Oct 022008

Dr. Earl R. Smith II

I do a lot of executive coaching and my favorite focus is on leadership coaching. It is in this area that I have been able to help clients make the greatest changes – reap the biggest benefits. From a coach’s perspective, it has also been the source of the greatest satisfactions – to watch a client master their own tendencies and become a far better, more effective leader than they ever thought they could be.

In leadership coaching engagements, clients tend to be very serious about making gains at a strategic level. They focus on making changes in how they lead – how they deal with people – how they deal with complex situations – and how they are perceived as leaders.

The journey to achieving such changes begins with a successful effort at deepening self-knowledge. One of the two great lessons carved on the entrance to the temple of the oracle in Delphi – know thyself – is the great beacon that drives every client – every leadership coaching engagement – forward. My engagements with clients begin with this great undertaking. However, the real progress starts when they begin to realize that they are not alone on this path.

In his preface to Ecce Homo,[1] Friedrich Nietzsche put it well when he responded to the question of why he would write a book describing himself.

Hear me! For I am such and such a person. Above all, do not mistake me for someone else.

It is a fundamental human need to be understood – and not to be mistaken for someone else. The first stage on the journey of self-discovery is much like looking in a mirror and studying your reflection closely. The second stage is to see others through those eyes that have become better at seeing what is rather than insisting on what you think should be. However, the third stage – and this is the one that really stimulates the growth – is to discard the mirror and really begin to see yourself through the eyes of others. All three visions are necessary to make a great leader – and all three visions must be not only vivid but also accurate.

The first stage can being on apprehensions and a sense of vertigo. It is my role as a coach to make those first few steps as manageable as possible. In a fundamental way, I am acting as the mirror – reflecting back what I see and sense – helping the client discover the real person behind the mask that they may have spent a lifetime constructing. Very often we spend a great deal of time disagreeing – with the client insisting that I am mistaken and that they are really the person that they have been projecting to the world. However, with effort and persistence, they and I gradually become able to introduce the real self to the real self.

With increased self-knowledge, the client is then lead on a new journey – a reintroduction to the people in the world around them. It is at this point that one of the great epiphanies happens. One client told me then she reached this point “I never really knew these people, did I?” My response was “No, you did not – and never would have until you knew and accepted yourself the way you have”. Strong self-knowledge makes it possible to see and accept others as they really are rather than how you need them to be or insist that they are.

The second great epiphany comes when we move to the question of “How am I seen by others”? This is the great lesson that opens the door to leadership development. I call this vision the ‘sense outside of the self’. Both prior stages need to be completed before this is possible. Increases self-knowledge makes it possible to know better who you are. Clearer insight into others makes it possible to see who they are. When you have accomplished these two difficult journeys and have gained a trust in their reliability, you can then receive the visions of others with confidence and gratitude.

Leadership coaching can help you make this journey and become a far better leader than you ever thought was possible. With the right coach as your guide, you can open possibilities that you only dreamt of. The journey is yours to make – the life is yours to live.

© Dr. Earl R. Smith II




[1] Behold the Man

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