#005:Why Everyone Needs an Executive Coach; Even The Most Senior Leaders
Being a leader doesn’t mean you have it all figured out. Executive blind spots exist, and a good leader is someone who acknowledges that and knows when to ask for help. George Randle and Tom Lokar discuss all things executive coaching in this episode of The Talent War Podcast. As HR professionals, they dive deep into how investing in executive coaching and leadership development can have huge returns not just for individuals but for the company as a whole and in the long term. George and Tom also break down when you should hire a coach and the differences between a good and a bad one. They also talk about the Peter Principle and discuss what to look for in a good executive coach.
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This is one of those episodes you want to read. We are going to talk about executive blind spots and executive coaching. It’s something most people don’t want to talk about, when you do or when you don’t need a coach, what a coach and a great mentor can do for you. One of the things we are going to get into is the Peter Principle. We are going to talk about that here.
Tom, welcome back for another one of our fun episodes. We have been told what jokes to tell, what jokes not to tell and avoid so that people stay reading to two HR people.
Now that we have thousands of followers, do you think we can start with more personal stuff versus nerding out on HR? You scored five goals in two soccer games and the Tour de France started off in crashing, chaotic, cataclysmic awesomeness with three great winners in Alaphilippe and then Mathieu van der Poel pointing up to the sky to his grandfather who has never got to wear the yellow jersey. He thought he earned the yellow jersey and that night, they came to his hotel room, took it from him and gave it to the person who had beat him on time.
Mathieu goes in a double loop of the Mûr-de-Bretagne, takes the bonus points on the first time around because he needed those, then wins the stage and gets the next bonus seconds and edges out Alaphilippe to take the yellow jersey from him, and then crashing upon crashing. People falling on the streets. Caleb Ewan going down the finish behind a couple of lead-outs with Sagan. They were elbowing or leaning into each other and Ewan touching the wheel of the guy in front of them and slid right under Sagan. Sagan is such a badass. He slides on top of Ewan, pops up and walks by Ewan, and breaks his shoulder. He’s out of the tour.
Out of nowhere, stage four, the man who wasn’t supposed to make a comeback and be in the tour, Deceuninck–Quick-Step was going to go with their Irish kid, Sam Bennett, who had been winning the green jersey in the last couple of years and winning all the sprints that he entered. Mark Cavendish, the Manx Missile, comes back after a five-year hiatus from the tour and wins his 31st stage, only three behind the legendary Eddy Merckx. Tears, goosebumps, a freaking awesome tour other than the crashing and some of the favorites being 48 seconds to 1 minute behind the leaders.
I saw the crash and I saw the corresponding article where they are going to sue the spectator. Finally, the French government is taking some action because if you saw the crash, the person held up a sign for their grandparent wasn’t watching the race. She was looking at the camera for their three seconds of fame and they dropped five riders from that one crash. I have seen small groups crash and I have been in a small breakaway that a couple of people have tumbled but I have never seen the Peloton come down like that. That was the first time I had seen that live.
There’s a subtle thing here that happened that day and some of the news outlets have played tricks with their editing room.
Really? Did that happen in modern media, they play tricks with what they are telling you?
Even Fox News. A bunch of the writers did go down after Tony Martin and the Jumbo–Visma team toppled on top of each other after hitting that sign. There’s no way they are going to find that spectator and sue them. That’s just French saber-rattling. They have the French protest. They stopped work but nothing ever changes. Sorry, I don’t mean to pick on French. Later in the stage with about 11K to go, a worse crash happens than that. In the middle of the Peloton, a biker goes down. They are heading downhill and they are at 65 kilometers an hour. That’s when the majority of people hit the deck and you see them crashing into the gutter and spreading out across the field.
They keep showing that footage and saying it’s the sign footage, which happened way earlier in the race. There were two crashes that day. Honestly, if you look at the pile-up from the second one, it’s worse than the sign person but then for no reason other than narrow Brittany roads, there were crashes. Primož Roglič, one of the favorites, went down. I saw his Instagram post. He is bandaged up from head to toe. He finished the stage. He raced today but tomorrow is the time trial.
Both of his elbows because he went on down on that chip seal tarmac that you and I know so well here in Texas, which is a combination of, they lay oil down, and these pebbles, and then they mat it down. Over time, cars roll over it and mat it down further. We call it chip seals, the most uncomfortable surface to ride a bike on, even a mountain bike. It rattles the family jewels like nobody’s business. He got shredded by that. He’s got to do a 27-kilometer time trial leaning on his arrow bars on all of this torn-up skin.
One word for him, tramadol. I wouldn’t do it anyway.
They test for that. We don’t test it in the Talent War Group.
We don’t test in the Austin Men’s Soccer league either but I did do something that I haven’t done in over a decade. My first game, hat trick, three goals, and left foot, right foot, header. I’ve got one of each in the first game, which I’m not supposed to be using my noggin because only two marbles are knocking around up there with all the concussions I have had. We went into the second game, which was a little bit of a route but it was so hot. It’s good to be getting back out on the field. I want to assure our readers that this isn’t corporate entertainment media and you are getting the real live truth all the time. This is not edited in any way for your comfort or dining pleasure. I wanted to make sure we say that.
You had the Gordie Howe hat trick but on the pitch, you had a goal, assist and a fight. You punched the guy, an actual amateur adult. You hit him in the face, didn’t you?
I hit him in the sternum. I’ve got a yellow instead of a red. No, I didn’t. If you punch in the face, it gets you a three-game suspension so I didn’t try that. We were in a wall and the guy was trying to move me around. He’s kidney punching me. I’m like, “Come on, jackass. That’s enough of that.” I had warned the rep, it’s fair game. He was ticked off because I had burned him a couple of times so I get it. He’s a defender. He got torched and got over it. We should talk about something HR. The tour is good. It’s awesome to watch. I will head out to Colorado so I’m hoping to get a few miles in that altitude. That should be fun. There’s one hill out there. It’s a 16% grade for 2 miles. I tried to do it. It’s my fitness test. I wish I could regenerate a lung because even in my climbing gears, it’s still lean over the handlebars and prays for 2 miles.
You have a couple of roads over there by the Arboretum on the other side of 183 across from Cat Mountain. The last time I worked down there, I brought my bike with me and my Garmin was registering 15% to 17% as I was climbing this road. I can’t remember the name of that off the top of my head. You’ve got some steep punchy climbs in Austin but they are not in elevation so that helps.
It’s a good test of fitness. You get a little bit of sun so it’s nice. Thank goodness, the readers can’t see me because I’m red-faced from the soccer games. We should talk about something HR-related. We are going to talk about executive coaching and the Peter Principle. For those of you not familiar with the Peter Principle, my basic version is, ultimately, everybody is promoted to their level of incompetency. You only find out when you have tapped out or you have capped out.
Also, when you started a podcast.
We have capped out, folks. This is it. That was good. It’s interesting, Tom because I was married to an executive coach and she’s retired. I always knew about this executive coaching and stuff. Before I’ve got into the times because I always thought it was for somebody who’s underperforming. If you had to tell people what an executive coach is, how would you put it?
How we do this show is, I don’t go into some manual. In fact, behind me is the executive coaching handbook that’s produced by Harvard Business Review. We have been using it as a resource guide to help with our practice. There’s a whole set of definitions around executive coaching and it’s bled over into a whole other set of areas like life coaching. I see a lot of people on LinkedIn posting as an executive coach, coach to venture capital, coach to this type of leader or group, people who were executives and now they are executive coaches because they worked as executives. That’s all fine.
I know lots of PhD psychologists that aren’t necessarily great communicators and probably wouldn’t be great coaches. I don’t know where I rank myself as a coach. To me, an executive coach is someone that can sit with a leader and talk them through the 360 of their leadership style, personality, approach and bring it into the context of their job. They identify ways that that person can leverage their strengths within the job context, whether it’s leading a team, business unit or company in their first management experience. Also, it helps them take a look in the mirror, either through assessment tools or through the coaching process in terms of, how do you enter into a coaching scenario? How do you exit and what are some of the best practices that I like around that?Getting a coach is just a way of getting better. Click To Tweet
A coach is a person that can help you, the leader, look in the mirror and not necessarily wrestle with strengths. Part of my interview processes and a lot of people’s interview processes is you ask a job candidate or you ask a coaching candidate, “Give me an idea what you think your strengths and weaknesses are.” A lot of people, honestly, are good. With a little self-awareness, they can hone in. Especially when they know they are sitting across from a coach who’s a professional, either psychologist or a well-seasoned executive coach, they are honest about their strengths and weaknesses.
Filling those gaps is important but I find that the best coaches get their clients to look beyond that and to get at those blind spots. The thing that the Hogan assessment tools used to call derailers. I don’t think they call them derailers anymore. They PC-ed that language up but I still like the idea of a derailer blind spot, which is something you don’t see. The definition of a blind spot, you don’t see it and you are not aware of it. It doesn’t come into your frame of reference and you miss it in that context. It could be a tone in the way you talk to your team or the way you write an email.
I’m working with someone who’s got the capability at seeing the big picture, thinking through the strategy, and even being fairly detail-oriented in analyzing problems but they struggle to get to the right conclusion. They end up either admiring the problem and the data too long or they are aware of the details and that there’s a forest. They are like, “I know what the forest looks like above,” but they don’t take the assumptions and draw the right conclusions, and end up either stalling or making a bad call. That’s a blind spot and that’s something I’m helping her work through. An executive coach is that person who holds up the mirror and helps the person leverage their strengths and work on their blind spots so that they don’t become derailers. Ultimately, what I’m trying to do with a person is round them out and take them to the next level of their leadership potential because everyone has good and bad qualities, we are humans and that’s human nature.
That’s great for our readers. There are two big challenges that I have observed when I have been working with executives. Number one is it isn’t what they know that gets them in trouble. It’s what they don’t know. An executive coach is filling those gaps and seeing what’s possible. I’m guilty of this. When I was coming up through the ranks, the time in the military helped me a little bit but I still had that ego when I was that young buck, officer or manager. I was like, “The CEO, CFO and CMO got it so easy. They are making millions of bucks.”
As I moved up the ladder, one of the things that were this big learning moment for me, and I will use the last CEO that I worked with, talk about a fishbowl to be living in. It was 24/7, 365. You are never off work. You are either selling, fixing, solving, leading, coaching or directing constantly. There is almost no time for self-reflection. A lot of CEOs and C-Suite executives have to bake that in. That’s one of the things that I have learned about a great executive coach. When the executive takes the opportunity, it gives them a chance to step out of that fishbowl for a while and get something that’s for them.
The interesting observation you make here is, whether you are a functional leader, division leader, head of sales, the CFO, CEO or COO, you are part of an executive team. Certainly, we know this about the CEO but it trickles down. It’s lonely at the top. Sometimes, you are so busy trying to legitimize your leadership and make sure your team believes you are credible. I’m a huge believer in this idea of trust. People need to know you are competent and you’ve got a good brain for making decisions in analyzing the industry and the business. That foundation culminates in this trust factor that teams are looking to have in their leader. Once they have that trust, that trust can then spread its wings or its veins out to the rest of the team. The team forms trust bonds between them and the leader then can spend more time removing roadblocks versus having to coach, direct and manage the team.
Once people have that trust in you and know that you are competent, you can be effective. Getting there, doing it in this bubble that you reference and doing it without a lot of support systems because the expectation when you step in those roles is like, “I’ve got this. I’m the head of HR. I should know what I’m doing.” It was my 3rd or 4th swing at the CHRO bat. I don’t know if it’s my nature or my drive for achievement and wanting to be successful in the context of the business, which is helping this leadership team and this company grow, and helping my team grow and impact the business. I have doubts.
George, for the first time in starting a job, I hired my own executive coach. Coming off of the Mitel experience, a little time off and doing the consulting work, I felt like I needed a support mechanism so that I wasn’t alone in the bubble. I could be alone in the bubble on the day-to-day but I had this once a week 1-hour to 2-hour discussion with my exec coach on things I was observing, feeling and wasn’t feeling. Also, ways that I could be tackling the relationship with the CEO, my colleagues, my team and all the way down into the organization.
That resonates with me in terms of why an executive coach is valuable because it is lonely in that bubble. Sometimes, you never step out of it unless you step out of it and take stock of, “Where am I at as a leader?” Some people have been developed through leadership programs and high potential programs to do that but a lot of people haven’t so they think, “I was given this opportunity. I’m an expert at sales. I’ve got to be the best at this. If I’m not the best at it right out of the gate and I’m not doing it on my own, I’m a failure.” That’s not the right perspective.
Coaching for high potentials, to me, is one of the most important things you can do. Coaching for anyone is a great thing. Companies have limited resources so sometimes, there’s that line that’s drawn. “Do we provide coaching for high potentials?” There’s a fair amount of coaching for what I call reclamation projects. I have taken on those gigs and I have done them but that may not be the best use of executive coaching. There’s probably some company coaching that should have happened before that. Another fallback position is, “George, can you help save this person?”
That was a lesson learned for me. There was a time where I thought an executive coach was brought in and they were 90% reclamation projects. That’s simply not true. It’s absolutely the reverse of what I thought years ago. Complete disclosure, one of the great things working with the people at the Talent War Group, our learning curve is constant and continuous. I realized that there was so much about getting into business for ourselves and bringing what we have to market. I went out and hired my own coach too, because there were a couple of things that were foreign to me.
I had this in my head, “I think I’m doing it right. I know where I’m going on public speaking. I know where I’m going on working with complex clients.” What clicked with me was getting a coach is a way of getting better. Before we get to our process, I want to talk about some success stories and some other challenges. I had heard a story and I watched what was supposed to be a reclamation project salvaging this executive because he was going to be shown the door. The reason they’ve got him a coach wasn’t necessarily because he was failing. It was because they were confident that this person had the blind spots. They saw the potential. It was their first time in a vice president role, what we consider senior executive. Meaning, there are multiple levels of executives hitting that L2 level, one-click off the C-Suite.
They knew that there was so much more to this person. The investment the leadership team made was part reclamation but it was part helping this individual going, “What worked for you as a senior manager and senior director is not going to work for you at the vice president level.” That was a big thing. What got you here is not going to take you to the next level. The executive levels are completely different than what most people think.What got you here is not going to take you to the next level. Click To Tweet
You have arrows coming at you from all angles. When you get to the VP level, you are above the middle of the 1st line and 2nd line leaders. You are leading leaders, a function. In our world of HR, you are probably leading a group of HR people or a COE and you are getting arrows from all angles, sideways, up and down. The email traffic flow because of all those arrows, the meetings and the calendar. Managing that matrix of requests gets challenging if you are not ready and if you are not thinking about your role holistically like, “How am I going to help my team be successful?”
It’s easy for that new executive in that role to get pulled into the email traffic and calendar invites. They lose the sense of who they were as a leader that made them successful. They are now managing others and playing other people’s music instead of their own. That’s where an executive coach can help with the John Elway effect. I characterize it like that and I’m probably the only person that would, that I know of. He’s the first-person athlete. I remember him talking about the game of slowing down. A coach can slow the game down for an executive, help them stay in the moment, stay present and focus on what they control while still being strategic and future-oriented. Nothing we do is for just now. Everything we are doing is always in a company building toward that execution of the strategy. Each day, each piece of work, meeting and interaction builds to some output in the future.
When the game starts speeding by you, an executive coach can help you step out of the bubble and not pause the game but slow it down and help you get quiet inside, which is one of the most underrated and underappreciated elements of leadership. We focused a lot on EQ and self-awareness, staying quiet inside when the world around you is echoing loudly, staying calm and focused on what you can control, influencing where you can influence and not being passive. That doesn’t mean you are not standing up for things you believe in, pushing your team or pushing back on a senior executive or a colleague.
When you do that, getting to that quiet moment where you are calm, then an executive coach, the good ones, that’s what they can help you do more often. That’s what good therapists do. The good family therapist and marriage counselors, that’s how they help you be successful. You find that quiet space inside where there isn’t the shouting and the anxiousness to make a decision or do something and you see everything like John Elway used to talk about. Everything is moving past and everyone else is fast. He sees that pinpoint opening where the ball can go and he makes the play.
Before the receiver gets there.
Before the receivers turn their head.
You make a great point on being able to detach. When I had my first coach, Bill Gardner and he contributed to our book, one of the interesting things was, I will move at Mach 2 with my ass on fire. When I moved into the executive ranks if I’ve got 250 emails and my previous volume as a senior director was 100, I was going to get all 250 done. To your point about slowing it down, he gave me this great phrase, “I want to pull you out of the flow of the river so you can see what’s value-added. As an executive, there are so many demands on your time.” You are in the To line, CC line and BCC line. You have these hallway conversations. There’s so much volume. The real genius of a great executive and the coach that helps them pull them out of that flow is, what is the highest and best use of your time as an executive? Where you are limited is by your time.
I’m going to throw something out at you. I didn’t prep you beforehand. What do you think makes a good coach? If you were going to tell people what to look for, what are the things that you would tell them? Not to disparage anybody out there but there are so many people saying that they can be a coach and it’s not true. It is difficult and it requires a special person, one dedicated to becoming better versions of themselves before they try to make better versions of others. If you had to narrow down, what would you be looking for? What do you look for when you get a coach for yourself?
There are a couple of things here. I will start with, as a former chief talent officer who’s hired executive coaches into their company for hundreds of VPs and up at AOL, Time Warner, HP and Mitel, it’s important for me that I have a diversity of coaches and coaching styles that I have worked with. I will know who to call when I have a reclamation project. I will know when I need the velvet touch. I know who to call when I need the white gloves, someone who’s got a lot of C team experience. I will know when I need my best coach for working with a new executive.
Even saying that I always try to allow the candidate or the executive to have the first meeting with that coach to see if there’s a fit. You can’t get changed through someone else if there’s a clash or a lack of fit. You don’t have that trust because the coach ultimately becomes the leader of your personal development. That coach is going to lead you through that development cycle and there has to be a good fit. Back to the question at hand, what you are asking me are qualities of good coaches. I gave you a list of 4 or 5 in the executive coaching handbook. There are probably twelve different types of coaching interventions and 40 different competencies or characteristics that make up a good coach.
For me to narrow it down, this is going to sound cliché but I want someone who listens before they conclude, whether they are using assessment tools, their own technique of dialogue or Socratic open-ended questioning, I want someone who doesn’t jump to conclusions. Sometimes, in those reclamation coaching projects, you have data. Maybe even the company provided you with incidents, performance reviews or a 360. They are saying, “We had high potential. We put them in this job and we think we promoted them too early. They are flaming out. We think the issue is indecisiveness. Can you get in there and help them?”
Even with that, as an executive coach, you have to step back and test the assumptions that it’s indecisiveness, and then you find out, “George, it’s not indecisiveness. It’s a fear of failure.” Now you are into something more fundamental to this person’s human nature and you are working on the real thing that’s going to help them a breakthrough. It’s not an overnight process. Sometimes, some don’t break through. You can only get them so far. That’s one, listening before they jump to conclusions and making sure with some form of assessment or data analysis. It doesn’t have to be assessment tools. I prefer a broad range of assessment tools. Not one personality tool, cognitive abilities tool or management styles tool but a couple of them. That coupled with an intense interview, gives me a decent picture.
I can get past some of the first impression assumptions I might make as a coach, which we are human, too. Human nature is to make quick assumptions. You are still testing that visual that you paint for that person about them, whether they feel like that to them and whether they can own some of the things that you are saying are our blind spots, strengths and weaknesses. The second thing that makes a great coach is the willingness to give the person a couple of nuggets, things to test out, and then come back to you and say, “How did that work? Did you try that? What happened?”
Even being able, if you have the opportunity, to observe the person in real-time so that you get some credibility with them like, “Tom gave me this tip. It’s a minor thing. It’s not the major part of my development plan but it worked.” I think of it a lot like working with a CEO in a new role as a CHROs. Find a couple of quick wins with the candidate to give them confidence that they can implement something and make a change in their behavior.
I don’t tackle the big things. I wouldn’t tackle the anxiety or the fear of failure type of thing or the oppressive authoritarian leadership style with a simple nugget. That’s more long-term dialogue. Something that makes a good coach is they give the person that little nugget to test something out and some confidence that they can make a change and do something different. This is not the final thing. I’m curious to know what you think makes a great coach because you have had one and you have worked with one in your life for a long time. You have watched someone in the profession be successful at it.
That is evolving the assessment and the learning on your client. I would never be allowed myself to get stuck with that assessment data, either through an interview or whatever the client handed me or whatever interaction we have had. I have never tried to get stuck in that as my stereotype of that person. You remember you are always that way. I try to evolve with them as they are changing and find new ways to influence them and bring value to them.
It’s one of the things that I have appreciated about my coach, David Selchen understanding me is, he never stops. He goes back to what we were working on, “How did that work? Where are you at?” We evolve. It has been a powerful impact on me evolving my leadership role here in the company but it has been his approach that’s allowed me to do that. He’s never gotten stuck and he knows me for a long time. We are friends and colleagues. He could paint me accurately in about five minutes but he never allows that to happen. He’s always working in real-time with what I’m presenting.
In behavioral health, psychiatry and psychology, what makes a great therapist is working in real-time. If you see a client getting stuck, George, you absolutely have to say, “Stop. We are back at this again. Remember, we talked about you not getting into analysis to paralysis. Here you are doing it at this moment.” Sometimes, you have to go back but it’s a constant interaction and learning. The bad coaches want to get through and get something done expediently. They want to feel the reward of making a change.
There’s probably a couple of other things bad coaches do. I haven’t made a career of evaluating and identifying bad coaches like I have bad real estate agents. I probably have a longer list of bad real estate agents than I have of coaches. Some coaches are wanting to move too fast, move on to the next thing and they get painted in a corner with their client. Frankly, I have seen this as a hirer of coaches. They stop getting behavior change and thought a change in my executives and I’m like, “We have reached our time. We need to find something else for this person.”
I have had a lot of coaches. I’m married to one. For me, the thing that was distinguished from the coaches that I have worked with is, number one, they were able to do it neutrally to make sure that I was open to improvement and feedback. They had a good way of pressure testing me to see how much I was willing to confront, to get a good idea and know if they were, I was going to be a good use of their time as well. There are so many people out there that will just take the work. This one that I worked with, he was like, “This is important for both of us. I want to make sure that we can work together.” I appreciated that they weren’t just, “I’m going to be here. I’m going to deliver work. Whoever is paying the bill is paying the bill.” If they weren’t confident that I was going to get something out of this, they were out of it. Meaning, they were in it for my wins.
That’s an excellent point, I should have made that but I couldn’t agree more. That’s probably a more important point than the first three I made.
The other thing was he would always lead me to the river. It was the differentiator. There were a couple that I have worked with but there’s one in particular, Bill Gardner. He’s fabulous. He got this way about him that I have not seen in any other way. It’s why we asked him to be in the book. He’s the first person that so many will recommend. He’s a wonderful man, a wonderful human being and an exceptional coach. He would leave me to the river and he would say, “Here it is.” It’s my option, whether I want to take those learnings if I want to go waiting in the shallow end or the deep end and how far do I want to go but he was there. He could lead me to the deep part of the river, the shallow part or whatever he thought I was ready for. He had this innate sense about him.Nothing we do is for just today, and each interaction builds to some sort of output in the future. Click To Tweet
I love the river analogy because wouldn’t everyone like to know if they are traveling down the Amazon where the alligators, the poisoned spiders are or the natives are restless and pointing a spear at you? That’s what an executive coach does. They help you navigate the river and see ahead what might be coming and prepare you for those eventualities.
That’s a good point because I know you and I have both done that with the people that we work with. You and I have traveled down that river enough times that we have run into the alligators and we’ve got the teeth marks and the scars from that. We don’t ever walk up to a client and say, “Don’t do this, go this way or go that way.” You say, “As you navigate this part of the river, these are some of the things that you have to be mindful of. These are some of the things that you have to have your head on a swivel for.”
This is tooting our own horn. One of the things I like about you and I working together is there’s such a combined experience. One of the big parts for both you and I is making sure, “We have been down this river. This is a different river for you but when we were on this particular path, part or stretch, these are the things that we had to be mindful of because the first time we went down, we weren’t and it was a rough ride. For you to be successful and navigate this faster, quicker and better, these are the things you need to be looking for.” We ask this tough question.
Have you ever had the experience where an executive coach had to bang you upside the head verbally and wake you up? How did that feel?
It’s me so everybody in my life has had the opportunity or the desire to do that more than once. This guy, Bill, did it. There was something I didn’t want to look at and I don’t know why. It was a concept that I knew to be true, a particular trait or stylistic approach of mine that I knew to be true but I kept seeing it as an additive or a benefit for me. He was trying to tell me it’s a derailer. Meaning, it’s one of those things that’s a good trait but under stress, it can be a bad trait. I always wanted to look at it from the positive.
He closed the book one day. We were going through one of the leadership circles, that assessment tool and he closed the book for a second. He said, “If you are unwilling to look at every single thing, all we are doing is closing enough two blind spots and leaving three open. All of them are lethal to your career as you go along. You either want to tackle getting better on the whole or did you just bring me on board to do this part or that part?” He presented me with the options. He didn’t do anything in a real firm tone. He knew that I was analytical and getting out of my head was the big thing. My head is always spinning 1 million miles an hour. What he wanted to do was say, “Here’s some more data to throw in that mix. You analyze this problem and tell me what the right answer is.”
Quickly, I slammed on the brakes and I said, “This is an investment in myself. I’m going to look at it all and do what I can.” I want to ask you the flip side of the question, Tom. When we talk about what’s a good coach, this is a big topic because we see the impact of a great coach in all kinds of sports and we don’t often talk about it in the corporate world. An executive coach can make all the difference in the world of you either hitting the Peter Principle or recognizing your potential and impact it even more. On the flip side of the good coach, have you seen a bad coach?
I don’t know if I have a collection of bad coaches. I have people I wouldn’t use again. I have seen bad coaching interventions, George, where either the person was unwilling to work the process and they went into it knowing they weren’t going to when they entered into it. They are either fooling us or themselves but ultimately fooling themselves. The good coaches figured that out right away and they threw the cold water and said, “I’m not doing this.”
Certainly, I have seen coaching interventions go wrong because the candidate wasn’t willing to engage in the whole process like the one you described if you had rejected Bill’s counsel to look at all of the blind spots and go deep into the analytics of what makes you tick. He was willing to say, “Good luck,” which is the right perspective and that’s coaching. He coached you. Some might say manipulated but that’s not what he did because it didn’t advantage him in any way. He coached you to widen your aperture and at least consider taking in the rest of the data, which you did and that led the process forward.
This has not been necessarily me setting something up. It’s when I have met an executive when I have come into a company or I’m working in a company and I find out someone is working with a coach and they have been working with them for years. Coaching isn’t therapy. I’m a psychologist but I’m not a clinical psychologist. I’m not trained in Freudian and Jungian behavioral cognitive. I do not have the clinical background to be a certified therapist. I could go back and do that but it’s a lot of work. I’m a PhD in IO Psychologist or Behavior Leadership motivation, morale, systems thinking. That’s what I banked my career on.People don’t leave bad companies. They leave bad leaders. And that leadership starts from the top. Click To Tweet
Executive coaching has come through in my experience doing assessments. I have done thousands of assessments, feedback sessions, development plans and ongoing coaching. Bad coaching is when the coach becomes a therapist and they are enabling the person along without a real focus on change or a milestone for what should be achieved or changed. “I like having the person around and there’s someone to bounce things off of.” That’s more of a mentoring relationship and that can be positive but it also can become, the couple times I have seen this, almost a codependency where the executive doesn’t feel they can make a call or make a decision without input from their mentor/coach.
We don’t have a live audience so the difference between a coach or mentor could be something we could debate. In my opinion and my experience, when the coach stays on too long, they are less of a coach and they become more of a mentor guide therapist person. I don’t know if it’s healthy to go that long with the same person. The bad coaches don’t get results, plain and simple. If I were to boil it down, bad coaches, whether they use data or not, don’t enter into the process the right way. They don’t get the trust and the buy-in. I don’t know how they make money or how they keep their job but they don’t get actual behavior change.
They have a few nice discussions and they tell the organization, “This is what I have observed,” but nothing ever gets better or improved. I say better and improved, and the reader might imply, “You are talking about reclamation.” I’m talking about the high potential. I didn’t bring an executive coach to make sure my high potential stays high potential and bubbled into their current formulation. I want that leader to change and grow, improve and get better. Otherwise, why are we doing this?
Bad coaches don’t get people to make the thought, behavior, attitude and leadership style changes that you are hoping they can make. That goes back to an earlier comment. That may not be the coach. It could be as a fit and you didn’t do a good job of evaluating the fit and giving that person an option. If I had the opportunity, I would let my executives at these companies I have worked at interview 1 or 2 coaches and then they can make the choice.
I’m going to comment. The only bad coach I have seen actually wasn’t a coach. He called himself a coach but he was a trainer. Meaning, they came in with this, “Here’s the playbook. This is what you need to be doing in this role.” They completely ignored the environmental conditions that this leader was working with. I remember it was a coach for an executive and I had to pull the coach aside and I said, “You are not doing this person a lick of good by telling them how to do things. You are just one more person in their environment attending them a shit list of things to do.”
There are two things I wanted to cover. Number one was to ask you about the process but then to wrap it up, give the HR professionals out there advice on how they can introduce executive coaching to their leadership team because there are a lot of us like you and me that are going to say, “What if I have the opportunity for my company to get me in coach I wanted? Anything I can do to bring my game up 2% or 3%, that’s an enormous advantage for my team, my company and me on the whole so I’m going to do it.”
Many times, we all know that executives are the last people to reach out and say, “I want a coach or I need to coach.” I did want to wrap with that to give your advice to HR professionals out there. If you could walk us through a thumbnail basic process of if you are going to walk in and you’ve got an executive, not a reclamation but a high potential, somebody that we know can be driving a lot more impact than they are. Where do you start?
My process is going to start with contracting with that person in terms of how we are going to enter into this and how I’m going to get to learn them, usually with some assessment tools and interview time. I may even ask, “It might be good for me given where you are at in your career to just watch you in a team meeting to see how you operate with either your colleagues or your team itself.” We are definitely going to start with data. “Everything we talked about, including the assessment data itself, specific responses and answers to questions, remains confidential. Your company is investing in you because they believe in you. One of the things I want to be able to do is share your overall summary results and development plan with your leader.”
“If your manager isn’t invested in this with you, then I haven’t done my job. You don’t have an everyday partner who’s in your corner watching you grow and develop. A lot of these development things should be experiential, not necessarily a book, a movie, a training course, an article or a podcast. They are going to be experiential and that’s going to be facilitated by the company, not me. I will certainly characterize what sorts of things would work for you.”
Having an upfront agreement in how you want to do the coaching process and honestly, upfront having an exit process. Knowing when it’s time to say, “The work here is done.” Maybe it’s a 6 month to 12-month intervention. It could be monthly or biweekly to start then monthly, and then it’s like, “We have reached where we need to go. Why don’t I check-in in six months?” The momentum is still building and there’s still change happening, depending on the gap analysis that comes out of the assessment data and that continuous learning process I talked about over the 6 to 12-month period.
That can be shortened as well to 3 to 6 months with more intensive coaching weekly or maybe even every other day check-in because you are trying to ramp someone up into a stretch roll and they need that accelerant to get past that. We talked about this in a previous episode. They are on the bleeding edge of success and failure. As a coach, you know this was a stretch role based on working with the organization and the head of HR, whoever brought you in and working with that person’s manager. You want to make sure they don’t fall on the failure side of that bleeding edge.
You might do an accelerated process. It’s not a reclamation. It’s an accelerated high potential process so you are there more often. I would definitely have that contracting component. How do I get my understanding of the person? If I was hiring executive coaches, I would want to hear their process and how they understand the individual and how they create change. I talk through my approach using the data and the coaching process, and then, “How do we exit? How do we know that the development plan has got momentum? I’m no longer needed for regular intervention but I’m here on call for follow-up refinement.”
It’s a little bit like working out. Once you get your training program in place and you’ve got your fitness level in the right place, maybe it’s only check-in with a trainer because you are now able to self-sustain your program. That’s how I would do it, George. In terms of introducing coaching to a company that hasn’t had coaches, one of the things is to be credible and have used a coach before. That’s one way. This goes in any HR area except for probably an HRS, where it’s new to the company. I love the pilot. I don’t know why more HR executives don’t utilize the pilot to see, “Let’s see if this works. Let’s see if this has legs in our company.”
Pick a high potential. Don’t pick a reclamation to first test out coaching because the reclamation by definition is you are dealing with someone who has some obstinance to change or otherwise, you as a company would have gotten it done. Start with a solid citizen. It doesn’t have to be high potential. Introduce the coaching with them and let that be a way of showing folks that this can be an effective process. Talk about your own experience with coaching and not be someone who just prescribes medicine but you actually take the medicine.
Tom, when I was chatting with a few CHROs, I said, “There’s this great big spend on culture, climate surveys, leadership development and LMS.” It has been my experience and you tell me if I’m wrong, we don’t set aside money and investment in our executives, which are the drivers of the results of the culture survey, your productivity, sales and R&D. We have talked about it since we wrote the book. It’s what the Talent War Group is all about. Talent makes a difference. You can’t, if you are an HR professional in any organization, think despite what it looks, that your execs have it all figured out and that you can’t improve.
If you are doing leadership development and if you have a mentorship program in your company, you should probably ask yourself why you don’t employ executive coaches. My advice to a lot of my HR counterparts would be, look at coaching and look at what you could gain. Things may be going great. That’s even the best time because if you are trying to do it when a crisis occurs, calamity occurs, or culture is going down or attrition is going up, you are behind the curve on that one. When you have the opportunity to look and pilot an executive coach, if you are a new HR senior leader, you should bring him in and you should be looking for those things that we talked about. We covered this well but I wanted to know what you are bringing home thoughts were when it comes to coaching.
What you brought up is a great bring home though because I hadn’t been thinking about it leading into the show or during this. It’s something that came up in my previous CHRO role, which is we will spend millions on technology, reward recognition programs, comp studies and HRSs. I love workday success factors but what does it take to implement those and maintain those on an annual basis for a 3,000 to 5,000 to 10,000-person company in seats? It’s a lot of money. The best companies have set aside funds for leadership development.
I bet you most of us are often faced with going to the CEO or the CFO and saying, “I would like to do X around leadership development. I would like to try this executive coaching with the high potentials that we identified through our succession planning. I’ve got a set of coaches lined up. Here’s the money,” but there’s no budget. The way I have done it, George, is I’ve gotten it through the business unit. The conversation and value proposition to business unit leaders spending money on their high potential executives to get developed has been easier than going to the CFO with a large number around leadership development, whether it’s through coaching or something else.
To get one coach in is not so hard to swallow in terms of a P&L head to do it broadly across. We did 200-plus executives at one time at AOL. To do that executive development accelerant, it wasn’t an inoculation because each one had a different assessment readout and a different coach for a 9 to 12-month period, and then their business unit could sign up for more. That was about a culture change and a business model change we were making and not feeling like our leaders were ready to make a pivot. We felt this was a way to accelerate that pivot.
The natural budgeting process often doesn’t include this leadership development, executive coaching dollars but you’ve got to think ahead as to what the value proposition would be for that. Everyone gets why you have to have an HRS but it’s way more critical to your strategy to have great leaders. To me, it’s way better money spent if you can identify the right coaches, find the right fit and have the right process. Also, have ancillary development things in your company that supports top to bottom leadership development, which is what we are attempting to do at the Talent War Group in our consulting engagements. We are not coming at it from one thing. We are trying to build an ecosystem of leadership development for our clients. That’s the mission of our management consulting firm.
That’s a great way to wrap it up. That was the one thing that you and I have learned, Mike and I have learned, and Karli’s learned. Our time in the military is we are constantly investing in leadership. Nobody calls out executive coaching, which is why we wanted to talk about it. I hope that everybody found this a little bit beneficial or a lot beneficial. If you have more questions, you can reach out to Tom@TalentWarGroup.com or George@TalentWarGroup.com. Follow us on LinkedIn and certainly visit us at TalentWarGroup.com. We would love to help, advise or point you in the right direction. Not everybody needs executive coaching.
It’s one of those things that’s near and dear to our hearts. We talked about hiring. People don’t leave bad companies. They leave bad leaders. That leadership starts from the top. If you are going to be spending money on leadership development, do not ignore your executives. They live in a fishbowl. They don’t know what they don’t know and everybody can get better. Great executive coaches can make an immeasurable difference to the bottom line of your company. I hope you start looking at it from the new lens that we have presented. Tom, the last thing I was going to ask you is, do you have a team that you think is going to take the win in the Tour de France or do you have a rider you think is going to take it all early in the tour?
Lokar, which you probably don’t know, is a Slovenian name. I’m on my third Colnago. Tadej Pogacar, the defending champion, that 21-year-old phenom from Slovenia, is going with his UAE team on his Colnago. He’s going to take the top step of the podium when they ride into Paris.
Do you think his team is going to take him there?
He’s got a stronger team than 2020 but he drafts off of Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers and then kicks their butt up the hill at the end of the mountain stages through the Alps and double Ventoux. That will be interesting, double Ventoux in the heat. I don’t know Tadej’s staying power in heat because that’s in the lower Center of France. It’s hot and they are going to do it twice. That stage is in the teens, that will be telling, that might be the difference-maker in the tour. Who’s going to win the Euro Cup?
I’m not even going there. I haven’t quite figured out who’s going to take it yet. I’m not impressed by anybody. I don’t think anybody has got their collective stuff together at this point, to be honest with you. I don’t see anybody firing on all cylinders. It’s anybody’s take at the moment. For those of you that don’t know cycling, 2,000 to 2,100 miles total they are about to start to finish at the tour.
A shit ton of climbing. Hundreds of thousands of feet of climbing on narrow French roads, which I have done a couple of times with a friend of mine. I don’t think any of the routes that they are going up, I have gone up before but they are all super intimidating. The Alps and the Pyrenees, unlike the Rockies, the Wasatch or the Cascade, rise up from zero elevation. Here in America, we ride from Texas at about 600 feet. You are probably at 1,500 in Austin. We ride to the Colorado Plateau and by the time we get to Denver, we are at 5,000 feet.
If you are going to Durango, Vail or Aspen, it’s another 6,000 feet there in France, Spain and Italy. When you get to the Alps, they rise up from the ground. They may be only 8,000 or 9,000 feet but to look at them and to think about crossing over them on one of these passes, passeios or colles, it’s super intimidating. The climbs are hard but thinking about having to go down at 50 to 60 miles per hour, hairpin turns and hundreds of leather-jacketed motorbikers coming past you, it’s intense there in the summer but it’s amazing.
The max I have done on descent is about 56 or 57 miles an hour and I was grateful for carbon brake pads. Let’s just say that. Folks, we do appreciate you reading this episode. Connect with us at TalentWarGroup.com, Tom@TalentWarGroup.com, or George@TalentWarGroup.com. Certainly follow us on LinkedIn. We thank you all and we hope you have a great, productive and kickass week. We are out.
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