Lion tamer in cage with two lions, a lioness, and two tigers.  Chromolithograph, Gibson & Co. (Cincinnati, Ohio), published c. 1873 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Ideas for Leaders #442

Coaches Needed to Help CEOs and Senior Managers

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Key Concept

Nearly two-thirds of CEOs do not receive any coaching or leadership advice from the outside (e.g. from mentors, coaches or consultants), says a Stanford survey on executive coaching. Yet the CEOs would welcome the help. The survey shows that nearly 100% would welcome outside advice and coaching — especially on issues such as sharing, leadership delegation, and conflict management — the major developmental areas of concern for CEOs.

Idea Summary

Based on a survey of nearly 200 North American CEOs, board directors and senior executives, Stanford’s 2013 Executive Coaching Survey revealed that nearly 2/3 of  the CEOs were ‘going it alone’ — without valuable outside advice or coaching. Asked whether they would be receptive to making changes based on feedback, 100% of the CEOs said yes, indicating that there was a significant gap between what CEOs want and what they get in terms of executive coaching. Board directors concur: 80% said their CEOs would welcome outside coaching.

Other results from the survey:

Most coached CEOs took the initiative. Asked if it was their idea to receive coaching, 78% said yes, while 21% gave the credit to their board chairperson. CEOs are starting to adapt an athlete’s attitude toward coaching: not as a sign of weakness, but rather as a sign of someone who is trying to push him- or herself to be the very best.

Progress is kept private. While CEOs may be changing their attitudes about coaching, a certain stigma still exists in the public at large; as a result, more than 60% said that any progress made from coaching is for the most part kept private. Just a third of respondents said their boards were kept appraised of any progress.

Conflict management skills top the personal development list. Nearly 43% of CEOs said that learning how to manage conflict effectively was the most important skillset for which they wanted help.

Coaching on soft skills is less prevalent. In addition to conflict management, CEOs used coaching to improve in areas such as sharing leadership/delegation, team building, and mentoring. Skillsets such as motivational skills, compassion/empathy and persuasive skills were at the bottom of the list. These nuanced soft skills are harder to coach, although combined with harder skills they can dramatically increase the effectiveness of a leaders.

Boards want CEOs to improve their talent management skills. Asked to name the skills that their CEOs needed to work on most, board directors answered “mentoring skills/developing internal talent” and “sharing leadership/delegation skills.” 

Business Application

Just as with elite athletes who have dedicated coaches around them throughout their careers, the best CEOs recognize the value of external advice and guidance to help them navigate the challenges of their positions. Boards need to start working proactively with CEOs to ensure that they are receiving the coaching and leadership guidance they deserve. Even the most effective CEOs will have blind spots or weaknesses that can be improved. As noted above, two-thirds of CEOs wish they had access to external coaches — and most of those who do have coaches went out and recruited them themselves. The fact that CEOs keep any learning from coaches to themselves is further evidence of the disconnect between boards and their CEOs on executive coaching. 

And the problem doesn’t stop at the CEO level. Fully 50% of executives say they do not receive any external leadership coaching as well — a worrisome statistic for a group of people who could be the next leaders of their companies. 

There are a multitude of coaches and consultants ready to offer their experience, methodologies and perspectives. For companies and their top managers, the time has come to use them.

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