The Executive Coaching Imperative

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: Strategy Engagement 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...
The Fans of Focus

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. Focus without judgment. Simply observe what is present. Awareness. Observe all the details and issues at play. Narrow attention. Hone in on the critical variables that will determine success. 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...
The 3rd Promise of Effective Leaders: Processes and Execution

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): Set the right direction and create meaningful work. Engage all stakeholders and hold them accountable for performance. Ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution. 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: Failing to provide the resources (time, people or money) necessary for execution Allowing the organization to be distracted by “silver bullets” or “bright shiny objects” (i.e., an attractive lower priority) Having few or ineffective processes in place (i.e., everything is done for the first time, every time) Being so process-bound that execution becomes secondary to the process itself Excessive focus on processes robs people of their energy and...
The 2nd Promise of Effective Leaders: Engage All Stakeholders

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): Set the right direction and create meaningful work. Engage all stakeholders and hold them accountable for performance. Ensure that processes and systems facilitate focus and execution. 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...
Effective Leaders Must Answer: Where Are We Going and Why?

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: Explicit: Responsibilities to be fulfilled as part of the leadership role (fiscal responsibility, strategy and direction, accountability and execution) 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: Strategy Engagement Execution 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...