The role of a chief executive officer in any company or organization is an intimidating role to fill. While a position at the top is a desirable one, the regrettable assumption is that the CEO of a successful company is the person expected to have all the answers. It’s true that executives typically rise to the C-suite based on their ability to make sound decisions, but they are only one person. Furthermore, the company CEO is the person most likely to be operating in a silo. It’s no surprise that collaboration, feedback, and teamwork often improve the performance of employees at successful companies. Yet, the CEO often doesn’t have access to non-conflicted, disinterested parties within the business to turn to for advice, collaboration, and counsel.

An experienced CEO coach provides company leaders with access to timely guidance and counsel from an objective third party who has walked in their shoes, isn’t caught up in office politics, and has no personal interest in the company’s internal or external workings. In other words, as the CEO, you can seek unbiased information and business counsel from someone with an extensive network outside your business who can offer an array of options, frameworks, and experiences not always found inside the organization.

What is a CEO Coach?

A CEO coach is a trusted advisor who offers encouragement and support, as well as candid criticism and feedback about actions, decisions, and their second-, third-, and fourth-order effects. Most executive coaches were successful business owners or CEOs, so they have the experience to understand where you are and the impact your decisions can have on your company. CEO coaches have vast experience with businesses in various industries and have the flexibility to provide the services that provide you with the most significant value.

In a big-picture sense, a CEO coach is an experienced advisor who can help you leverage your strengths and identify your weaknesses to help co-create a framework for better decisions. They’re available to help you evaluate potential responses to significant decisions and help clients maintain the competitive edge to remain in the C-suite.

Why Would a CEO Want to Retain a Coach?

The CEO has already reached the top position in the company. Given that they’ve reached the highest position attainable, some might ask why a CEO would want to retain a coach.
Most successful chief executives made early career investments by building their skill set, knowledge base, and subject matter expertise to become undisputed experts in their field. These efforts provided a considerable payoff, yet many leaders make minimal investments in their growth after reaching the C-suite, where the risks and opportunities are the greatest.

CEOs need a coach to continue expanding personal and professional development, and to gain instant access to valued, trusted collaboration when most needed. By seeking counsel from an experienced peer, great leaders can continue gaining perspective and making one great decision after another.

Brief History of Executive and CEO Coaching

The concept of leadership coaching hasn’t always been positive. In fact, it was widely described as counseling and a practice applied when things were going poorly. For instance, executive or CEO coaching was something a company would resort to when a CEO was wrong for the job or out of their depth. Other reasons for leadership coaching could have been poor conduct from an otherwise high-performing executive or decreased business performance. Essentially it was seen as rehabilitation for poor performance.

Like technology, businesses and the executives who lead them must evolve. In all business areas, ongoing education is crucial to continued success and maintaining a competitive edge. This recognition makes an investment in leadership coaching a positive development choice instead of a remedial exercise. It’s difficult to maintain a growing enterprise without a chief executive who is also demonstrating a growth mindset – not just demanding it of others.

How CEO Coaching Has Changed Over Time

As a process to remediate poor performance, leadership coaching had a specific problem to fix. As a result, such efforts likely impacted the improvement of specific issues. The recognition of coaching as a conductor of leadership growth likely came about with deeper insights into measurable results. Companies that invested in development, and particularly CEO development, outperformed their competitors. CEO coaching is now broadly seen as the objective gold standard to develop more companies that outperform their competitors.

Why CEO Coaches Have Gained Popularity

As companies have become more adept at recognizing the connection between leaders as role models and company-wide success, CEO coaching has gained considerable popularity. The CEO sets the tone for the company. Therefore, successful leadership coaching can benefit entire companies.

How CEOs and Companies Benefit from CEO Coaching

A CEO’s ability to adapt to change is part of what makes them good leaders. Yet, if leaders don’t continue education and leadership development efforts, they lose perspective and cede advantage to competitors who operate with a focus on modernity. Furthermore, CEOs often work in silos without all the information they need to make sound decisions absent counsel and collaboration. CEO coaching provides insights into how leaders run a company and offers an outside perspective for more informed decision-making with these benefits.

Allows You to Get Unbiased Feedback

As the leader, the CEO doesn’t have peers within the company. Consider the restrictions of seeking feedback from individuals reporting to you. Employees are not in a position to tell you hard truths about your shortcomings or offer candid criticism of your actions. They can’t hold you accountable for your actions and will likely be concerned for their position within the company.

A CEO coach provides a diverse perspective to help you become a more effective, well-rounded leader. Your coach can offer unbiased feedback to help you grow without hidden agendas and conflicts of interest.

Provides Accountability

Too many leaders slow down upon reaching the C-suite. It’s as if there is nothing left to achieve. Yet, as the CEO, you have the greatest impact and arguably the most influence over the company’s continued success. A CEO coach can help you frame a roadmap to operationalize your strategic intent and help you constantly reimagine, reframe, and readjust as needed.

Helps You Address Big-Picture Issues

The grind of day-to-day operations can muddle your view of big challenges or, more importantly, hide big opportunities that align with overall business success. Establishing a regular rhythm and cadence to your communications flow with your coach to clarify priorities, address issues holding you back, and create white space to step back to see the forest instead of the trees can give you a broader perspective of the business and how your contributions can lead to success.

Identifies Blind Spots

They’re called blind spots for a reason – you can’t see them. Everyone has blind spots at the enterprise, team, and individual levels. The only way to create visibility to your blind spots is to garner feedback from a peer who can understand your position and still see why your viewpoint may need to be nuanced. A qualified CEO coach has the appropriate business experience and a clear understanding of how to better navigate the minefield that chief executives walk through daily. They’re in the perfect position to see what you’re missing.

Achieve Your Goals Faster

As a CEO, you’re only as good as your last decision. Hasty actions or being slow to respond can lead to costly fallout and considerable waste. Still, keeping up with the speed of business is a necessity in any competitive market. Executive coaching helps keep you focused and provides sound strategies to help you meet your goals faster without time-consuming mistakes.

The Executive Coaching Process

Effective CEO coaching is customized to your needs and works in conjunction with your unique leadership skill set. By taking a multi-pronged approach to coaching, CEOs can unlock hidden value that is virtually unattainable in any other professional relationship.

One-on-One Sessions with an Executive Coach

Only 14% of CEOs say they have the leadership talent they need to execute their strategy. One-on-one coaching sessions dive deep into your specific issues and goals. Discussions may be focused on business strategies, individual and team development, public policy, capital markets, board dynamics, market atmospherics, pressing cultural and social issues, clients, or any number of other issues unique to you. These in-depth sessions can offer insight into the issues that can help you move forward as a more effective leader.

Solve Challenges with Your Group

Changing dynamics and evolving business practices can serve as a disruption to executive teams. Individual assessments and curated sessions addressing your team’s cultural dynamics can improve interconnectedness and act as a recalibration for management teams.

How CEO Coaches and Clients Measure Progress

Effective CEO coaching is conducted in a manner that provides the most value for the client. For this reason, it’s essential to set goals at the beginning and track progress along the way. These goals will help both the coach and client measure progress in ways that are meaningful to the client. In some situations, progress may be measured simply by talking over achieved milestones with the coach. When tangible goals are part of the process, the completion of specific goals can be used to measure progress.

Coaching sessions can be used to discuss everyone that will potentially be affected by the accomplishments achieved. Progress can be measured as these impacts are recognized. Alternatively, some goals include hard metrics (like revenue hurdles, IP development, or go-to market issues surrounding new product releases) that can be tallied with results.

When the CEO grows, everyone else should grow as a result of changes in the workplace. Routine surveys and feedback offerings can be used to measure progress as well. The way progress is measured should be practical and feel like a tangible success to the client as part of a custom service.

Outcomes Achieved in Executive Coaching

Typically, CEOs and other business leaders who commit to coaching find that the process is very effective. In the same way that strategic learning efforts and development opportunities helped them rise to the C-suite, the time and effort invested in CEO coaching helps improve leadership skills. Here are a few reasons why executive coaching works.

It Holds You to Your Word and Your Vision

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that when you hold the top position in the company, you are accountable for yourself. While this can feel like a safe place to be, it is nothing short of naivety and folly. As CEO, you are accountable to everyone and will be held accountable (one way or another) by everyone. Leaders not accountable to their people will eventually be held accountable by their people. As the CEO, you have the vision to make the company the best it can be. A coach will help you maintain the correct perspective on accountability. You are the single greatest threat to your success. Having a sound thought partner in your corner in the form of a CEO coach is invaluable.

Leveling People Acumen with Business Acumen

A good CEO coach can help you learn the art of seeing around corners – it’s not as hard as you think. CEOs who possess the greatest vision and the best view of the future know it’s critical to tap into the lens of the people. To understand the future, one must truly, deeply, and richly understand people. People are the key to the future. It’s the people who make today’s decisions (good and bad) that pave the path to the future. If you want to predict the future, you must become very good at understanding and engaging people of influence. Sure, go ahead and study business, but if you don’t master the study of people, all the business knowledge in the world won’t help.

It Makes You a Better Decision-Maker

The one thing everyone on the planet has in common is the undeniable fact we’ve all made our fair share of regrettable decisions. Show me someone who hasn’t made a bad decision and I’ll show you someone who is either not being honest, or someone who avoids decisions at all costs. Making sound decisions is a skill set that needs to be developed like any other. As a person who works with CEOs on a daily basis, I can tell you with great certitude that all leaders are not created equal when it comes to the competency of their decision-making skills. Nothing will test your leadership mettle more than your ability to make decisions.

The complexity of the current business landscape, combined with ever-increasing expectations of performance, and the speed at which decisions must be made, are a potential recipe for disaster for today’s CEO unless a defined, yet fluid methodology for decision-making is put into place. Having access to a qualified CEO coach will simply allow you to make faster, better decisions.

It Removes Operational Roadblocks

As a CEO you cannot remain exclusively at the 30,000 foot level. You also cannot afford to get sucked down into non-critical day-to-day operating issues. Effective CEOs develop a sixth sense of how to appropriately engage at all levels of the enterprise – it’s both art and science. A CEO coach acts as an executive mentor that helps you adjust focus and engagement so the tip of the spear is always pressing on the right issues, challenges and constituencies, and opportunities.

It Encourages Renewed Curiosity and Openness

Among many other things, curiosity helps frame vision, advances learning, fuels passion, and drives innovation. Curiosity often inspires the courage to discuss the undiscussable, challenge current thinking, deviate from behaviors accepted as normal, and to do what others previously thought impossible. By the way, smart CEOs realize the plausibility of impossibility only becomes a probability with the disappearance of leadership, and real leadership demands curiosity.

The best leaders understand that usual and customary are not necessarily synonymous with healthy and thriving. The real key to curiosity begins with an open mind – a recognition that those who think differently aren’t inferior, nor are they a threat.

A CEO coach can become a trusted advisor to help you open up to the possibility of new ideas and get your creative juices flowing.

Examples of CEOs Who Praise the Benefits of CEO Coaching

Some of the world’s most successful company leaders recognize that CEO coaching can help them provide their organization with the best version of themselves. These leaders of major companies praise the benefits of CEO coaching for various reasons.

CEO Coaching is an Investment with Many Returns

The best CEOs lead by example. As such, a desire to grow and improve should always be a valuable trait of any company leader. CEO coaching can help company leaders and executives tap into their strengths to lead an organization to its greatest level of success.

At N2Growth, we believe that leadership development programs should align with the ever-evolving needs of your business. Learn more about how we partner with you to create a resilient organization prepared to succeed in an increasingly complex world.