It's Lonely At The Top

The expression ‘It’s lonely at the top’ rings true for today's CEOs and senior executives. The Centre for Leadership Development and Research (CLDR) at Stanford conducted a study and found that 100 percent of CEOs expressed that they appreciate receiving leadership advice and executive coaching and value when they take the time to seek the support that they need.

Benefits of Executive Coaching

A study conducted by the American Management Association found that companies who have implemented coaching as a part of their strategy report better market performance. Another study by PwC and the Association Resource Centre found that the average ROI for companies that invest in coaching is seven times that of the initial investment. One quarter of the companies surveyed reported an ROI of 10 to 49 times the initial investment.

While there is little doubt that executive coaching is beneficial, the specific reasons why vary and are unique to each individual and organisation. Benefits of coaching include:

  • A heightened sense of self awareness and awareness of others
  • Increased emotional intelligence and ability to deal with their own emotions and the emotions of others in the workplace, a skill that is extremely useful for conflict resolution
  • Learning to bring their best to the job and looking at stressors as welcome challenge
  • An enhanced range of healthy coping strategies
  • The development of goal setting as a means to achieving peak performance
  • The development of character strengths and a growth mindset when dealing with stressful situations

Too Much Responsibility, Too Little Support

Company CEOs and founders who do not engage a confidential sounding board are more likely to internalise stress, which might manifest as anxiety in the short term and health problems, depression and addictive behaviours in the long-term. While the degree to which senior executives thrive and survive under this strain depends largely upon their individual characteristics and resilience, executives who receive coaching learn strategies to bolster resilience and reduce anxiety and stress. They fare better than those who do not.

Healthy Leaders Mean Healthy Companies

Needless to say, it is paramount that CEO’s and senior executives make optimal decisions for their teams and companies. The benefits of independent, objective advice and strategies are enormous. Even the best leaders have blind spots and can benefit from an outside perspective. It is also common for employees to withhold feedback to top level executives. The result is that CEOs do not actually get the level of peer feedback and support that they need. This is where a coach can prove to be invaluable.

Executives Want To Be Coached

According to the study conducted by Stanford and The Miles Group, 78 percent of CEOs who have received executive coaching indicated that it was their idea to do so and 100 percent of CEOs were receptive to making changes based on the coaching feedback received. Similarly, 80 percent of directors expressed that their company CEO is receptive to coaching.

There are many reasons that coaching is appealing to CEOs. One is that it is external and confidential. Founding a company may mean you have ideas but not all the answers. It is the best of leaders who recognise that there is always room for growth. As leaders, people often want to maintain a strong image in order to effectively lead their teams, however, behind the scenes they may question themselves and their decisions. Top executives recognise this and seek coaching to become the best that they can be.

Coaching Increases Resilience

Executive coaches and consultants can help CEOs and senior level executives bolster resilience and connect with a deeper sense of purpose. Resilient individuals tend to view problems as challenges rather than crises. They also exhibit effective coping strategies for dealing with workplace issues. One of the main things that resilient senior executives have is an overarching sense of purpose that guides their actions. Those who operate from a place of deeper meaning, are more satisfied, engaged and effective.

One study demonstrated that individuals who operate out of a greater guiding purpose experienced significantly better physical health over a 10 year period than those who reported little sense of purpose and direction. Business leaders with a strong sense of purpose are more likely to form deeper connections with others and think of how they can best contribute to their stakeholders and society at large. They are more likely to have a consistent focus on leaving a legacy and experience less inner conflict.

Common Coaching Areas

While the coaching needs of each executive vary depending on company demands and their own unique characteristics there are some areas that are far more popular than others. The top concern for CEOs is how to effectively handle conflict. In the Stanford study 43 percent of CEOs marked ‘conflict management skills’ as their highest priority. This comes as no surprise as most of the simpler decisions in a company are made at lower levels of management and mostly difficult, conflicted ones make it to the CEO level.

When boards commence executive coaching their priority is often improving CEO’s mentoring skills in order to better develop their talent. By investing more time and resources into their CEO’s leadership skills they hope that CEOs will be able to better develop and retain talented team members.

Other common areas of focus for coaching CEOs include delegation and team building. Senior executives have often worked their way up the ranks due to technical brilliance and hard skills. However, it is the soft skills of motivating and engaging others that is critical for business leaders, to not only be able to manage their employees effectively but to also inspire them.

The top does not need to be lonely for the CEOs and executives of the future. There has been a change in the way executive coaching and consulting is viewed, making it less remedial and more like top athletes having trainers. Top executives have coaches to offer perspective and facilitate strategies to be the best leaders they can be.