Home Leadership All CEO’s Need An Executive Coach #2: The Decision to be Vulnerable (more thoughts)

All CEO’s Need An Executive Coach #2: The Decision to be Vulnerable (more thoughts)

by John Mattone
“When CEO’s and all leaders start displaying an equal or greater passion for wanting to achieve accuracy and objectivity in how they are seen as leaders compared to the passion they display for wanting to achieve accuracy and objectivity in the operations they manage, this will mark the beginning to the end of the world’s leadership crisis”…John Mattone

A few weeks ago I wrote about how lonely it is in the corner office….my #1 reason why coaching in the c-suite is so important in today’s business world. Today, I write more about my #2 reason, which is the decision to be vulnerable (which I also wrote about back in December).

Recent trips to Pakistan, Turkey, Africa, Italy, Canada, Mexico and of course my travels throughout the U.S., working with senior leaders and senior leadership groups—from the private and public sector– has reinforced what I knew to be the case two years ago when I started writing my book, Intelligent Leadership: We have no shortage of raw intellect in the world. There are a lot of smart people in the world! But, we do have a massive shortage of people who can lead other people—whether we are talking about industry, government, or schools. Being a great leader does require intellect, but a person with raw intellect in no way guarantees that they will become a great leader. We have a worldwide massive gap in leadership. There are over 50,000 books currently in print on the topic of leadership (yes, I have contributed to this number!). Each year there are countless speeches, seminars and conferences on the topic of leadership (and, yes, I have contributed here too!). Yet, despite all the books, seminars, and conferences, I still see a massive and deeply troubling leadership gap in the world. Actually, it is a leadership crisis. Why is this leadership crisis happening? There are many theories. Here’s mine: Becoming a great leader begins precisely when/if you make the most important decision you will ever make as a leader…..the decision to be vulnerable. The question I love to ask leaders I coach is this: “Are you willing and, most importantly, do you have the guts to looks inside the depths of your soul and accept that while you do have “gifts” and strengths, that you also have weaknesses? I hear from many leadership coaches that the real reason for our present leadership crisis is the gap between how leaders see themselves and how others see them. Call it the lack of “self-awareness”. These inevitable “blind-spots” are  career limiting. The wider the gap, the more resistance there is to change. All of this is true! However, the existence of “blind-spots” and gaps in “self-awareness” will only occur when a leader makes what I view as the most destructive decision they can ever make (for themselves, their teams, and their organization) which is the decision not to be vulnerable.

Great leaders make people around them successful. They are passionate and committed, authentic, courageous, honest and reliable. But in today’s fast-paced, high-pressured environment, leaders need a coach, a mentor, or someone they can trust to help them make the decision to be vulnerable so they can learn the real truth about their behavior. After coaching over 200 senior executives from various organizations all over the world, here’s what I want to share: When CEO’s and all leaders start displaying an equal or greater passion for wanting to achieve accuracy and objectivity in how they are seen as leaders compared to the passion they display for wanting to achieve accuracy and objectivity in the operations they manage, this will mark the beginning to the end of the world’s leadership crisis. Unfortunately, most CEO’s and other executives rarely get the required level of accuracy and objectivity from their direct employees and even more infrequently from board members.

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman and former CEO of Google, once said that his best advice to new CEOs was “have a coach.” Schmidt goes on to say “once I realized I could trust him [the coach] and that he could help me with perspective, I decided this was a great idea”.

John Kador, who has written about this subject, argues that while board members can be helpful, most CEOs shy away from talking to the board about their deepest uncertainties. Other CEOs can lend a helping ear, but there are barriers to complete honesty and trust. Kador writes, “No one in the organization needs an honest, close and long term relationship with a trusted advisor more than a CEO.” Kador reports conversations with several high profile CEOs: “Great CEOs, like great athletes, benefit from coaches that bring a perspective that comes from years of knowing you, the company and what you need to do as a CEO to successfully drive the company forward,” argues William R. Johnson, CEO of the H.J. Heinz Co., “every CEO can benefit from strong, assertive and honest coaching.”

Great leadership starts at the top. Great leaders create environments that they build on an unshakeable foundation of openness, honesty and trust that serves to unlock and unleash individual and collective greatness. Individual and collective greatness will never be achieved in any organization unless every leader and employee in that organization learns to make the decision to be vulnerable.

It starts with the CEO.

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