Feb 5

Success: If your CEO needs a coach, why don’t you?

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Success: If your CEO needs a coach, why don’t you?

I saw an interesting statistic the other day – that 50% of Fortune 500 CEO’s have a coach. Why would this stand out? Assuming that this is true, I have no reason to doubt that it is not, lets consider some of the attributes that we might consider a Fortune 500 CEO to have. Rather than make them up, lets look at what Forbes business magazine says:

•   Credibility – do people believe what CEO’s say?
•   Competence – do people trust in the CEO’s judgement?
•   Caring – does the CEO put the organization above themselves?

Of course this is just one view and ignores personal attributes like motivation, vision and a range of other competencies and skills.

So lets frame the obvious question – if they have all these things, why would a Fortune 500 CEO need a coach? To answer this, let me quote Fiona Harrold who is a well known life coach:

Doing it alone means you’re likely to stop when you really should be pushing on

So for a CEO who genuinely wants the best for themselves and their business, they want to grow and they want the challenge. This is because no one grows when they stay in their comfort zone.

Does this mean the coach is an expert in their business? Far from it. Coach and client generally work within their relationship to figure out that what the CEO decides they need to be working on, is what they really want and that the goal is challenging enough. Notice that in this instance, the “CEO decides” and that I am assuming the desired coaching outcome needs a goal (not all coaching methods do). Goals come in many guises – it could be work life balance. It could be a developmental need such as working out how they need to change their leadership style in the face of unforeseen business challenges.

Why might a coach work with a method that is not goal-centric? The danger with goals is that they become the process. The coaching becomes constrained by the goal and everything is viewed through the lens of the goal. What good coaching recognises is that the coaching process itself leads to self-discovery by the client, which in turn might move the goal or abandon it all together. This is a topic for another time, but one to reflect on – is my coach able to adapt their coaching style to my need, or are they trying to fit me (as their client) around their preferred method of working?

I came across a really good example of goal flexibility recently where a lady was recruited to manage the sale of a business. The deal was a healthy pay off on completion of the transaction, with the exit planned to take around 2 years. Unfortunately she found her experience was ignored by a rather authoritative Chairman. She sought coaching as she wanted help to work out strategies that would help her stay with the business to the end. The coach worked her frustration through with her and the CEO was able to realise that success for her wouldn’t be to stay with the business, but to leave it. This realisation allowed her to broach an early exit with the Chairman, securing an amicable settlement and them leaving on good terms.

So how would this have been possible without the coach? Remember the earlier quote, doing it alone means you’re likely to stop when you really should be pushing on. There are no absolutes, maybe this CEO would have figured it out in the end. Another possibility is that she would have become increasingly frustrated with her situation at the risk of a less amicable ending.

Lastly, something else to think about, sports coaches get paid to psychologically prepare athletes for the moment when motivation begins to yield to fatigue [New Scientist, 30 Jan 2016, p40]. Doesn’t this sound similar to Fiona’s thoughts?

Consequently, perhaps the real surprise is that ONLY 50% of Fortune 500 Company CEO’s have coaches. Lets also remember that coaching is not the exclusive preserve of CEO’s either. So if you feel that life is good, but could be great why not #Startsomething or #Changesomething with a coach?

  1. WvZ 9 Mar 2016 | reply

    Nicely said!

  2. Jacques M 9 Mar 2016 | reply

    Nice piece. I’d recommend a book called Good Strategy / Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt…. it ads some science and method to your article. Rumelt is probably the leading practitioner of good strategy. He isn’t an academic

  3. Jera 10 Jul 2016 | reply

    That’s a quick-witied answer to a difficult question

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