Why CEOs Have To Pay For The Truth

February 10, 2014

Lonely CEOWhat is CEO coaching and why is it worth a small fortune?

Coaching a CEO is very different from any other executive coaching assignment. CEOs do not have peers and, in most cases, they do not have a single boss – often reporting to an external board or, in the case of some entrepreneurs, only to themselves.

In addition, most incumbent CEOs have reached their position as a result of mastering the skills that are the bread-and-butter of typical executive coaching assignments. This is not to say that CEOs do not have blind spots – they do – however, in my experience, building self-awareness around blind spots is often only a small part of what happens in a CEO coaching relationship.

The primary reason why CEOs enter into long-term coaching relationships (whether they realize it or not at the outset) is because they benefit enormously from having a confidential and unbiased sounding board.

Many pundits observe that it is “lonely at the top.”  It is.  Everyone with whom the leader interacts throughout the day has an agenda or “angle” making it very difficult to receive important feedback or have a frank discussion. A CEO’s span of control is dramatically broader than any other leader within the organization, and so it can be challenging to find people who appreciate the broad multi-disciplinary perspective required of senior executive decisions.

This is the gap that can be filled by a skilled CEO-level coach.

I began coaching CEOs after a business career that included a number of executive roles at GE and eight years as the President and CEO of Camco, a large Canadian public company. I did not have the opportunity to work with a coach when I was a CEO, although I did benefit from a great mentoring relationship with the non-executive board chair. With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a coach, I now realize that what I missed was a relationship where I could process ideas and receive feedback without any concerns about perceptions or interpretation. My mentor provided me with some of this, but there were obvious limitations given that his role included evaluating me as CEO.

It is really hard to overstate the value that a skilled coach can bring to a CEO – even helping to clarify one critical issue at this level can have an impact worth tens of millions of dollars or more. The challenge for me (and every other CEO coach) is to have the intellectual and emotional dexterity to keep up with our clients. Even with all my preparation, I find my current profession to be the most challenging and invigorating job that I’ve ever held.

Stay tuned as my colleagues and I, who constitute the CEO coaching practice at Knightsbridge, will be using this blog to share our insights and experiences related to leadership at the C-suite level, and how best to support and bring out the best in these critical leaders.

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