Last week I talked about the first (i.e., it is lonely at the top) of several reasons why CEO’s need a coach and I introduced Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google, who in a powerful video excerpt talked about why he works with a coach. It is my experience and, in fact, there are ample research studies that now exist that support my premise that most CEO’s “in their head’s” want to work with a coach, however, when it comes to actually “executing the decision”, most decide not to work with a coach due to the negative stigma attached. In other words, most CEO’s frankly are concerned that their boards and key stakeholders will see it as a sign of weakness that they are in fact working with a coach.
We need more CEO’s like Eric Schmidt who are willing to talk about their experiences working with a coach if we are going to be successful in “moving this needle” in a positive direction. Unfortunately, it is my experience that most CEO’s who work with a coach will still require the coach to sign a “non-disclosure” thereby ensuring that their work together is held in the strictest confidence at least to the “outside” world. On the one hand, as a CEO coach I understand and respect this decision; yet, on the other hand, I firmly believe that most great CEO’s (e.g., Jeff Bezos at Amazon; Ann Mulcahy, the former CEO at Xerox; Bill Logue at FedEx Freight) can easily cite the one thing that allowed them to “breakthrough” to achieving leadership greatness and it was a singular, purposeful decision they made to be willing to be vulnerable. Some leaders make this decision early in their careers; some will make it later; some will never make it. This brings me to the 2nd powerful reason why CEO’s need a coach: an effective coach will help the CEO not only make the crucial decision to be vulnerable but, will also guide them to effectively implement this decision, so everyone benefits. One thing is sure, regardless of an executive’s level or when they make the decision, the decision to be vulnerable, without question is the toughest yet, most unleashing decision they will ever make. When you admit that you are “good”, but you are not as “good” as you can be and you (1) internalize and truly “come to grips” with this powerful realization; and (2) when you have the guts to share this decision with key stakeholders (i.e., board members, peers, employees), including the “outside world” (like Eric Schmidt), this becomes a breakthrough experience for the executive as they can now focus on the two levers that will propel them and their organizations to even greater heights–strengthening their gifts and strengths and addressing their leadership deficits. These two levers will never be activated unless they have made the decision to be vulnerable. This decision also lets their world know that they are human–they are real, authentic people (yes, just like the employees they lead) and they are living one of the most powerful leadership character elements that exists–humility.
CEO coaches can help executives make the decision to be vulnerable and guide them to experiencing the massive benefits of sharing their breakthrough decision with their world–their board, executive team, employees, even customers. There is nothing more powerful than when a senior executive says to his/her key stakeholders:
- “I know I am good; but I know I can be better”;
- “I want and need your honest feedback on what you see as my leadership gifts and strengths as well as those areas I need to address”; and
- “I recognize that I cannot become the best leader I can be without you–your honest feedback is what I will need on an on-going basis if I am going to be successful in this worthy pursuit of becoming the best leader I can be”.