What CEOs Say About Coaching

“It’s lonely at the top” is a sentiment shared by women and men in VITO positions around the world. Those in Very Important Top Office positions must make lightning-quick decisions that could potentially impact their entire workforces, and yet many of these individuals receive no counsel. A recent survey conducted by the Stanford Business School’s Center for Leadership Development and Research yielded some interesting data on what CEO’s think about coaching. Close to two-thirds of the CEO’s surveyed do not receive advice from an outside source yet nearly all of them want it.

When asked about the topics they would like to address with a coach, 43% of those polled answered they would like assistance on how to manage through conflict. Navigating through complex issues is a critical skill for CEOs, as is the ability to please more than one party at a time. When an issue hits the CEO’s desk, there’s typically a tough decision that needs to be made and many people with a stake in the outcome. It’s not surprising this issue hits the top of the list of coaching topics. A coach provides an effective sounding board and allows time for free discussion of all ideas brought to the table without personal investment in the outcome. The most successful outcome for the coach is an ease of burden for the CEO.

Board directors have a different set of priorities driving their decisions to back coaching for CEOs. Issues they would like to see addressed revolve around “developing internal talent” and “sharing leadership/delegation skills.” Boards want to see an extensive talent bench, and they want CEOs to be involved in enhancing the skills of the people designated to be the recipients of the passed torch. The success of succession plans rise and fall with how effective the current CEOs are at delegation. A coach listens without judgment and provides ideas to help CEOs let go of the reins and allow their people the space to prove themselves. Most executive coaches also provide coaching for upcoming leaders as well.

Since executive coaching has become more accepted in the business arena as the above-mentioned survey suggests, there are tons of people hanging out their shingles as coaches. Finding the right one can be tricky. If you’re lucky enough to have been offered the chance to have a coach or see the value in seeking one for yourself, here are a few tips to help you hire one.

1. Hiring a coach should be no different than hiring a key employee. You’ll want to conduct some interviews to determine a good fit. During the interview, ask about the process they utilize. If they don’t mention a process or sidestep the question, that should be flag one.

2. Coaches should be invested in helping you to achieve success. If your first conversation with your potential coach finds you buried under a barrage of name-dropping and personal back-patting, you may want to seek out other potential coaches. Good coaches ask more than they tell.

3. Good coaches keep things confidential. This person could be privy to information CEOs don’t typically discuss with anyone, including spouses or partners. If your potential coach is name-dropping in your first interaction, think about where you might (or might not) want your name dropped.

4. Do not expect a coach to tell you what to do. Again, a good coach will ask, not tell. A distinction should be made between a coach and a mentor. A coach’s role is not to lead you. A coach should help you determine where you are today and where you want to be in the future. Once you chart your own course, your coach will be there to provide ongoing support, guidance, accountability, and encouragement.

Remember that coaching is not a quick fix … it is a long-term investment in yourself and, ultimately the organization and people you lead. Effective coaching is focused on you and your challenges. Effective coaching empowers you to evaluate all angles of a situation and illuminates the path of right action. Effective coaching strives to impact all areas of a well-balanced life.

What’s your next step to make it less lonely at the top?

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