Executives are often expected to run across a battle field, carrying a heavy load of employee and customer problems, dodging competitive bullets, while jumping over political landmines. The job requires a tool bag that includes communication skills, persuasive presentations, political savvy, analytical skills and a rucksack filled with sophisticated techniques and tactics. That’s why I love coaching these folks.
Most executives bring a technical expertise with them as they climb the ranks, but some of the subtler things—people—politics—polish—can be their undoing. The idea of executive coaching has caught on across the country faster than a cold in a kindergarten. And I think the reason is that it makes sense.
Companies turn over coffers of cash to executive search firms and spend company resources grooming, growing and promoting people into their executive suite and when they falter, it’s a misstep than can be felt all the way through the organization because of the impact they have.
Executive coaching, if done well, can pinpoint the specific behavior that needs to get buffed or overhauled. It focuses a laser beam on the area and teaches the executive a new way to perform. While a seminar or a conference can create awareness or educate an executive about new trends or teach some skills, the intense coaching experience goes right to the heart of the matter and creates specific homework designed to get results immediately. And that’s the fun of it for me. I love to craft the transformation.
But make no mistake, changing your “soft skills” is anything but soft. It’s a boot camp with you as the only recruit, so the pressure is on. And the behavior changes can range from purging small, quirky behaviors, to exorcising major career killers. Here is a sample of some of the spoken and unspoken rules that can trip up executives:
Stepping on political landmines
Credibility is tough to build and easy to lose. Executives, who think their career’s protective shield is the results they get, are sure to step on an internal mine or two. Sometimes they think the way to challenge an idea is to challenge their peers in front of others, only to discover later that the cultural norm is to challenge privately and build consensus before the meeting.
Executives who are perceived as doing things for themselves rather than the organization are sure to be attacked. If they are seen as arrogant or know-it-all, they will attract snipers from all camps.
Or, others are too technically focused and duck all that “political stuff,” so their ideas are ignored or trampled in the fight for better productivity and profitability.
Inability to manage employees without being either too hands off or too hands on
For many executives, their rise to the top came up through one department. Suddenly, they find themselves directing multiple disciplines and working with many new constituencies. Selecting the right management staff and working through them to reach the people in the organization is sophisticated stuff.
It takes a battle plan of one-on-one and cross functional meetings, with an organized system for tracking people, projects and outcomes. Executives need to stay at the 30,000 feet level but have a system that allows them to swoop close to the action when they need to.
Inability to tailor a presentation to the audience
If there is one thing that smacks new executives in the face it’s the amount of time and focus that goes into presentations at this level…to their own organization, to their peers, to sales, to customers, to outside groups, to the Board… The farther they get from the front line, the more important crafting an effective message becomes.
The skill set ranges from being “folksy” and conversational to delivering a compelling, executive summary. And did I mention being able to tango and cha-cha, when you are asked those tough questions?
Being either too accommodating, or too resistant
You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. If you take on too much work, in an effort to look like a good soldier to your superiors; you can weigh down your own troops. Or, you can appear to be too rigid and protective of your own organization, so they can meet their goals, but you end up looking like you are not a team player with a sense of urgency. The art of ‘pushback’ reaches critical importance at this level.
Being perceived as insensitive or even a bully
Executives who have risen to their position early, but failed to change with the times, usually see their corporate image fade like a photo in the sun.
Anyone who thinks they can be a bull in a china shop regarding sexual orientation, race, religion or gender hasn’t been paying attention to the rising cost of china.
People expect to be included in decision making, not bullied into predetermined solutions. They expect to be treated with respect and dignity and not screamed at by a drill sergeant. The diversity of the workforce today is unparalleled. In age demographics alone, this is the first time we’ve seen four generations in the workplace. Getting them all to march united across the battle field is no small task.
We take a comprehensive approach to executive coaching. We create a customized plan for each executive, based on the needs of the executive and his/her organization. Call for more information about our executive coaching process at (800) 348-1944.
Joan Lloyd has a solid track record of excellent results. Her firm, Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding. This includes executive coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized leadership training, conflict resolution between teams or individuals, internal consulting skills training for HR professionals and retreat facilitation. Clients report results such as: behavior change in leaders, improved team performance and a more committed workforce.
About Joan Lloyd