Executive coaches help people make the most of a wide range of opportunities.
Any number of precipitating circumstances can prompt leaders to seek an executive coach.
Though coaching draws upon many specific skills, each executive coaching client is unique and has unique needs. However, experience in coaching teaches that there are many common categories of client needs. Some of these client needs are straightforward and easy to articulate, while others are more vague and hard to define.
But the experienced executive coach will have the diagnostic tools and listening skills necessary to help clients first and foremost define and articulate what they need from the coaching relationship. At the beginning of a coach-client engagement, the coach must climb a learning curve too. Coaching is far from a one-size-fits-all proposition, and a coach must gain a holistic, 360-degree view of the client in order to provide the best services.
Some executive coaches specialize in certain types of clients or in certain industries, but many of them work across industries and with a broad range of clients. Whether they specialize or not, successful coaches know how to listen and how to help clients make sense of their needs and put them into words. Here are nine types of executive coaching opportunities where coaches and clients can make tremendous strides together.
1. The Need to Build a Better, Stronger Culture
I have said it many times before and it is still one of my strongest convictions: leadership is the single biggest determinant of organizational culture. Culture may be haphazard and amorphous, or it may be well-defined and honed over the years. Much depends on the quality of leadership.
The reason leaders enlist coaches to assist with leadership development that strengthens culture is because they know how vital culture is to success. A company with a vibrant culture has an easier time hiring, experiences less employee turnover, and has fewer problems with morale or productivity. In contrast, the company that pays little attention to culture tends to have higher employee turnover, productivity problems, low employee engagement, and lackluster morale.
Leaders who engage an executive coach to help with developing leadership skills that promote positive culture have already taken the major step of understanding the importance of developing a healthy work culture. With the help of an executive coach, they can evaluate their leadership style and tendencies and learn what supports strong culture, and what is detrimental to a strong culture. The good news is, when leadership is committed to improving company culture, it has its best possible chance for success.
2. We’re a VC-Backed Startup and Need to Communicate with Investors
Startups begin with a brilliant business idea. Often the initial growth of these companies is the result of a series of funding “rounds” in which outside investors put money into the company in exchange for a slice of ownership. So-called “seed” funding usually comes first. Later funding rounds, typically labeled Series A, B, and C, are typical for companies that need to raise more capital than what their own pockets (and perhaps the generosity of family and friends) can support.
Leaders in VC-backed startups are often big on motivation, energy, and belief in their business. And while these are necessary ingredients to success, there’s still the matter of raising capital. To do this effectively, these leaders must be able to communicate effectively with existing and potential investors. They must develop the thick skin necessary to keep going after hearing “No” so they can get to the investors who say “Yes.”
Startup leaders may call upon executive coaching services to strengthen communication with investors.
Executive coaching can be just the thing to help leaders of VC-backed startups understand the importance of their communication skills when dealing with investors. Sure, investors are primarily interested in great opportunities. But when startup owners are unable to effectively communicate the greatness of the opportunity, they risk missing out on valuable funding. Coaching can help bridge these crucial communication gaps.
3. I Have Taken a New Leadership Role and Want to Succeed
One of the most common reasons for engaging an executive coach is the desire to succeed as a leader. Someone who is new to a major leadership role may hire their own executive coach, or their company may hire an executive coach for them. Either way, it is an investment in continuing success and excellent business results.
What it takes for a new leader to succeed in their role varies depending on the company, the role, and the individual. By working with an executive coach, a newly appointed leader can “get their arms around” the new role and determine which skills need improvement and which strengths can be strengthened further.
The assessment tools that many executive coaches (including myself) use at the outset of the coaching term are outstanding for helping both coach and client learn about the client’s strengths and weaknesses. With the information gleaned from assessment tools, it is much easier to recognize “blind spots” and set goals, along with the steps necessary to achieve those goals.
4. I’m Better with Technology Than I Am with People
Not everyone is a natural “people person,” but that doesn’t mean they can’t be outstanding leaders. In the tech sector especially, people may rise through the ranks of leadership based more on their technological prowess than on what people may consider traditional leadership skills. But at some point, leaders must learn how to lead people and not just technological projects.
Often, leaders in tech companies find themselves leading mostly people from technical backgrounds, and therefore their own technological chops matter. At the same time, however, businesses also include roles like HR, payroll, and finance, and the professionals in these departments may not be tech wizards. A great leader knows how to lead all the types of people that make up the business.
An executive coach can work with high-ranking leaders from tech backgrounds to more fully understand their obligations and help them develop a more well-rounded leadership style that works with both the technology-oriented parts of the business and the non-tech parts. The goal isn’t to turn someone with a long career in IT into a glad-handing social butterfly. Rather, it is to help these leaders develop strong communication, delegation, conflict resolution, and other skills so that their extensive tech knowledge forms a basis for outstanding organizational leadership.
5. My Team Is Mired in Analysis Paralysis
Budgets are tight, stakes are high, and nobody wants to be the one to make a major mistake. When leaders are afraid of making a bad decision, that tension is overtly or covertly apparent to team members. Consequently, they may become afraid of decision-making, for fear of reprisal or making their boss look bad.
Teams generally want to excel – to innovate and do things better so that the overall organization elevates itself to a higher level of performance. That’s a good thing! The problem comes from getting into a mindset that never settles for the existing solution but keeps seeking better alternatives. This can lead to overthinking, overanalyzing, and continual postponement of decision-making.
Due consideration is good for business decisions. Overthinking and over-analysis are not.
Guarding against failure can sometimes become counterproductive. “Analysis paralysis” ultimately quashes morale and raises anxiety. Breaking out of it requires (among other things) good leadership. Specifically, leaders must develop their skill at prioritizing decisions, determining goals for decisions, and setting aside the idea of perfection. The truth is, every decision will have a downside, and it’s up to leaders to ensure that this doesn’t keep them and their teams from moving forward.
6. We Need to Plan for Leadership Succession
Planning for leadership succession can feel a little morbid. But not planning for leadership succession can lead to chaos. Companies that are best prepared for the future are the ones that build their own “leadership pipeline,” identifying high-performance and high-potential individuals and offering them the leadership development they need to take on increasingly larger leadership roles.
In multi-generational, family-owned businesses, leadership succession may appear to be automatic, but that doesn’t mean preparation is unnecessary. In fact, succession can be thornier in family-owned businesses if there are disputes about family members’ roles in the future of the organization. The right executive coach can bring a valuable outside perspective and help the leadership team (and the future leaders) understand others’ points of view and establish a workable plan.
Similarly, executive coaches may be brought in when companies don’t have a strong leadership succession plan and are suddenly and unexpectedly faced with replacing a top leader. The replacement leader may not feel prepared for their new role, and executive coaching can help. The executive coach’s tools for evaluating strengths and weaknesses and their skill at helping map out workable plans can help the unexpected leader get their feet under the table faster so that the company doesn’t experience the problems often associated with a “leadership vacuum.”
7. Our Company Grew Too Quickly
Fast growth sounds ideal. It means more money coming in, and it shows that the business clearly meets an unmet need. However, a company that grows too quickly can face problems, including:
- Management missteps
- Insufficient technology infrastructure
- Hiring mistakes
- Customer service that doesn’t scale effectively
- Cash flow problems
- Lack of financial oversight
While many of these companies need the services of business consultants to solve problems and get them on the right track, many of them could also benefit from executive coaching. Leading in a business that is stable or growing at a predictable pace is hard enough. Leading in a business that is growing rapidly is even more difficult.
With the help of an executive coach, the leader in a rapidly growing company can learn to spot problems earlier and develop workable solutions. For example, the company may need to hire more managers or more front-line employees, and it’s up to top-level leaders to recognize this situation rather than hoping things will work themselves out. As much as the typical company needs strong leadership, the fast-growing company needs it even more.
8. We’re Part of a Merger Between Two Companies with Different Cultures
Mergers and acquisitions can cause culture clashes that leaders must navigate.
Deloitte’s annual survey of M&A trends showed in 2019 that mergers and acquisitions were expected to happen at the same or a faster pace than in previous years. And this comes on the heels of several years of record mergers and acquisitions activity! Successful mergers and acquisitions depend most heavily on “effective integration” for success – more so than economic certainty and accurate target valuation.
Effective integration, of course, includes the effective integration of two leadership teams. In the high-profile and high-risk environment of a merger or acquisition, it’s an understatement to say that it isn’t easy. And if the companies merging each bring different work cultures, the task is even more fraught.
Executive coaching can bring much-needed stability to what may feel like a terribly unstable situation. By helping their clients develop their skills at things like understanding their leadership cohorts from the other side and understanding their own and the partner company’s cultures, the executive coach helps the client transition to a new, merged leadership team with less upheaval.
9. I’m Battling Perfectionism
On the surface, perfectionism sounds great. If you need a brain surgeon, for example, you certainly don’t want one who settles for “good enough.” But in most aspects of business, perfectionism ultimately damages productivity and paralyzes teams. For leaders with perfectionist tendencies, identifying the fine line between “attention to detail” and “perfectionism” is difficult.
At some point in attending to detail, you reach the point of diminishing returns, where nobody benefits from further extra effort. Recognizing this point allows you to get things done with excellence but without the nitpicky inutility of perfectionism.
People who are perfectionists may not recognize themselves as such. They may simply believe that they have high standards, both for themselves and for others. For perfectionists who recognize their tendency to micromanage and go well past the point of diminishing returns in pursuing excellence, executive coaching can help.
It’s not the job of the coach to get to the root cause of perfectionism, which may have its roots in fear of criticism or in how a person was raised. What a coach can do, however, is help the leader recognize perfectionism and micromanaging and learn how to reasonably examine risks. Leaders who learn to avoid perfectionism become better at delegating and better at using their valuable time to accomplish bigger goals.
Executive coaching relationships are as unique as their participants. Any executive coach with experience knows that no two coaching engagements are alike and that every coaching job will present new challenges. The nine executive coaching opportunities listed here are in no way exhaustive, but they do represent some of the more common situations that lead executives to pursue coaching.
Executive coaches aren’t business consultants, nor are they therapists. Their work involves helping leaders (and by extension their organizations) solve problems and achieve better business results. The benefits aren’t just for the coaching client, but for the people whom the client leads. Great executive coaching results radiate outward, inspiring and motivating people other than the actual client to perform better.
Whether your company needs outstanding leadership for strengthening culture, learning to communicate better with investors, making better decisions, planning leadership succession, or toward some other end, executive coaching has a proven track record and ROI. I have seen leaders elevate themselves and their organizations and I couldn’t be prouder seeing their hard work pay off.
Businesses invest in results, and executive coaching gets business results.
If you’re interested in learning more, I invite you to check out my leadership coaching services. And if you want to read about what leadership means in the 21st century and how you can become an Intelligent Leader, I encourage you to check out my books, including my latest book, The Intelligent Leader.
Glossary of Terms
360-degree view – information valuable to leadership assessment that includes feedback about leaders from leaders themselves, their direct reports, their peers, and their superiors
Analysis paralysis – the situation that arises when an individual or group overanalyzes or overthinks a situation to the point where moving forward and making a decision feels impossible
Executive coaching – an approach to personal and professional development designed to help executives improve self-awareness, strengthen strengths, address weaknesses, and fulfill professional goals
Funding rounds – defined periods of fundraising for startups designed to raise capital to help the new company grow. Typically, there is an initial seed round, followed by series A, B, and C rounds which take place at different points in company valuation growth.
Leadership pipeline – a company’s leadership “bench,” usually consisting of leaders at several levels, with leaders at lower levels being prepared to take on responsibilities at higher levels as senior leaders leave or retire
Leadership succession – a plan for replacing leaders who retire or leave
Micromanaging – a management style with excessive control of small or minor details. Micromanaging can lead to failure in placing necessary focus on important details and losing sight of the big picture.
Organizational culture – the assumptions, beliefs, values, and interaction styles that work together to create an organization’s unique social and psychological environment