Why Executive Coaching is So Important for Leaders: The Outside Eye
Why is leadership coaching so important for executives? When I tell people I am an executive coach, people often look at me as if I had three heads. Most verbal responses I get could be summed up with the following two questions: “What exactly IS that?” and “Why do LEADERS need a COACH?”
Believe me, I understand the confusion. When we hear the term “coach,” we typically picture a guy in nylon shorts and a visor, clipboard in hand, a whistle around his neck, barking orders at a pack of unruly kids. And more importantly, when we think of leaders, we usually think “well, they’ve made it to that position, so why on Earth would they need someone coaching them on, well, how to lead?”
But that’s just it. We, and I mean ALL of us, can always benefit from an outside perspective. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s very easy to get caught up in the daily minutiae, and to lose sight of the bigger picture: I call it “fish-bowling.” It is the role of a leader to remain above the “fish bowl,” so to speak, to see the organizations they lead with a 30,000-foot view, to help devise and execute strategy over the long-term. However, it’s very easy for people, but especially leaders, to quickly get overwhelmed and consumed by the stresses of day-to-day operations. Whether it’s putting out little fires in separate and silo-ed departments, or simply running from one meeting to the next, the gap between where the leader is, and where the leader NEEDS to be, begins to widen; often dangerously so. No longer is the leader looking into the bowl from the outside, but rather, they end up getting caught swimming inside the bowl themselves; going around and around and around in an endless circle; in other words, “fish-bowling.” And when that happens, organizations begin to stagnate, and bad outcomes are usually right on the horizon.
And that’s EXACTLY where an executive coach comes in. So why is leadership coaching so important for executives? An executive coach, provides the leader the space and the time they need for reflection and self-evaluation, so they may regain that 30,000-foot perspective that their roles demand. The coach provides that outside eye, becoming a sounding board to bounce around ideas and strategies that could benefit the leader and the organization as whole, exploring how seemingly small decisions could have long-term outcomes. By asking questions, offering suggestions and positing alternative viewpoints, the coach guides the client to a deeper awareness of themselves in their role as a leader and how that role impacts the overall mission and expectations of their organization.
Leadership Coaching Video
Leadership coaching demonstrating common struggles that organizations face.
Let me relate an example of this: One of our clients was both the COO, as well as the CNO (Chief Nursing Officer) at a major health care organization. Her dual leadership role exerted multifaceted demands upon her time, which began to affect her outcomes, as well. Her role as COO demanded that she make organizational decisions which affected budget, payroll, administrative practices, and the operations of the hospital, in an effort to continue providing the quality of care for which the organization was known. Her other role as CNO, demanded that she was the management’s voice in relation to nursing department, and all of their complex and ongoing expectations. Because she came from the nursing world, she felt a pressure to respond and prioritize the needs of the nursing staff, but this began to create an imbalance in her duties and focus as COO. She began to reach a crisis point, where she felt that the Board’s expectations of her as the COO were not being met, and that she also wasn’t able to satisfactorily respond to the needs of the nursing staff. She began to “fish bowl,” which meant she was leading from a back-footed, reactive place and not from a foot-forward position.Enter ADVOgroup.
We worked with her to carve out time each week to evaluate her decisions, articulating exactly what her expectations were in both roles, gain a deep awareness of how her time needed to be spent vs. how her time was actually being spent, and then we began to devise a strategy that would accommodate both. Together we crafted a message that she could deliver to both the Board AND the nursing staff, outlining and setting expectations of how best her time could be used in language that prioritized the health and well-being of the organization at ALL LEVELS, which in turn translated into delivering a quality of care that was expected and which defined the identity of this top-flight health care organization. By doing so, she was able to establish boundaries for both of the groups she was responsible to, without alienating either one. She began to acquire that foot-forward and pro-active perspective, rather than the crisis point she had reached. And that all happened because she made a CHOICE to do something different. She CHOSE to give herself the opportunity to include an outside perspective that helped her retool her focus and provide her with strategies to lead with success.
Okay. So, now that you understand the NEED for a coach and why we are provide leadership coaching, how does a person go about finding a coach that fits their style? Most coaching consultancies will offer a free consultation. We, at ADVOgroup, are no different; we call it an Assessment. Assessments provide the prospective client an opportunity to share their challenges, while being able to hear about ADVOgroup’s philosophy and approach. In fact, some people liken it to a first date, with all the relevant and attendant questions: Is this someone I like? Do we share similar viewpoints? Do they listen well? Am I interested enough for this to go to a second date? I can’t speak specifically for all other companies, but I do know that some of the larger leadership coaching outfits adhere to a strict doctrine: Utilizing 360˙assessment tools and weekly goal sheets, that is repeated with each and every client.
At ADVOgroup, while we are open to employing similar tools, our philosophy is less orthodox, and less prescriptive—meaning, we rely less on “tried and true” templates, but rather focus on each clients’ specific needs and challenges. If utilizing these tools will help in specifically targeting the client’s challenges, we will use them, but what is most important to us is that we LISTEN to our clients, first, and develop a guided arc of development based on the information we glean. Without getting into too many specifics, our methodology works from an “inside-out” approach, rooting the discovery process into three foundational principles: Awareness, Specificity and Connection. We find that most lasting solutions to challenges are found by gaining a deeper awareness of one’s own leadership “defaults.” Once those defaults are identified and acknowledged, the client is then guided into exploring and making more intentional and specific choices that will lead to deeper connections and result in more successful outcomes.
The bottom line is that EVERYONE can benefit from an outside eye, no matter where they happen to find themselves in their career trajectories. From newly-minted leaders struggling to establish their leadership style and presence, to seasoned CEOs looking for a new spark, giving themselves the space, time and perspective that an executive coach can provide, is an invaluable asset that will benefit the leader, both professionally and personally.