I’ve been calling this a challenging summer, but that doesn’t quite seem to capture it at this point. We’re dealing with the pandemic and all the medical concerns it raises. We’re facing an economic crisis of mammoth proportions. We’re revving up for a contentious election. We’re struggling with complex and painful racial justice issues. Here in Chicago we just had a wave of tornadoes pass through. The stress and anxiety just seem to keep on coming.
How do you make it through? Where do you find the reservoirs of strength and hope and determination that you need to keep going?
For the third time in a row, Bill used up most of his time in our coaching session to talk about how anxious and overwhelmed he was feeling. A senior executive in a large transportation company, Bill normally had a very calm demeanor, to the extent that others sometimes perceived him as remote or disengaged. But now, week after week, he was finding himself reactive and overwrought.
My first thought was, “Well, of course!” Almost everyone I’m talking to these days, both personally and professionally, is reactive and overwrought. By now we’re all exhausted from the uncertainty, sadness, fear, and relentless accommodations we are making as we try to navigate through the crisis. It seems endless. This is the world we’re living in.
Here’s a leadership case study: It’s May 29, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s four days after the murder of George Floyd. You’re the mayor of the city and you learn that a peaceful demonstration has been followed by widespread violence and looting.
What do you do?
I like writing about Wendy Rhoades, the high-flying performance coach on the Showtime show Billions. Having said that, I want to make two things clear. First, Wendy Rhoades is a fictional character. She is not real. This is important in a world where fact and fiction are often very muddled. Second, Wendy is not a moral exemplar. She lives and works in a world whose moral code is highly problematic. She has already gotten in trouble for a lapse in her professional ethics, and my guess is that she’ll continue to make some very shady choices.
So why do I keep writing about her? She is an intriguing character, she’s a powerful female figure, and she demonstrates some of the tactics of successful performance coaching. It’s the last point that keeps me watching the show and writing about what I see.
More and more companies have been investing in coaching for
their senior leaders in the past 20 years as they recognize the benefits of
executive coaching. As a result, coaches now come from a wide variety of
professional backgrounds and use many different approaches. How can a company,
or an individual leader, predict whether a coaching engagement will be helpful
When I’m talking with new coaching clients, I’m often stunned by how busy they are. It’s not unusual to hear that someone has just received a big promotion, is managing a team of 20+ people, has several young children, is looking after an older relative, and is heavily involved with his or her church or other community activities. Please note, this is not just a woman’s problem, although many women think it is. Most of the men I work with are also juggling multiple commitments and responsibilities, and like the women, they often feel they are coming up short. When I hear people describe their lives, I usually respond with the quip, “So what are you doing with all your free time?” And we both laugh ruefully.
Move over FOMO, it’s a new age of JOMO.
A panel of economists recently presented their predictions for 2020 at The Executives’ Club of Chicago. This annual event is always thought-provoking, controversial, and occasionally funny. This year the major theme was the unusual level of economic uncertainty. Between the upcoming US presidential election, Brexit, the fraught US-China trade relationship, and on-going concerns about climate change, the experts were decidedly uneasy.
But the chief take-away for me was not some great tip about where to invest my fortune, such as it is. It was a toss-off comment by “Dr. Bob” Froehlich. In his usual witty manner, Dr. Bob proposed four important trends that would, in his opinion, affect the economy this year. One of them was “JOMO.”
I know, I know – New Year’s resolutions are supposedly a
waste of time. Each year we start out with great intentions, but by February
they’re usually forgotten. And yet, each year I think about the changes I would
like to make in my life and I start again on my self-improvement journey.
Of course, this new year is especially momentous because it is also a start of a new decade. (Once again, I know – the new decade doesn’t technically start until January 2021. But I don’t care – it feels new when that third digit flips over.) A friend recently sent me a post from Steve McClatchy’s email campaign about making new decade resolutions.
The top executive coach isn’t for hire. That’s because it’s not who you think. According to the Wall Street Journal (Sunday, Nov 16-17, p B2), it’s Queen Elizabeth. In her 67 years on the throne, she has met weekly with 14 prime ministers. These meetings are absolutely confidential. The queen is not allowed to comment publicly on matters of state, but that does not prevent her from offering her views in private. According to her own reflections and a few comments from prime ministers, she focuses more on asking questions and providing a safe space for these leaders to talk about the challenges they are facing. She has massive knowledge of both world history and current events, which enables her to provide a perspective both deep and broad.
Want to accelerate your career? Start by building a mentor-mentee relationship. Find a good mentor – someone who has knowledge and experience to help you grow, who is willing to spend time with you and give you honest feedback, and who is invested in you and your success. Often, but not always, mentors are leaders in your own workplace.
A mentor is not the same as a coach. Coaches are professional helpers who usually work with a variety of leaders across different companies and industries. We often use psychological assessment tools to help our clients understand themselves, and we charge for our services. Mentors offer their support and expertise for free.
Executive coaching trends may change, but as in psychology, change happens slowly. Back in 1957 Carl Rogers wrote a brilliant article on the necessary and sufficient conditions for therapeutic change. He proposed that three elements were necessary for a helping relationship to produce positive changes:
- Unconditional positive regard
If you ever took a Psychology 101 course, you’ve probably heard about these conditions before. In the 62 years since Rogers’ article was published, a lot of research has been done on his proposition. I wrote a review of that research in the mid-70’s and concluded then that the data suggested that these conditions were necessary but not sufficient for creating change —other factors are also required. Still, many psychologists today, including myself, remain convinced that Rogers’ conditions are essential for driving change.
“Solo CEO” — what a great label! Several months ago, I was invited to speak at the SoloCEO Summit, a conference created by my colleague, Terra Winston. The one-day event was designed for “solopreneurs,” people who had established and were operating a business by themselves. The goal was to provide opportunities for small business people to learn from experts, build community, and create an action plan to move forward.
Terra put together a great team of presenters with a wide range of skills: marketing, coaching, law, operations, and many other aspects of business leadership. The event was striking in its diversity, both among the presenters and the attendees — people leading all sorts of businesses; men and women; old and young; racially diverse. The energy in the room was powerful.
The ROI of executive education is rarely measured, but that hasn’t stopped the courses from proliferating. Some are customized for specific companies, while others are open to students from many different employers. Business schools, consulting firms — all kinds of organizations develop and offer these courses to build business acumen and specific leadership skills.
Frankly, executive education is a real cash cow for many academic institutions. Corporations often shell out big bucks to send senior executives or high-potential leaders to prestigious exec ed programs. Other companies spend money to develop their own in-house programs. Some years ago, Motorola had such an extensive program that it was labelled “Motorola University.” Consulting firms also get in on the action, working with their corporate clients to develop educational offerings.