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Q: Our CEO needs coaching. How do I address this?
A: CEO feedback is not for cowards. In the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Emperor’s New Clothes, the king’s advisors, fearing ridicule, did not inform him that the new clothing he’d had made for himself was invisible. Consequently, when the king decided to show off his new clothes publicly, he was seen as parading through the streets nearly naked.
Human resource professionals also hold up an elegant robe of air if they fail to speak up to their organization’s leadership. And this failure to give honest feedback is an injustice not only to the CEO, but to the entire organization.
When HR and others close to the company’s C-level executives withhold or filter information, CEOs typically become isolated from their constituents—a phenomenon referred to as “CEO Disease” in the book Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee (Harvard Business School Press, 2002, p.92). This disease manifests itself from two particular circumstances:
Addressing this situation takes a multi-step approach. A successful executive coaching strategy hinges on three key components:
Coaching Tools and Techniques
A variety of tools and techniques that can be used to facilitate coaching. For example, use data from anonymous 360-degree surveys or climate analysis surveys to identify objective behaviors that can be linked with business outcomes.
Personality assessments can help diagnose what traits are dominant or lacking and what might be easy or difficult to change. CEOs are very often shocked at the disparity in their rating and their subordinates’ ratings. This might be the first awareness that they are out of touch.
Strategic coaching should integrate organizational and personal needs. Self-awareness generally does not result in changed behaviors. The CEO will need six to eight months of one-on-one coaching to ingrain new behaviors. Practice, observance and feedback are key to changed behaviors.
Finally, treat this endeavor like any other strategic goal. Successful execution requires commitment from the CEO, a plan to obtain results, qualified coaches and follow-up evaluation.
Coaching isn’t for everyone. Some CEOs are not open to feedback, and some are unwilling to change. But for those who make a commitment to coaching, it can open a whole new world for the organization and the CEO in terms of more candor, more engaging employees, more respect and better skills to reach strategic goals.
As for those folks in HR charged with CEO coaching projects, be courageous. This might be the biggest difference you can make in your organization.
Patricia A. Miller, SPHR, GPHR, is president of the Seven Valleys, Pa.-based organizational development consulting firm P.A. Miller Consulting and isa contributor to the Washington Post employment column “Ask the Expert.” Miller also is an adjunct professor at Penn State University, a local York SHRM chapter certification instructor and former member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Organizational Development Special Expertise Panel. She can be reached at pat@millerHR.com.
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