A leader is expected to know and be present through many circumstances, to provide a steadying hand and guide through ups and downs. Leaders provide support and serve as an example and rallying point to their organizations; they articulate vision and direction, and help motivate people who might not be fully invested or understanding of the goals and values at play. They are used to being that guiding, objective hand, to being self-starting, and to being the source of dynamism and resilience within a group. So what does a leader do when they need help finding their own way?
This is a group that takes a great deal of pride in building and in having built what they have, in being the rock. C-suite executives, Presidents, and other leaders with strategic oversight are particularly aware of the need for correct perception in their profession. By their very nature, they are used to success, and thrive on succeeding. One does not simply become a leader in a Fortune 500 company without the benefit of optics that demonstrate power and strength, and so asking for help or displaying vulnerability might seem like an admission of weakness with all its attendant implications.
How do we as coaches connect with these leaders in the first place, if such openings are rare and guarded? If someone is loath to admit needing help, it’s unlikely they’ll respond very well to an entreaty or offer of assistance. That choice to seek coaching needs to come from the coachee, and from a place of wanting to open up and be seen. How do we help someone gain the perspective needed to make that decision? It is always a personal decision, arising from self reflection and one-on-one conversations. What we can do as coaches--and even as friends--is to be willing to hear when someone is ready to ask. How about you? Are you ready to open up and be vulnerable, to ask for help, or are you willing to explore how to expand and leverage your talents in bigger and better ways?
Like professional athletes at the top of their game, professional leaders benefit from great coaching. Executive coaching is a one-on-one relationship between an expert in individual leadership development and an executive or manager. Excellent coaching is the artful use of questioning, listening and observation. It requires respect and trust on the part of the coach, not just the client. Trust is communicated because the very act of questioning and listening is a demonstration of respect. Executive coaching helps individual leaders use what they’re innately good it. It helps them build on their strengths, develop flexibility and change-readiness, create awareness of short-comings and build commitment to self-development and achievement.
One-on-one coaching is both supportive and challenging. It is based on the desire of the coach to assist the client in performing at his or her personal best and the willingness of the client to stretch and grow. A coach plays the role of confidante, sounding board, champion and mirror. What leader wouldn’t want someone on his or her side with whom to discuss creative ideas, doubts, petty irritations and the performance implications of all of those? Great coaches are, to borrow a phrase from psychologist Alice Miller, “enlightened witnesses” to the peaks and perils of modern leadership.