaced by those who do. One of the keys to maintaining your advantage is to find someone who can challenge you to push your limits. Author and Management John Kador writes, “No-one in the organisation needs an honest, close and long term relationship with a trusted advisor more than a CEO.”
To some degree there is still a prevailing perception amongst some local leaders that seeking out a coach is a sign of weakness. Internationally, having an executive coach is more often viewed as a key attribute of successful leadership. Most top leaders have coaching support – including Barak Obama!
CEOs who want to engage in coaching should ideally ensure that their Board views high performance coaching as the enabler it is, and is active in setting the conditions for success. Coaching can also be initiated by the Board following the CEO evaluation.
Barbara Walsh is an executive coach and with Metaco www.metaco.co.za. She has an MSc in Coaching and Behavioural Change from Henley Business School in the UK, and is a credentialed Neuro-Semantics Meta-Coach and Coach Trainer.
This article appeared in the October 2015 issue of HR Future magazine.