This explains why the field of leadership development has grown to the billion dollar market it is today. In the past, C-level executives had limited opportunities for personal or professional growth. Hiring an executive coach was seen as a dirty little secret, as executives didn’t want to show any kinks in their armor. But today, hiring executive coaches no longer carries a “stigma.”
The wisest leaders understand that the business environment has changed, and executives have the added stressors of global issues to manage, ever-evolving technologies, a tremendously competitive marketplace, and being “on call” 24/7. They recognize that their senior position creates isolation – their team might be reluctant to provide honest, objective feedback that’s necessary to help their leaders evolve. CEOs that work with executive coaches are often regarded as eager to learn, ready to accept honest feedback and willing to be held accountable for their actions – all qualities of a leader who will stay on top.
One of the most revealing looks in the use of executive coaches was a Harvard Business Review article that discussed Michael Dell and his executive coaching . Faced with the first major technology downfall in 2001, Michael wanted to ensure he and his leadership team worked more cohesively, and he wanted to change the culture at Dell. He felt that changestarted with him, so he asked for a 360 degree survey and got some tough feedback about how his style put people off and was not inspirational. He made a commitment to change his style to be more appealing and inspirational.
Today, Dell still uses assessments for most of their managers, providing annual feedback for their development. Since then several CEOs have publicly stated the value of executive coaching during their careers, including eBay’s Meg Whitman, Pfizer’s Henry McKinnell, Unilever Group Co-Chairmen Anthony Burgmans and Niall FitzGerald, and Belo’s Robert Decherd, whohave all successfully worked with coaches. Former Bain & Co. CEO Tom Tierney found his coach so helpful that he sent his wife Karen to see him, too. And Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill hired a coach to help him transform the lumbering department into a more responsive branch of government.
Successful CEOs start with a set of leadership traits that have been associated with strong leaders, such as ambition, drive, emotional stability, emotional intelligence, and extraverted personalities that can rally support and action. However, just possessing these traits doesn’t mean you’ll be a great leader. Leaders must also learn from experience. To prepare for the requirements of their challenging roles, they should develop the prerequisite competencies – shaping strategy, business acumen, seasoned judgment, powerful communications, operational excellence, and the ability to inspire others – which is learned by doing.