Organizational leaders essentially want two things when they hire an executive coach: answers and assurance. What they receive extends a little further: non-judging support, challenge, honest feedback, insight & perspective, and a structure. When leaders take time and build a relationship with a coach, they are able to step back from the day-to-day and gain perspective, ideally leading to sustainable changes in the way the leader thinks, speaks and acts.
This entry is about two additional value-adds that executive coaches can bring to the leaders with whom they coach: advocacy and organizational perspective. Consider the following three scenarios and the theoretical “clean” path towards resolution.
The CEO hires a new number two. You’ve worked with the CEO, others in the C-Suite, and some of the EVPs for whom will report to this new hire. You’ve been asked to provide six months of onboarding coaching to help this leader assimilate into the culture, which includes working effectively with her new manager, the CEO who is your former client.
Theoretical resolution: You facilitate a 3-way meeting with you, your client and the CEO (your former client) and stick to asking questions that help the two define how to best work with one another.
You’ve been coaching leaders across an organization for the last three years. They recently acquired a competing organization. This is the third acquisition since you’ve been there. And you’ve gotten an inside look at the failure, and ultimate removal of senior leaders from the acquired companies, who unsuccessfully stumbled through the organizational politics of the company that acquired them. The CEO of this recent acquisition is considered a solid asset, but there are concerns about her ability to “make it” given the organization’s track record. You’ve been asked to coach this person, who lacks any inside information about the organizational politics of the company for which you’ve been coaching in for the last three years.
Theoretical resolution: You convince the organization to hire another consultant to develop and facilitate retreats and training programs on change management and cultural adaptation.
Mary, the head of talent management for a large organization, shares with you privately that senior leadership has concerns about Jack, who is the SVP of Operations and one of your former clients; yet, senior leadership is not talking directly to the SVP nor have they approached you directly to help with the situation. Senior leadership is in the mindset that failure is an okay option, since it’ll provide an opportunity to bring in a fresh perspective. Yet, you truly believe that Jack’s contributions to the organization are under-valued, in part because he doesn’t self-promote and yet works tirelessly behind the scenes to fix issues before they ever become visible. You are convinced that if your client understood the brevity of the situation and the need, that he would make adjustments that would serve him and the organization.
Theoretical resolution: You do backwards engineering to resolve the issue – coaching Mary to coach her source in talking directly with Jack about the concerns.
All of these theoretical resolutions sound great but, with the exception of the 3-way meeting, is unlikely to happen, especially in today’s very fast changing environment. More than ever before, leaders need to adapt very quickly to changing conditions and have little time or patience for retreats, additional meetings, or “hard conversations.” They may be willing to do all of these things but over time and not soon enough to resolve real-time issues. The 3-way meeting in the first example should happen regardless; yet, given your unique perspective, you are clearly able to add additional value beyond the 3-way meeting.
In my next blog post on this topic: Principles for Coaching on the Edge – Part 2, I will propose some principles for executive coaches who wish to “coach on the edge”, while staying true to their integrity, ethics, and best practices.