The Executive Coaching Imperative

I’ve been thinking and writing about what makes a leader truly effective. At a bare minimum, leaders must fulfill three promises in the areas of:

  1. Strategy
  2. Engagement
  3. Execution

The 4th Promise: To Lead Effectively

The fourth promise is to lead effectively, to maintain trust to achieve and sustain desired results. What, exactly, does “lead effectively” mean?

The first three promises are more tangible: the transactional competencies universally taught in business schools and leadership training courses. The fourth promise is another matter altogether: more difficult to undertake, yet capable of profoundly influencing all other competencies.

Effective leaders pursue personal and professional development opportunities to improve their competence, self-awareness and other-relatedness. They grow in ways that are transformative, not just transactional.

We expect our leaders to be wise and evolve continually. In fact, we raise the bar every year. Without a commitment to enhancing personal and professional development, leaders can easily lose their competitive advantage. They fumble when trying to drive their people and companies to excellence.

When leaders balk at coaching, training and ongoing learning, they cannot meet the increasing demands of today’s business environment, and they fail to deliver on the first three promises. In a word, they stagnate. Perhaps leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith puts it best: “What got you here won’t get you there.”

“Leadership development must proceed at a pace consistent with what it takes to stay effective and relevant in today’s complex, rapidly changing business environment.” ~ Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams, Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results (Wiley, 2015):

Leadership Development

Growing a company requires leaders to commit to personal progress. Executive coaching has proved to be one of the most effective leadership-development tactics. A large body of evidence shows a positive return on investment. Even conservative measures estimate an average return of 5.7 times the cost of coaching.

A CEO’s developmental stage significantly determines the success of large-scale corporate transformation programs. Leaders cannot sustain 21st-century effectiveness without continually upgrading their competencies, coping strategies and capacity to influence others.

The Urgent Priority Leaders Don’t Have Time For

Yet, few leaders regularly set priorities for professional growth. Even those engaged in executive-coaching relationships struggle to keep appointments to do the work. Like many of us, they’re so mired in day-to-day challenges that they fail to think long term or take actions that may not have immediate payoffs.

If you’re unable to work on identified gaps in self-awareness, core strength and coping skills, you’re not just standing still; you’re regressing.

Beware of Blind Spots

Every leader falters at some point: when under stress, with a fine-line ethical dilemma or with a delicate choice between right and more right. You’ll inevitably make a wrong decision. You probably won’t see it coming until it’s too late. When you realize what’s happened, you’ll know you’re in a blind spot, and you’ll recognize it because it’s been with you a long time.

If you recoil at the idea of coaching, training or other personal-growth tools, you’re creating conditions for failure. You’re breaking all four leadership promises that so many others expect you to keep.

Effective leaders know they cannot afford to stand still. The pace of business will eventually exceed their capacity to handle new challenges. In today’s fast-paced, constantly changing, complex marketplace, no leader can expect that “what got me here will get me there."

If you are in a manager or leadership position, what are you doing to keep the four promises to lead effectively?

I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

The Fans of Focus

Birds do it. Bees do it. All humans do it, but not always well or for long. Focus is a primary ability of all living creatures, built into DNA as a necessary skill for thriving in nature. When humans pay attention and focus fully on a task, they learn, understand, and act decisively.

Human beings, although blessed with smart brains, aren’t always good at focusing attention and overriding distractions, often with dire consequences. With practice, however, focus can be improved using the FANS method.

  1. Focus without judgment. Simply observe what is present.
  2. Awareness. Observe all the details and issues at play.
  3. Narrow attention. Hone in on the critical variables that will determine success.
  4. Story. Create a story or a mental model of the situation, including the variables, next steps, and expectations.  

In all of nature, focus is an instinctual reaction necessary for survival. See food, eat food. See threat, fight or flee to avoid it. However, the modern thinking brain, the neocortex, allows us to see, feel, process and decide where to focus attention and how to take the best course of action.

Focus on the wrong thing, an accident ensues. Letattention wander, take a wrong turn. Forget to call a client or listen well, miss a sale and lose that bonus. 

To become genuinely productive in today’s world requires seizing control of focus. With full attention to focus, mental resources get used most effectively.

At the opposite pole, most of the mistakes adults make are caused by loss of focus and attention. Dramatic cases result in passenger jet disasters, train derailments, and massive recalls of food or vehicles. Individual mistakes can cause personal tragedy, loss of opportunity and disappointment.

Beyond the mistakes, losing focus simply means less productivity, understanding, and enjoyment of everyday human activities. In sum, paying attention is critical to all learning to adjust actions and to achieve desired outcomes.

Focus Is a Skill

What is less obvious is that focus and attention is a skill that can be practiced and improved, the same skills as are involved in driving a car, cooking dinner, or playing a sport. To improve the ability to focus and successfully complete projects, you’ll need to keep in mind two important facts.

  1. The practice of focus cannot be forced. In other words, trying hard to concentrate interferes with paying attention. The result is frustration and a narrowing of vision. Instead, focus works best alongside interest and desire. It cannot be coerced. Focus needs to become a friend, one trusted to emerge as long as the interest and desire are maintained.
  2. The practice of focus requires a non-judgmental mindset, especially judging oneself. Getting angry for losing focus compounds the distractions that are in the way of success. On the other hand, keeping focus will cause a keen awareness of those distractions. So, being easy on oneself, not judgmental, and nurturing focus as a friend reveals the distractions that are unproductive, the ones to deal with.

Practice Makes Progress

One way to practice and improve ability to maintain focus is to approach tasks with the mindset of a learner.

Being a learner means that each time something pulls attention away, observe what that distraction is, and do so without judgment, stay detached. Shifts in attention are normal; only when they do not contribute to task completion are they distracting.

One example to practice learning is when driving a car. Attention of the driver shifts continually from one thing to another to get to a destination. The more a driver pays attention to each shift, the more consciously and the more safely that person will arrive. The same applies to focus at work.

Any task—be it for work or sport—can be divided into a series of steps. The more awareness assigned to each phase, the more attention gets paid to details and thus, the more we recognize and learn about the variables that matter.

Think of the acronym FANS in order to practice and improve powers of focus:

  1. Focus without judgment. Simply observe what is present.
  2. Awareness. Observe all the details and issues at play.
  3. Narrow attention. Hone your attention to the critical variables that will determine success.
  4. Story. Create a story or a mental model of the situation, including the variables, next steps, and expectations.

Studies reveal that people who create mental pictures of a situation maintain focus better. They are always anticipating what’s next. Building mental models takes control of attention. When something deviates from the model, the model builder becomes alert and takes action to adjust.  

Today’s 24/7 world means a constant stream of incoming stimuli and distractions. Mental models help triage information and offer choices as to where to direct attention. Better decisions can replace indiscriminate reactions.  

Conversations with Focus

One of the most valuable reasons for improving ability to focus is to communicate well. Completing projects at work, playing a sport, and countless other tasks involve conversations with others.

The biggest obstacle to good communication is the dialogue that goes on in our heads during conversation. People find it hard to listen without assuming they know what’s being said and formulating a response at the same time. It’s a natural reaction to agree or disagree almost immediately. That judgment interferes with listening and observing and distracts the listener from focusing on important information.

Focus can be improved through conscious practice on any task, anytime, anywhere. To improve focus and achieve better outcomes, whether at work or play, join the FANS of Focus: focus without judgment, become aware of details, narrow attention to key factors, and create a story to anticipate what matters most. Take charge of your attention and ward off distractions.

The 3rd Promise of Effective Leaders: Processes and Execution

Great leaders focus on key priorities. Yes, the bottom line looms large, but one achieves financial success only after keeping four promises to stakeholders.

Consultants Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams delineate these promises in Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results (Wiley, 2015):

  1. Set the right direction and create meaningful work.
  2. Engage all stakeholders and hold them accountable for performance.
  3. Ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution.
  4. Lead effectively. Maintain trust to achieve and sustain desired results.

After setting the right direction and engaging stakeholders, a leader must then ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution.

Leaders promise to deliver results in the marketplace by successfully executing on key initiatives. This enables stakeholder commitment. With commitment, you facilitate productivity through systems and processes that make execution successful.

Effective leaders channel action into results. They provide feedback on the work the organization is doing. Action links effort to results, letting everyone know when something works (or doesn’t).

Processes and systems provide a clear path from task to long-term, meaningful results. This is the promise where the rubber meets the road.

According to Anderson and Adams, leaders often break this promise by:

  1. Failing to provide the resources (time, people or money) necessary for execution
  2. Allowing the organization to be distracted by “silver bullets” or “bright shiny objects” (i.e., an attractive lower priority)
  3. Having few or ineffective processes in place (i.e., everything is done for the first time, every time)
  4. Being so process-bound that execution becomes secondary to the process itself

Excessive focus on processes robs people of their energy and enthusiasm. In other cases, processes are in place, but are underused. Repeatedly breaking this leadership promise creates a cynical culture, frustration and a “why bother?” mentality.

Does this happen where you work? What are the consequences when leaders don’t uphold the third promise of ensuring execution?

I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

The 2nd Promise of Effective Leaders: Engage All Stakeholders

What promises must leaders fulfill if they are to be truly effective leaders?

Consultants Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams delineate these promises in Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results (Wiley, 2015):

  1. Set the right direction and create meaningful work.
  2. Engage all stakeholders and hold them accountable for performance.
  3. Ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution.
  4. Lead effectively. Maintain trust to achieve and sustain desired results.

In this second promise, effective leaders foster a commitment to achieving results. They strive for engagement and assign accountability.

From my work in organizations, I’ve observed the consequences of leaders not achieving engagement. The problem is that, unfortunately, clarity and commitment often end at the leadership-team level.

In many instances, leaders know—but employees cannot explain—why their work makes a difference. Managers focus solely on accountability and performance, rather than engagement. What are often missing are frequent references to organizational purpose and linking daily tasks to why individuals count.

Many executive and senior leadership teams underestimate the energy and commitment required to fully engage everyone. Leaders are most effective when they communicate and clarify a noble purpose. Successful efforts are rewarded with employees’ energy and passion.

In fulfilling this second promise, leaders earn their staff’s trust and commitment. They provide the why behind the what of work. Employees expect and want their leaders to draw out their potential, talent, strengths and energy. Leaders do this by creating a culture where people are allowed to grow, contribute and be valued. They set challenging goals, provide resources, and address the reasons behind stated goals. When objectives are achieved, they provide recognition and rewards.

Engaging employees can pose challenges, but the next two promises depend on it. Each promise paves the way to the next and contributes to overall leadership effectiveness.

An effective leader answers the question, "Why does our work matter?" What about where you work? Do your leaders regularly reinforce direction and inspire engagement?

I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

Effective Leaders Must Answer: Where Are We Going and Why?

Do we expect too much from our leaders? Effective leaders must be sensitive to the expectations of the people he or she leads. Followers have two types of expectations:

  1. Explicit: Responsibilities to be fulfilled as part of the leadership role (fiscal responsibility, strategy and direction, accountability and execution)
  2. Implicit: All of the unspoken expectations like competence, fair treatment, commitment, engagement, listening, inspiration, direction and meaning-making

Implicit expectations can be minefields because they’re based on assumptions, may be unrealistic, are often misunderstood and vary greatly among stakeholders. We nevertheless judge leaders’ effectiveness on both explicit and implicit expectations.

Smart leaders know they’re always being judged. Success or failure depends on whether or not leaders clarify these role expectations and keep their promises. Hidden expectations will never be discovered unless a leader asks about them.

Most of us assume we’re on the same page as others, but every conversation offers an opportunity to elicit information about expectations. You accelerate your leadership effectiveness by asking about, learning and managing expectations.

4 Promises of Leaders

Business success is not a true measurement of leadership effectiveness. A business may take off, but leaders can still fall short unless they are skilled at influencing and inspiring people for the long term.

Although followers often expect too much of their leaders, they must at the very least fulfill four promises and excel in four key competencies:

  1. Strategy
  2. Engagement
  3. Execution
  4. Leadership Development

The First Promise: Set the Right Direction

The first leadership promise focuses on strategy, mission and values, and it’s as much about people as it is about profits. An effective leader answers the question, "Where are we going?"

Stakeholders hold leaders to this vital promise because it establishes the “why” they’re in business, as well as “what” the business will and won’t do. This foundation sets direction and meaning, creating a culture in which people can thrive.

Direction and meaning set the stage for establishing a business identity and brand. Effective leaders can articulate their organizations’ unique contributions to the world. They know their people want not only a paycheck, but alignment with company values. They want to contribute to a purpose beyond profits, so leaders must ensure these values are publicized and practiced throughout the business.

Leaders are most effective when they communicate a noble purpose to every employee. Otherwise, people struggle to define why their work matters.

What’s it like where you work?

I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

Examining The Four Promises of Effective Leaders

What makes a leader stand out as remarkably effective? From what I’ve observed in my work in organizations, effective leaders hone their attention to focus on four key expectations.

Everyone expects great things from leaders—probably more than is humanly possible. But leaders must deliver only four interdependent promises to drive business results. Failure to complete a single promise will likely lead to disappointing outcomes.

Consultants Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams delineate these promises in Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results (Wiley, 2015):

  1. Set the right direction and create meaningful work.
  2. Engage all stakeholders and hold them accountable for performance.
  3. Ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution.
  4. Lead effectively. Maintain trust to achieve and sustain desired results.

Defining Effective Leadership

Some experts believe the most effective leaders bring about maximum financial results. Others would point to charismatic, larger-than-life CEOs who inspire followers with vision. Still others claim effective leaders have high levels of emotional intelligence, are skilled at making tough decisions, are relentlessly focused on execution and excel at building trusting relationships.

Great Expectations

All of these leadership qualities matter a great deal. It’s also difficult to perform effectively if a leader fails to manage people’s perceptions and expectations. As Anderson and Adams explain:

"When we step into positions of leadership, we make a whole set of promises we may not know we are making. These promises are profound and come in the form of high, often unspoken, expectations. Understanding, managing and living up to these promises define our leadership.”

If you were to define the key elements required to be an effective leader, what would they be? Where you work, which qualities are valued most in your leaders? What are your expectations of the leaders you work for?

I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

The Four Promises of Effective Leaders

What makes a leader stand out as remarkably effective?

Everyone expects great things from leaders—probably more than is humanly possible. But leaders must deliver only four interdependent promises to drive business results. Failure to complete a single promise will likely lead to disappointing outcomes.

Consultants Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams delineate these promises in Mastering Leadership: An Integrated Framework for Breakthrough Performance and Extraordinary Business Results (Wiley, 2015):

  1. Set the right direction and create meaningful work.
  2. Engage all stakeholders and hold them accountable for performance.
  3. Ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution.
  4. Lead effectively. Maintain trust to achieve and sustain desired results.

Defining Effective Leadership

Some experts believe the most effective leaders bring about maximum financial results. Others would point to charismatic, larger-than-life CEOs who inspire followers with vision. Still others claim effective leaders have high levels of emotional intelligence, are skilled at making tough decisions, are relentlessly focused on execution and excel at building trusting relationships.

Great Expectations

All of these leadership qualities matter a great deal. It’s also difficult to perform effectively if a leader fails to manage people’s perceptions and expectations. As Anderson and Adams explain:

"When we step into positions of leadership, we make a whole set of promises we may not know we are making. These promises are profound and come in the form of high, often unspoken, expectations. Understanding, managing and living up to these promises define our leadership.”

Followers have two types of expectations:

  1. Explicit: Responsibilities to be fulfilled as part of the leadership role (fiscal responsibility, strategy and direction, accountability and execution)
  2. Implicit: All of the unspoken expectations like competence, fair treatment, commitment, engagement, listening, inspiration, direction and meaning-making

Implicit expectations can be minefields because they’re based on assumptions, may be unrealistic, are often misunderstood and vary greatly among stakeholders. We nevertheless judge leaders’ effectiveness on both explicit and implicit expectations.

Smart leaders know they’re always being judged. Success or failure depends on whether or not leaders clarify these role expectations and keep their promises. Hidden expectations will never be discovered unless a leader asks about them.

Most of us assume we’re on the same page as others, but every conversation offers an opportunity to elicit information about expectations. You accelerate your leadership effectiveness by asking about, learning and managing expectations.

Success vs. Effectiveness

Business success is not a measurement of leadership effectiveness. A business may take off, but leaders can still fall short unless they are skilled at influencing and inspiring people for the long term.

Leaders must master four key domains to be truly effective:

  1. Strategy
  2. Engagement
  3. Execution
  4. Leadership development

1. The First Promise: Set the Right Direction

The first leadership promise focuses on strategy, mission and values, and it’s as much about profits as it is about people.

Stakeholders hold leaders to this vital promise because it establishes the “why” they’re in business, as well as “what” the business will and won’t do. This foundation sets direction and meaning, creating a culture in which people can thrive.

Direction and meaning set the stage for establishing a business identity and brand. Effective leaders can articulate their organizations’ unique contributions to the world. They know their people want not only a paycheck, but alignment with company values. They want to contribute to a purpose beyond profits, so leaders must ensure these values are publicized and practiced throughout the business.

Leaders are most effective when they communicate a noble purpose to every employee. Otherwise, people struggle to define why their work matters.

2. The Second Promise: Engage All Stakeholders

Effective leaders foster a commitment to achieving results. They strive for engagement and assign accountability.

Unfortunately, clarity and commitment often end at the leadership-team level. In many instances, leaders know—but employees cannot explain—why their work makes a difference. Managers focus solely on accountability and performance, rather than engagement. Lacking are frequent references to organizational purpose and linking daily tasks to why individuals count.

Many executive and senior leadership teams underestimate the energy and commitment required to fully engage everyone. Leaders are most effective when they communicate and clarify a noble purpose. Successful efforts are rewarded with employees’ energy and passion.

In fulfilling this second promise, leaders earn their staff’s trust and commitment. They provide the why behind the what of work. Employees expect and want their leaders to draw out their potential, talent, strengths and energy. Leaders do this by creating a culture where people are allowed to grow, contribute and be valued. They set challenging goals, provide resources, and address the reasons behind stated goals. When objectives are achieved, they provide recognition and rewards.

Engaging employees can pose challenges, but the next two promises depend on it. Each promise paves the way to the next and contributes to overall leadership effectiveness.

3. The Third Promise: Develop Processes and Facilitate Execution

Great leaders focus on key priorities. Yes, the bottom line looms large, but one achieves financial success only after keeping all four promises to stakeholders.

After setting the right direction and engaging stakeholders, a leader must then ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution.

Leaders promise to deliver results in the marketplace by successfully executing on key initiatives. This enables stakeholder commitment. With commitment, you facilitate productivity through systems and processes that make execution successful.

Effective leaders channel action into results. They provide feedback on the work the organization is doing. Action links effort to results, letting everyone know when something works (or doesn’t).

Processes and systems provide a clear path from task to long-term, meaningful results. This is the promise where the rubber meets the road.

According to Anderson and Adams, leaders often break this promise by:

  1. Failing to provide the resources (time, people or money) necessary for execution
  2. Allowing the organization to be distracted by “silver bullets” or “bright shiny objects” (i.e., an attractive lower priority)
  3. Having few or ineffective processes in place (i.e., everything is done for the first time, every time)
  4. Being so process-bound that execution becomes secondary to the process itself

Excessive focus on processes robs people of their energy and enthusiasm. In other cases, processes are in place, but are underused. Repeatedly breaking this leadership promise creates a cynical culture, frustration and a “why bother?” mentality.

4. The Fourth Promise: Lead Effectively

What, exactly, does “lead effectively” mean?

The first three promises are more tangible: the transactional competencies universally taught in business schools and leadership training courses.

The fourth promise is another matter altogether: more difficult to undertake, yet capable of profoundly influencing all other competencies.

Effective leaders pursue personal and professional development opportunities to improve their competence, self-awareness and other-relatedness. They grow in ways that are transformative, not just transactional.

We expect our leaders to be wise and evolve continually. In fact, we raise the bar every year. Without a commitment to enhancing personal and professional development, leaders can easily lose their competitive advantage. They fumble when trying to drive their people and companies to excellence.

When leaders balk at coaching, training and ongoing learning, they cannot meet the increasing demands of today’s business environment, and they fail to deliver on the first three promises. In a word, they stagnate. Perhaps leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith puts it best: “What got you here won’t get you there.”

“Leadership development must proceed at a pace consistent with what it takes to stay effective and relevant in today’s complex, rapidly changing business environment.” ~ Anderson and Adams

The Executive Coaching Imperative

Growing a company requires leaders to commit to personal progress. Executive coaching has proved to be one of the most effective leadership-development tactics. A large body of evidence shows a positive return on investment. Even conservative measures estimate an average return of 5.7 times the cost of coaching.

A CEO’s developmental stage significantly determines the success of large-scale corporate transformation programs. Leaders cannot sustain 21st-century effectiveness without continually upgrading their competencies, coping strategies and capacity to influence others.

The Urgent Priority Leaders Don’t Have Time For

Yet, few leaders regularly set priorities for professional growth. Even those engaged in executive-coaching relationships struggle to keep appointments to do the work. Like many of us, they’re so mired in day-to-day challenges that they fail to think long term or take actions that may not have immediate payoffs.

If you’re unable to work on identified gaps in self-awareness, core strength and coping skills, you’re not just standing still; you’re regressing.

Beware of Blind Spots

Every leader falters at some point: when under stress, with a fine-line ethical dilemma or with a delicate choice between right and more right. You’ll inevitably make a wrong decision. You probably won’t see it coming until it’s too late. When you realize what’s happened, you’ll know you’re in a blind spot, and you’ll recognize it because it’s been with you a long time.

If you recoil at the idea of coaching, training or other personal-growth tools, you’re creating conditions for failure. You’re breaking all four leadership promises that so many others expect you to keep.

Effective leaders know they cannot afford to stand still. The pace of business will eventually exceed their capacity to handle new challenges. In today’s fast-paced, constantly changing, complex marketplace, no leader can expect that “what got me here will get me there."

What are you doing to keep the four promises to lead effectively?