Recently, however, I was asked how I benefit from being an executive coach and mentor. On reflection, I think the rewards for me fall into three areas: intellectual, professional and socio-cultural.
At an intellectual level, coaching and mentoring are challenging to the mind. Whether you are working with a seasoned CEO or an aspiring leader, your clients are professionals with their own organisational context and their own world views. Each client trusts you to help them find better ways of working and new approaches to their jobs. That’s why being a coach and mentor is such an intellectually challenging and interesting occupation.
At the professional level, being a coach and mentor keeps you current. You can learn a great deal about how organisations operate right now from your client, which is particularly revealing if they work in a field or type of organisation which is unlike the areas where you worked as an executive. In fact, you can learn as much from your client as your client does from the experience and expertise you bring to the process. Consulting with clients as a mentor leads you to reflect on your own previous performance as an executive. It makes you question where you could have improved, why you responded to particular situations as you did and what you might have done differently, given the benefit of hindsight.
The third level is socio-cultural. Working as an executive coach and mentor gives you an opportunity to work in many different kinds of organisations, with a wide range of interesting people whose work and life experience may be very different from your own. It gives you the chance to explore ideas and concepts with people who might think quite differently from you. It allows you the opportunity to really listen while people find their own approaches to the issues they are encountering in their work. While workplace issues often share similar elements, each client is unique and their approaches to their organisations, teams, colleagues and leaders are therefore also unique.
Working as an executive coach and mentor is a privilege. It is challenging, rewarding and interesting and gives you the opportunity to improve workplace performance, one client at a time.
Contributor: Dr Catherine Burrows is a Sydney-based executive coach, available in Wollongong, Newcastle, Western NSW and other areas by arrangement. Catherine is a co-founder of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting.
For me, what keeps executive coaching fascinating is how much I learn from the process and how inspiring my clients are. As the year draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned this year.
In 2017, my coaching practice has mainly been with aspiring and newly appointed leaders in the government and NGO sectors. Working with all these people has been such a rewarding experience.
My first lesson for 2017 has been a reaffirmation of how talented, committed and hard-working the people who work in the public sector and in NGOs are.
My second lesson has been a reminder of how effective executive coaching can be in assisting people to recognise, believe in and apply their own talents.
My third lesson has been the perennial one: how important asking the right questions is in executive coaching.
However, the client I learned the most from this year was one who found coaching extremely challenging. I am going to call them Lee.
Lee’s manager had referred them to coaching and, although their participation wasn’t mandatory, it was strongly encouraged. Building trust with a client is always important but my own experience of being coached showed me that it’s especially important when the client has been ‘volunteered’.
I could see straight away that Lee was very wary of the process. Despite a very encouraging shared conversation with their manager, with lots of positive comments, Lee was initially unwilling to share insights into the issues they were experiencing at work.
However, as time went by, things started to change. Lee became increasingly willing to talk through issues and, later, became committed to using coaching as a means to test new ideas and explore new approaches. At the end of the coaching process, Lee told me how much courage this had taken and let me know how pleased they were they had persevered.
The big lesson for me was that a client might come across as a difficult person, when actually they are showing a great deal of bravery just getting themselves to the table, before they can even begin the coaching itself. The more I thought about this, the more courage I thought this took.
Pushing yourself to do something so far out of your comfort zone takes guts and determination. It shows what you can really do when you try.
So, my biggest lesson for 2017 has been:
sometimes the bravest thing is just showing up.
Contributor: Dr Catherine Burrows is a Sydney-based executive coach, available in Wollongong, Newcastle, Western NSW and other areas by arrangement. Catherine is a Founding Partner of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting.
Lee is a fictionalised amalgam of several clients.
This week, our featured member Claudia Lantos tells us about her own leadership development & coaching firm, Lantos Coaching & Consultancy. We asked Claudia about who her clients are and what she can offer them.
Who are your clients?
Our clients are usually organisations operating in a highly competitive market or dealing with continuous change or disruption. We work with both individual executives and teams.
For individuals, we can help them to:
become more effective
break with old patterns and habits and improve their personal positioning
establish more effective management behaviour
undertake organisational alignment
transition into a new role
excel in stakeholder management, and
enhance their performance and lead better-performing teams.
We also work with teams, both at executive leadership level and the level(s) below and can assist with:
newly formed teams
teams experiencing disruptive changes and organisational realignment
teams which need to become more collaborative and improve their performance and
teams which need to adjust to a new workplace culture.
Who do you think most benefits from LCC’s services?
Senior executives, emerging leaders and teams alike benefit from partnering with us. We offer best in class program frameworks, methodologies and assessments – all evidence based and with proven effectiveness.
What makes LCC stand out from other coaching businesses?
From briefing to delivery, LCC provides a quick turnaround time. As we are a boutique firm, we can accelerate effectively for our clients.
LCC has four key business principles:
All our programs are highly customised and tailored to our clients’ specific needs – we don’t believe in a ‘one size fits all approach.’
Our broad range of specialties, industry knowledge and experience mean we understand our clients, whether they are in the private, public sector or non-government sector.
We don’t shy away from giving you our best advice, even if this means sometimes needing to ‘tell it like it is’. My Dutch background might be the reason 🙂
We try to lift our game every time and keep coming up with new approaches and fresh perspectives.
What services does LCC offer?
We offer various kinds of evidence-based coaching including:
Executive Coaching programs
Assessments and debriefs
Leadership Development programs and workshops
High Performance Team programs
Culture Change programs.
What is your vision and mission for LCC?
LCC’s vision is to encourage and challenge our clients to be the best versions of themselves. This might relate to an individual or a team’s performance and effectiveness, or a changing organisation or culture.
Our mission is to make sure we deliver high quality and highly customised services with direct impact for the client, by sharing our own best practices and let our clients benefit from the combined wealth of experience of our team.
Where does LCC operate?
While we are based in Sydney, we operate throughout Australia. We also offer our executive coaching services via video calling platforms like Skype and FaceTime for executives who are travelling or are based overseas.
How successful are your approaches?
The feedback we get from clients is that we really understand them and their needs. As evidence of this, we have clients coming back to us and referring others to us.
We know you started out in The Netherlands working as a lawyer in labour law. How did you end up working as a coach in Australia?
I’ve called Australia home for the last five years. Prior to that I was working in Europe and South-East Asia. I transitioned from labour law into recruitment and executive search, as part of the national management team of a stock-exchange-listed recruitment group, so I worked both in Amsterdam and Singapore. In that role, I was responsible for opening up new markets and building teams.
Before I moved to Sydney, I had my own coaching business in the Netherlands for 8 years. In my latest venture LCC – Lantos Coaching & Consultancy I try to implement my previous learnings and share best practices with both my clients and my team.
What is it you like about owning your own coaching company?
I really love to empower people. Whether they are my clients, organisations I work with or my own team. Of course you have to love business development, which I do, so I decided to continue my entrepreneurship here in Australia. I find it exciting to inspire my clients to set goals and help them achieve them and becoming more effective. I also set goals for myself and practice what I preach. I’m proud to say that LCC is already going from strength to strength.
Tell us about the team at LCC
Soon after I founded LCC, I asked six high calibre coaches and facilitators with whom I’ve been working together on assignments in the past, to join me. The team, all of whom had also held senior executive roles in the past, bring a complementary range of specialisations, skills and experiences to our coaching practice.
While we often work as individual coaches, for bigger Leadership Development Programs, we team up in pairs or even larger groups – whatever is required to meet the needs of our clients. We pride ourselves on the flexibility of our approaches.
In a recent post, we wrote about choosing the right coach and preparing for your sessions. In this week’s post, we look at ways you can put in the effort and maximise the outcomes from your coaching experience.
Your organisation has decided to invest in you by engaging an executive coach. Or you’ve decided to invest in yourself. Either way executive coaching is a significant investment in time and money, so you want to make the most of this experience.
Stephen Key has written about coaching as a two-way street and suggests 11 steps to take to get the most from this experience. Amongst these are some we believe are critical to your success:
Get in the habit of recapping what you’ve learned via action steps. What are you going to do next? Document what you are planning to do and share this with your coach.
Make the focus of your course a top priority. Actively work toward accomplishing assigned tasks each week. Look for ways to get the work done, not for excuses as to why you couldn’t.
Listen with the intent to take action. Focus on action steps at all times. There’s a big difference between passively taking something in and actively noting what needs to be done. All the instruction in the world won’t help if it falls on deaf ears.
Do the work. Better yet, return asking for more.
Be patient. Nothing happens overnight. Accept that it might take longer than you want.
Joyce E.A. Russell from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business advises that for executives to get the most out of the coaching they should:
Periodically provide feedback to their coach about what is working or not in their sessions.
Remain open to the feedback they get in return. She writes, “You may hear things that you never heard before. Instead of immediately denying and rejecting the feedback, ask questions to better understand it.”
Make sure the coach works with their client on crafting a developmental plan. “At a minimum, this should outline your key strengths, developmental areas for improvement, obstacles to changing, and action plans along with timetables.”
Jeannette Purcell suggests you should “Be clear about what you want to change. The more specific you can be about your coaching ‘goal’ the more effective your coaching will be.”
She then writes about the importance of preparation. “Prepare for each session by reviewing what has happened since you last met your coach. What has gone well? What has not worked well? Has a specific issue arisen that you would like to discuss with your coach…?”
Next, she points out the importance of follow-up. “Make sure that each session ends with a summary of what has been discussed and what actions you are going to take…Agreed actions allow you to put into practice some of the good ideas or options you have discussed at the session.”
Finally, she points out the importance of being open to the experience: “Be prepared to challenge yourself and your ways of working. Be open to new ideas and to trying new things. Coaching provides you with a safe environment in which to be honest and open about what is happening at work and what needs to change. If you are not completely open you will not realise the full benefit of coaching – it will be a missed opportunity.”
To sum up, at Executive Coach Exchange we believe you will get out what you put in to your coaching experience. Invest in yourself and have faith in your ability to make positive changes. Coaching can be a very challenging experience but by making the effort in preparing, doing the work, taking action and being open to new ideas, you will have a rewarding experience with long-lasting benefits and exponential personal and professional growth.
This week’s post is a more detailed look at dealing with difficult people in your meeting.
It can be useful to think of your meeting attendees in 3 main groups.
There are a number of factors which may lead meeting attendees to disrupt the agenda.
Some people will seek to dominate the meeting, out of habit or because they don’t recognise your authority or the validity of other viewpoints. If this happens, it will mean that your voice and the voices of other attendees are not being effectively heard.
It’s your meeting – it’s important to enforce time limits, call for other points of view and actively manage someone who is dominating the discussion. Don’t let them become your focus; others in the room will want your meeting to be successful. If you keep focusing on the disruptive, you will give them control of the agenda.
Others will argue with the points you’re putting forward and it’s important to make an assessment of why this is happening. We’ve written previously about the importance of distinguishing between obstructionists and sceptics, and embracing the genuine sceptics. Part of this work will have to happen outside the meeting, but meetings themselves are a valuable source of information about the motivations of those who disrupt them.
Don’t expect to turn around disruptive behaviours in one session, but a consistent, assertive approach will see you getting your meetings back on track.
2. The disengaged
Bored? Distracted? Negative? Looking for a way out? Or uncomfortable with conflict?
It’s critically important not to just call out or disparage the disengaged as you risk causing someone who was temporarily distracted, unhappy or unconvinced, to move towards being a member of the disruptive group.
You also don’t know whether they are keeping a low profile due to conflict with other meeting attendees, or because their management’s viewpoint is not aligned with yours.
In our previous posts on meetings, we talked about planning for breaks to allow people to recharge and manage their distractions. If you’ve done this and people are still appearing to be switched off, or holding side conversations, you need to take responsibility for bringing the focus of the distracted back to the meeting without engaging in personal criticism.
You may need:
to make a genuine call for input;
to allow time on the agenda for this group to present their opinions formally;
or it may be that you need to take tighter control of the agenda because this group has switched off – potentially because the disruptive group is dominating the conversation in a way that makes them uncomfortable or even distressed.
If you can gain understanding of whether the disengagement is due to personal or professional reasons, and whether it’s temporary or ongoing, you can address disengagement appropriately, maintaining the respect of the disengaged individuals and the group as a whole.
Most importantly, in planning for and dealing with the disruptive and the disengaged, don’t forget a third group:
3. Your supporters
Sometimes when the disruptive and the disengaged are taking up a lot of time and focus, it’s easy to take your supporters for granted. However, you need to minimise the distractions posed by the other groups as it’s your supporters who will help you move through your agenda and achieve your goals.
In our change management series, we also wrote about looking at the motivations of your supporters. When you are trying to achieve change through meetings, it’s important to understand why your supporters support you and to ensure you’re managing their concerns and interests appropriately, so that their support for you and your goals continues.
An executive coach can work with you to understand the motivations of your meeting group, work through scenarios and practice assertiveness skills to ensure that your meetings achieve your goals no matter who attends.
Do you feel you are often talking at cross purposes with your colleagues?
Have you experienced your reports reacting to your input in a confrontational way when you weren’t expecting it?
Or do you find that your managers don’t seem to understand the importance of the message that you’re trying to deliver?
The significance of different communication styles in the workplace has been extensively discussed, but is easy to overlook at an individual, in-the-moment level when you really need to get your message across.
There are several useful diagnostic tools for communication styles, including this questionnaire from TP3 and this one from The Vantage Point. These can assist you in analysing your own communication style, but the issue of how to work well with colleagues with different styles can still present a challenge.
TP3 notes that it’s important not to use your communication style as an excuse not to interact as effectively as possible with colleagues who have different styles. This can be a challenge, especially for new managers who may be prone to thinking, “This is my style and my reports need to adapt to it”.
So, how can you address this issue?
Mark Goulston wrote this useful article giving some detailed, CBT-style suggestions on how to listen to colleagues when your communication styles don’t match. He points out , “… many of us see our conversational counterparts as lecturing, belaboring, talking down to us, or even shaming us (if we are venters and they are explainers) or as invasive, out of control, and overly emotional (if we’re an explainer and they’re a venter).”
The Harvard Business Review contributed these suggestions on how to work out, and work with, a manager’s communication style. The article recommends specific, explicit communications that take account of the manager’s communication style – including whether the manager may prefer a written report to a detailed conversation – in order to communicate effectively.
For managers, it’s important to remember that effective communication can help you get the best from your team. This article by Rosalind Cardinal points out that “managers with the most flexibility in style get the best outcomes from their people”.
An executive coach can help you tailor your own communication style to your colleagues’, and also work with you to understand, rather than merely react to, your colleagues’ different communication styles. Effective communication only becomes more important as you advance in your career and need to communicate effectively with senior management and stakeholders. In future posts, we’ll also look at this issue in the context of working with boards.
As you start your search for an executive coach, have you jotted down some ideas about what you are looking for?
Guidance on a challenging work issue
Do you need help to make your communication with team members more effective? Or perhaps you are dealing with a person you just can’t seem to get along with? Working with an executive coach can provide you with insights on how to manage these situations, and on how to build and maintain effective relationships, which can provide you with huge benefits and make your workplace more rewarding and enjoyable.
2. A mentor
A mentor is usually someone working in your organisation who can give you an insider’s view, while a coach usually comes from an external organisation. However, an executive coach who has worked in your industry or sector can be invaluable, bringing both objectivity and relevant experience, and combining the skills of coach and mentor.
Making the transition from team member to team leader is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do in your career. Reporting to a board for the first time can be a very daunting experience. An executive coach can assist you to adjust your approach to meet your new challenges.
Leading organisational change
Today, organisational change is a constant. Leaders need to be able to establish a new course for their organisation and implement change effectively and efficiently. Managers at all levels of an organisation are expected to lead their teams effectively during times of organisational change. An executive coach can be a trusted ally who provides a confidential environment for you to test your concepts and work through the challenges of leading change.
Help with career transition
Taking the big step to move a new career, either by choice or as the result of a redundancy, is extremely challenging, both emotionally and professionally. When you have been an expert in your field, the first year in a new sector can make you doubt your ability and question your self-confidence. An executive coach with experience in career transition can help you make your change successful.
Starting out with some ideas about what you are looking for will make it easier for you to find the right coach. Different coaches bring different skills and experience. Some coaches specialise in particular skills, like team building, or strategy and business planning. Others work with particular professions, such as lawyers or doctors, or particular sectors, like government. Others still focus on particular points in your career, like on-boarding or career transition. At Executive Coach Exchange you will find a diverse group of executive coaches who cover all these area and more.
Don’t make your plan too detailed and inflexible, however. A coach can shed new light on an old issue and help you see it differently. The process of working with an executive coach can be a catalyst for change.
A client recently sent us a study from the University of NSW by Chris Jackson and Michael Collins which shows a link between “emotional self-regulation (and) a capacity to maintain attention”. In this study, the researchers put candidates in high stakes, stressful situations to measure how they responded.
They found, “Some people have a higher sensitivity in the ability of the brain to switch out fear when faced with a threat – (such as) …delivering bad news to the board – and some get caught up in that threat. They entertain anxieties, fear and anger, and ruminate on them and, as they’re churning through those thoughts, they have less capacity left to solve problems.”
The researchers discuss hiring the right people in the first place, by selecting people with the internal resources to manage effectively in times of disruption. They also make a point which will resonate with many people.
“Organisations need to understand they cannot pile the pressure on people more than they can actually deal with or things will go wrong. It leads to an abusive environment in which staff leave or litigate or generally become demotivated,” said Jackson.
We felt two findings had the most relevance for executive coaches and their clients.
The first is that frequently bosses are not aware they are behaving badly. “After working with executives over the years, I’ve found they’re often totally surprised that people would see them as bullying and harassing…,” Collins said.
The second is that, while you can’t grow your natural ‘attention resource capacity’, you can learn to use your limited resources more effectively.
“…practising mindfulness and cognitive behaviour strategies may reduce emotional overload, along with coaching or workshops to help leaders understand the relationship between how they perceive a situation, their thinking style, and how that influences strong negative emotions. The next step is learning self-regulation strategies to reduce the intensity of their emotions so they react more appropriately to difficult situations.”
Executive coaches can help you develop awareness about your own behaviours. They can assist you by bringing an objective perspective to your circumstances and help you build more effective responses to stressful situations.
In Part 1 we looked at the differences between obstructionists and sceptics, and in Part 2, how to work with sceptics to achieve great outcomes. In this post, we will look at champions of change.
Why does someone become a champion? Champions are ready for change and your ideas resonate with them:
They may have experienced the same frustrations or problems that you have
They may have seen the same data as you and reached the same conclusions
They may have been dealing with customer complaints and so understand the imperatives for improvement
Or perhaps they understand the political externalities that are driving your change.
Some will also be new to the organisation and have no allegiance to the old ways of doing business. Generally speaking, seniority doesn’t determine a team member’s attitude to change: you will find champions at all levels of your organisation.
Champions believe in your change and they have faith in you to deliver it, so it is essential that you support them as they encounter difficulties implementing your change. Like you, champions will find working with sceptics difficult, time-consuming and trying.
Champions may dismiss objections raised by the sceptics, failing to listen for what is useful in their concerns. If this occurs, especially in the case of newer team members, the old hands will dismiss the champions in turn. Great champions need to learn to embrace the sceptics. Your role will be to model the behaviour you expect to see and to equip the champions with the skills they need.
There are other people who are sometimes confused with champions. Some team members will support your change as long as they perceive you to be sufficiently powerful to take them with you as your career progresses. They don’t need to believe in the change: it is sufficient for them to believe it will be personally and professionally advantageous to support you. They will quickly decide to support you all the way – until there is a bump in the road, at which point their support may be withdrawn just as quickly.
For this reason, it’s important to check the motivations of those team members who are enthusiastically embracing your change program.
Ask yourself how they have come to the conclusion that change is needed and why your proposal is the best approach. Or better yet, ask them. A true champion will have genuine personal and professional reasons for supporting your change, even if they have some difficulty in articulating these. A less sincere supporter will probably have a facile answer which they think is what you will want to hear. By asking probing questions and listening carefully to their answers, you will be able to find the champions you need to get your work done.
Working with an executive coach can be extremely beneficial here. Because coaches come from outside your organisation, they can bring an objectivity to the process. An executive coach can help you build an understanding of whether the people putting themselves forward as champions get the rationale behind your change or whether they have a history of following their leaders, no matter what change has been implemented.
An executive coach can help you build a framework to decide how to assign critical tasks, and develop a plan for better engagement of the less sincere supporters.
Sometimes events can overtake your change so that it does not come to fruition. Champions of your program for change will be at least as disappointed as you. They may have put themselves on the line for you and may have faced significant opposition. In appropriate situations, they will have let your customers know about the improvements that were coming and realise how frustrated those customers will now be. They will also be facing the obstructionists who will no doubt tell them, “I told you so.”
In this situation, it is essential that you support them. Explaining the situation clearly and effectively to the people who have been helping you implement your change, both champions and sceptics alike, is essential. Let them know what has occurred that makes the change impossible and allow them to express their feelings to you. After all, when the next change needs to be implemented, you will want trusted allies who believe in you and your efforts to improve the organisation.
An executive coach can help you:
build your skills in these difficult communication tasks
find the best ways to deliver the bad news to your staff and
assist you to find positive approaches to listening as they express their frustrations.With these skills you will be able to engage your champions in a way that allows them to continue to be your champions now and into the future.
In Part 1, we looked at the difference between people who are obstructionist and people who are true sceptics. In Part 2, we are looking at how sceptics can help you implement your change.
Learning how to listen and who to listen to are skills leaders need to master. Combined with effective staff communication, they form an extremely powerful skillset, one which executive coaches can certainly help you to build and enhance.
Without these skills, a leader trying to implement organisational change can quickly find themselves in deep trouble. Which of these scenarios would you rather be part of?
Scenario 1: You are in the middle of a media storm, defending your recent changes, and one of your staff says, ‘”We told them ‘sh*t’, that’s not going to work when they explained how the computer was going to do the work and said that it was going to misrepresent people’s income and lead to incorrect debts going out, but they just told us “computers and data can’t be wrong”.
‘”They…weren’t interested in hearing what we thought about it.”‘ (“‘They don’t care about average Australians’: Centrelink staffer speaks out about debt controversy.” Sydney Morning Herald, 11/1/2017)
Scenario 2: A member of your staff keeps protesting about a new approach. They say, ‘”I still don’t like the idea.”
‘You reply, “Which is a good thing. … That means you’ll make sure we don’t mess this up.”‘ (From Ryan, E. 2014. The Courbet Connection. p. 113)
Working with early adopters, the champions of your change, is exciting and rewarding. These are the people leaders trust to get things done. They understand your ideas and see your imperatives. People who get on board make your life easier and make it seem that everything will go smoothly.
In contrast, dealing with sceptics is time-consuming. Their failure to see what you can see, the advantages of your ideas, can be frustrating, irritating and dull. They make your life more difficult and seem determined to find every possible impediment to your change.
When you are working to a tight time-frame, the need to move things along can seem like the most important priority. However, if you don’t get it right, you can find yourself in the middle of Scenario 1, defending a system which, it appears in this case, is not working. Worse still, based on the media report, the public will assume you knew it wouldn’t work and didn’t listen. This assumption may not be correct but, unfair or not, this is what people will remember.
In contrast, in Scenario 2, you have outlined your proposal for change and invited feedback. You have listened carefully to the opposing view and demonstrated you have considered it. You have shown you respect the staff member’s right to disagree. Nevertheless, you have decided to proceed. This is powerful because, if you communicate this properly, your staff member will know their view was taken into account.
What is more powerful is that you have authorised your sceptic to help you get it right. All this takes time but, if you consider consulting the sceptics as being like ‘beta-testing’ rather than finding barriers, you’ll know you have a better chance of getting a better outcome.
There is one further stage in embracing the sceptics. Leaders often focus on the negative response of sceptics and question their motivation. However, few leaders question the motivation of the champions. Because their response is so positive, leaders tend not to ask why champions are eager to get on board. Is it because they can see your true genius? Or is it a case of “Always back the horse named self-interest, son. It’ll be the only one trying.” (Jack Lang)
An executive coach can help you step outside the situation, observe from different angles, and identify your own motivations and those of your team members before acting.
In Scenario 2, the leader goes on to say, “Thank you for being the only sensible one in this group and insisting on telling me.” The sceptic replies, “We’re a team.” (Ryan, ibid.)
It may be a difficult process – but how much more effective your change will be when your sceptics have tested it from every angle and let you know, however grudgingly, that with a few modifications it will work.