There are two kinds of executive coaching: development coaching, which focuses on helping good leaders get better, and deficit coaching, which aims to help talented leaders eliminate problem behaviors. Most executive coaches prefer to do development coaching, but new research suggests that deficit coaching may be more valuable to a company’s performance. According to Peter Harms of the University of Alabama, assessing and reducing “dark side” behaviors impacts job performance more than twice as much as refining the leadership behaviors of high-functioning executives. As Harms put it, “Developmental and selection efforts aimed at moving the dial from ‘bad’ to ‘good enough’ are likely to have more of an effect than trying to move individuals from ‘good’ to ‘great.’” One of my clients said they send executives to Gail Golden Consulting for “charm school.” It seems that management development focused on helping business leaders to be more charming is a high-impact intervention.

My colleague, Lee Eisenstaedt, shared some thoughts recently about the type of leaders who desperately need deficit executive coaching. In almost every workplace there are people who are very difficult to work with — abrasive, uncooperative, explosive, whatever. Sometimes the smartest choice is to exit these folks sooner rather than later. But sometimes they bring huge value to your organization, like the “wizard in the tower.” This is an extremely intelligent and innovative person who can’t get along with anyone. In forward-thinking companies, the CEO protects this person, giving him/her an office nearby and leaving him/her alone to do his/her thing. Lee Eisenstaedt calls these difficult, high-value employees “disruptors,” and he has some useful advice on how to manage disruptors for maximum value and minimum pain.

What differentiates high-performance leaders — the people who build and lead great teams for world-class success? According to Susan Lucia Annunzio, high-performance leaders are often “first-class noticers.” They are aware of what’s going on around them, but even more importantly, they notice what’s going on in their own heads. They rapidly process both kinds of information to influence others and keep the team on track. Another key behavior: enthusiastic openness to new ideas. At a recent presentation at the Executives’ Club LEAD program, Annunzio advised leaders to ask “What is smart about that dumb idea?” in order to avoid dismissing ideas too quickly. A third differentiator: a willingness to “speak the unspeakable,” to talk about “taboo” topics so that team members know what is going on instead of making up stories to explain what they’re seeing. Great advice for all leaders to incorporate.

Last week I wrote about the importance of learning from front-line managers – the people who directly manage the employees who interface with your customers. My colleague, Josette Goldberg, offers some great ideas about management development for these employees. Her advice: help them see that the most important part of their job is understanding themselves and the people they manage. Minimize their administrative work and teach them coaching skills so they can get the best from their teams. Developing the leadership skills of your front-line managers is one of the best investments you can make.

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