Thought Leadership


No one said executive coaching was easy

September 14, 2011
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Coaching isn't easyHere are some brief thoughts pertaining to leadership behavior.
 
First, let’s deal with the issue of “lack of knowledge of inappropriate behavior” as a leadership excuse. This can be, and often is the case, pertaining to lower-level decisions that lead to inappropriate behaviors. It is impossible for top-tier executives to know what is going on in the organization all the time and/or at lower levels; in fact, that is not their responsibility.

We all understand that a micromanagement style is toxic behavior for leaders. 

However, there is much to consider before casting aspersions. Rather than micromanaging, it is each respective lower-level leader’s responsibility to know what is right (more on that in a moment) and to ensure that the people they are responsible for understand and practice the right decisions and behaviors. 
 
From the executive level, a cardinal principle that must be established and communicated is that behavior by anyone that is inappropriate is inexcusable. 

Because there is significant contact with one’s direct reports (and many times those who report to one’s direct reports), ample opportunity exists, must take place, and is the responsibility of each leader to clarify the values, principles, beliefs, and behavior pertaining to “how we do it here.” 

Thus, it is not sufficient for leaders to personally hold “pure” values, principles, and beliefs about how things should be done.

First, leaders at the highest levels (CEOs, Presidents, Division VPs, Plant managers, for example) must devote time to identifying what are considered the right values, principles, beliefs and behaviors for the organization. One identified, these principles must be immutable (caste in stone). Upper-level leaders must then embrace and practice those values…behaviors religiously (lead by example.) 

Next, their respective direct reports must understand that a key responsibility of theirs is to (1) understand, embrace and faithfully practice those values…behaviors; (2) ensure that their respective direct reports also understand, embrace and practice those values…behaviors; (3) ensure that those values…behaviors and the associated performance expectations are translated for every member in their part of the organization; and finally (4) be actively involved in monitoring and reinforcing the right decisions/behaviors.

This requires time and effort and that involves costs for the organization – too bad, “pay me now, or pay me a lot more later!” 
 
To reduce the degree of “insulation” associated with being a top-tier leader, each leader must develop methods to reinforce the organization’s core values, principles, and beliefs and to obtain information on how well their part of the organization is embracing the values. 

So, there must be some recurring process developed for information gathering and reinforcement. Start with the hiring process where the core values…behaviors are identified and discussed. Next embrace periodic group discussion sessions where labor and management employees together discuss with top-tier leaders the core values…behaviors and how that translates into decisions and behavior. And, it is an opportunity to recognize good performance/decisions that support the organization’s values and principles. Such a communication/reinforcement discussion can be included in another regular group communication session for efficiency.

I encourage leaders to include risk management issues in these types of discussions, so that safety and loss prevention are integrated into “how we do it here” dialogue.
 
Coaching the executives is often tricky… many times delicate, since egos and sensitivity may be involved. 

Asking questions about the leader’s perception of what is important and how he/she might characterize the organization’s performance is a good way of getting the executive to open up about the subject. 

Providing data is also important. Leaders in several organizations responded favorably through the use of a “inverse performance analysis.” Basically, this is an anonymous questionnaire (shorter and more targeted than a full 360 process) for the top-tier executive(s) given to 2-3 peers, 5-7 direct reports with questions pertaining to leadership style, values and practices. Data is collected/analyzed both on an individual leader basis and collectively for the organization. Collecting anecdotal data on both good and poor decisions/behaviors is also advisable.

Alternatively, a cultural perception survey can be utilized, provided that questions pertaining to leader behavior and organizational values are included. Armed with data gleaned from these sources, it is more likely that top-tier executives will be receptive to seeing the true picture of what is going on in the organization.
 
Overcoming the excuse that “everyone is doing it?”

In addition to the methodology discussed previously, one technique involves getting leaders to question their own organization’s behavior/practices. This may require getting competitive juices to flow. A few examples of this technique might include: Aren’t we better then they are? Shouldn’t we be better than that? Is this level of performance really acceptable? How can we expect employees to excel, if we accept this type of performance/decision making/ behavior? Are we saying one thing, but doing another? 

Another powerful tactic involves painting a vision of what could be. That is, show the leaders how embracing a certain set of values or principles or behaviors can make the organization truly a “world leader” or “the most esteemed” or “best in the industry” or the “most profitable,” etc.  In essence give them a reason to take up the challenge or to embrace making the effort. 
 
Penetrating the “Wall of denial”? 

Do your best, be as articulate as you can be, be as sensitive to all the issues you can uncover, but in the end, you can’t force people to change or see things differently. 

Yes, I’ve been thrown out of a few companies.

So, you go on and learn from the experience. The thoughts and techniques mentioned above can lead to success, but I would be remiss by omitting one additional factor - trust.

People, especially top-tire leaders, judge the credibility and veracity of the messenger (consultant) and the message before making a decision. Leaders can be skeptical, even cynical, and they should be. However, if the leader trusts the person and believes that the person knows what they are talking about, there is a greater likelihood they will be attentive and accepting of the information. The implication is that leaders may embrace change or new thinking more readily if they feel the messenger is credible, knowledgeable and trustworthy.
 
Well, no one said executive coaching was easy. It takes time, requires persistence and patience. And, not all executives see things the way you/we do – for whatever the reasons. Hope this info and these perspectives assist in answering your questions.

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