Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Senior Leaders & Coaching – WIIFM? (What’s In It For Me?)

We are pleased to share an article entitled  Senior Leaders & Coaching – WIIFM? (What’s In It For Me?)”  written by  Carol Rosa Sabia, MCC, MBA, EdM

As coaches, we often make the case for why a senior leader would benefit from coaching. Senior leaders are very busy and already have too many priorities, so why would they consider adding yet another commitment to their lives?

I’ve given a lot of thought to this question and captured the following concepts that I’ve packaged into the acronym “BLAST,” and I’ve added some examples of how the concepts work. I hope this will help you make the case for coaching to your prospective clients.

B is for stepping on the BRAKE. 

Coaching gives time and space to pause and reflect on what your client’s leadership is like for them and their followers, what they would like it to be like, and what are the gaps.
Socrates is quoted as saying, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Coaching provides space for the leader to examine their life and leadership. Coaching goes deeper into understanding what’s making something a problem for the leader BEFORE it goes into what action to take.

Coaching has no agenda other than the one the leader brings to the table. It’s probably the only relationship in their life that is SOLELY about THEM.

Example:  A CEO used this BRAKE time to look at how striving for perfection was impacting him and his team at work. By taking time to look at what was driving his need for perfection, he was able to uncover that he feared letting go because he thought he would fail if he didn’t control things fully. What he came to realize was that by holding on so tightly to perfection, he was burning himself and his team out and wasn’t realizing the full results the team could be achieving. He was then able to step back and let go and trust others more. His leaders stepped up to the challenge and achieved more than they had when he was pushing for perfection.

L is for thinking out LOUD. 

Coaching is a place to think out LOUD and talk through the things that kick around in the leader’s brain, but never get airtime. The more senior the leader, the fewer people there are to talk out LOUD with. Rarely does a senior leader come to a coaching session with a very clear topic and goal. Often the leader will start to talk about various things they’ve been losing sleep over or ideas that keep surfacing from the back of their mind.

By talking out LOUD, the leader starts to get clarity about what it is that needs to be looked at – and the coach asks questions and reflects back to help the leader think more deeply about the idea. There is often a common thread in the various topics and, through the coaching process, the leader starts to see the connection and what is meaningful about these seemingly unrelated topics.

Example: A COO used this thinking out LOUD time to voice some frustration around decisions she was trying to make. She had several examples where important decisions needed to be made and she was getting pushback from multiple members of her team. As she talked out LOUD, it became clear her team expected her to make sure everyone was fully satisfied before she made a decision.

At first she directed her frustration at her leaders, wondering why they were giving her such a difficult time. She then shifted the focus to what was her role in the decision delays.

She realized she was being driven by a desire to please everyone. This “people-pleasing” tendency had come up before, but this was the first time it became clear that it was having a dire impact on her decisions.

By stepping back, this leader was able to see that she wouldn’t be pleasing anyone if she continued to let “people-pleasing” hold her back. She was able to reframe the situations, consider the inputs from her leadership team, and then make decisions based on what was best for the business overall. This clarity and awareness unlocked decision-making across the board for her.  

A is for being AUTHENTIC

Most senior leaders are less focused on the fundamentals of leadership and more focused on how they want their leadership to be experienced in their organization. Coaching creates a space to explore the leader’s true “personality, spirit, or character” – their AUTHENTIC nature, as defined by Merriam-Webster. Coaching supports the leader’s journey to authenticity and helps the leader define who they are at their most authentic self. 

Example: One CFO was remembering ways in which he felt he had to hide things about himself in the past and how that wasn’t what he wanted for himself any longer.
This leader got clear about what was really important to him, how he wanted to live his life, and what he uniquely brought to the business world that would expand his influence and leave a more lasting impact. He more consistently brought this full, AUTHENTIC self to his leadership role and to life in general. Not only did he feel more alive and engaged, he was also achieving better results!

S is for SAFETY

Trust is important in coaching and must be at the foundation of any coaching relationship – SAFETY builds on that trust and is critical. A leader certainly needs to trust that their coach won’t share anything they talk about – coaches are bound by confidentiality requirements, so this is the minimum that can be expected in working with a coach.

SAFETY is more about how the leader feels when interacting with their coach. They need to feel they can share their most vulnerable thoughts and self-doubts with their coach. If these vulnerabilities are not faced, they often limit the leader’s effectiveness. By naming and facing the self-doubt, the leader can move beyond it and thrive. 

Example: A Division President was feeling like she wasn’t as smart as the technical people working for her, which caused her to hold back on leading in a way she knew would benefit the business.

This sense of “inadequacy” dated back to some early experiences that she had never fully dealt with, nor had she ever spoken about this self-doubt. By unpeeling that experience of inadequacy in a SAFE space, she was able to acknowledge what had made her feel inadequate. She named her self-doubt, confronted it, and realized that she had since moved beyond those early challenges.

With this new perspective, she was able to lead her team confidently while acknowledging her value-added leadership to her team’s technical knowledge.

T is for Learning the Truth

A leader can use the coaching space to tell the TRUTH about themselves, to hear the TRUTH about themselves, and to stand firm in their own TRUTH. For senior leaders, TRUTH about how they’re perceived can be hard to come by. Many coaches use confidential 360-feedback to help leaders better understand how they’re perceived by their manager, peers, and direct reports. How a leader is perceived often differs from what they intend and 360-feedback can give a valuable insights into gaps between a leader’s intentions and others’ perceptions.

Example: A CTO received 360 feedback and was shocked to learn that he came across as arrogant, especially to his peers. While being arrogant wasn’t his intention, he came to realize that he often focused on making sure people knew he was “smart” and this contributed to their perception of him as arrogant. As he unpeeled what was important to him about “being smart” and realized that no one questioned his intelligence (which was clear from the 360 feedback), he was able to let go of his need to prove himself and focus more on building collaborative relationships with his peers. Six months later when his peers were asked, the word most often used to describe the CTO was “humble”! 

You may find all five of the BLAST concepts helpful or maybe you’ll focus on one or two of them to make the case to your potential clients about the benefits of coaching. Or perhaps you have your own concepts. Let’s spread the word about the value of coaching leaders so we can continue to help leaders build healthy organizations everywhere.

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