My work with executives tends to focus on two areas – changing behavior and developing skills. The first area is by far the more personal – and often the source of greater discomfort and conflict. I have written elsewhere about self-sabotaging behaviors. We all have them and most of us are unaware of how much they damage our lives and careers. Any good coach will focus on these behaviors because changing them is the single most effective way of improving a client’s life and professional prospects.
Behavior change involves real change that follows increased awareness. The later is easy compared to the former. I often sit in on meetings that clients are leading and have a front row seat. Behaviors, which generate conflicts and misunderstandings, crop up all the time. My clients tend to attribute the turmoil to the complexity of the situation. The challenge is for them to realize that their behaviors are making the situation more complex than it needs to be. Arriving at that realization is a difficult and stressful journey.
One of the most effective approaches is to reverse the roles in a simulation of the meeting or event that caused the conflict. I like to have these sessions in a public place – it tends to moderate the responses. I will take the role of the client and the client plays the other person in the scenario. The first reaction is always ‘I did not act that way’ or ‘I did not say it that way’. Then I pull out my tape recorder and play back the actual session! After some pyrotechnics, the work can begin.
Once the realization advances beyond an intellectual discussion and the client begins to own their behaviors, we can begin to discuss ways of replacing the bad habit with a good one. My experience is that it generally takes a couple of months to accomplish this. Backsliding is always a possibility. However, the awareness of the bad habit supports the process.
The second area – developing skills – also has some intensely personal aspects. Some of my clients do not like the process of running a business – even though they are occupying the role of CEO. Mostly this is because they are not comfortable with the ‘technologies’ involved. As an example, many do not like to read financial statements. Others avoid the stress that comes with building and managing a growing team.
I spend a lot of time teaching executive coaching clients what it means to be a CEO of a growing company. They need to learn the difference between the ‘business of the business’ and the ‘business of business’. Once they accept that distinction, they need to look inwardly and decide whether they are willing and able to assume the true role of CEO – to be the leader that the team and company needs them to be. In a significant percentage of the time, they decide that they are not capable of remaking themselves into a CEO – and that is a therapeutic outcome. When they do decide to make the quantum leap, I work with them to help them gain the skills necessary to fill the role.
The coaching session can focus on any of the areas that fall onto the shoulders of a CEO. We may work on establishing or expanding a CRM system, professionalizing and learning to work with a financial management and reporting structure, establish a more professional quality control protocol or many other areas. Most of my clients feel a bit of vertigo during the early stages of this process – many feel that they are being ‘lifted’ out of the business of the business – less relevant than they were. However, in the end, they all realize that the business of business is becoming so important that they need to make the journey and become what the company needs them to be.
My approach to coaching incorporates aspects of psychology but is not therapy. During an engagement, the client and I will work on such diverse issues as behavior, social interaction, corporate culture, personal development, leadership success and behaviors such as emotions, feelings, sentiments and attitudes. All of these areas and more at useful in helping the client to become the kind of person they need to be in order to fill their role. I also draw on the business disciplines. We may work on growing knowledge, expanding skills, identifying and developing abilities, reflecting on experiences, finding and developing talents and learning about the business of business.
Over the years, I have learned that both of these areas need to progress in concert. One without the other will not allow the client to develop adequately. Both require change – and change that becomes habit. The demands of a leadership role in the modern business world demand it. My contribution is to help them make the changes and turn them into productive habits.
If you want to learn more about my coaching services, send me an e-mail and we will arrange a time to talk.
© Dr. Earl R. Smith II