Coaching vs. Mentoring the C-Suite Executive’s Dilemma

There is a misconception that top senior executives and business leaders no longer require a leadership coach, rather an adviser (mentor) who has been in the role successfully in the past.

We, at Glenn P Wallis, believe that this is an assertion built on erroneous thinking. Each C-Suite Executive is very different to the next. It assumes that a mentor’s experience will be of more benefit at a different time and potentially in very different circumstances.

So that does beg the question – how many ex-C-Suite Executives are forward thinking qualified coaches with a commitment to CPD?

The areas of development that the C-Suite Executive requires, will determine the success of the support they receive. A former CEO may be a brilliant mentor, but would they know how to coach effectively? Would they possess the skillset to spot and explore such areas as:

  • faulty thinking
  • personal bias
  • self-limiting beliefs
  • values conflict
  • projection
  • transference
  • counter-transference?

It’s unlikely, unless they have sufficient development in the skills of coaching.

At Glenn P Wallis, it is our firm belief that highly advanced coaching skills, coupled with being a former CEO, would make for the best coaching solution. However, omit the former and you are left with high quality advice that may or may not be fit for purpose. Omit the latter, and what remains is high quality coaching.

In our experience, high quality coaching trumps high quality advice for long-term career success. Because as the old saying goes: give a person a fish and they can feed themselves for a day, or teach them to fish and they can feed themselves forever.

Glenn P Wallis

Coaching for Leaders and Executives

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3 ways leadership subtlety can improve your pace

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Senior leaders in today’s workplace are required to work quickly. Almost all the time. The expectation is that executives make often quite complex decisions, rapidly. Everyone has to iterate innovation at speed. Many senior leaders I am asked to work with are approaching exhaustion at the relentless pace of work. The challenge here is that the rate of change is not likely to slow down very much any time soon. So how can leaders learn to cope better in this lighting-fast environment? One way to achieve greater capability to work at this pace, is to develop leadership subtlety. In this post, we’ll explore what I mean by leadership subtlety; how it can improve your pace and how to develop the kind of nuance that the very best leaders demonstrate.

What is leadership subtlety?

For the purposes of this article, ‘leadership subtlety’ refers to leaders developing the capacity to respond to situations and to other people, in the widest range of ways. This flexibility of styles is a mark of mature leadership. Mature leadership is not a function of time in the role. There are plenty of examples of very new leaders who have the range of approaches available to them, that engages their team and ensures delivery of great performance. For the sake of balance, leaders who have been in post for a long time but lack the subtlety of leadership approach, are legion.
Leadership subtlety is the direct result of a developed leader. The human being that is the leader, has high levels of awareness, sophisticated worldviews that allow them to be comfortable with paradox, accept the views of others, even when (especially when) they do not accord with those of the leader. Leadership subtlety enables many views and truths to be held together.

What are the three ways leadership subtlety improves pace?

1. Leaders who display the sort of sophisticated thinking and action that we are talking about here, are more likely to focus on the job of leading because they don’t need to be operational. They are clear on their role. They avoid working at a level that is inappropriate to the job they have. This ‘role discipline’ provides greater impact and value across the organisation. Leaders focusing on leadership avoid getting wrapped up in the operational parts of their function. Not easy but vital.
2. Leadership subtlety is accessible to leaders who have a lower ego-need. Such leaders do not need to be the centre of attention, they encourage the ‘best people for the job’ to take control. Leaders who have lower ego needs tend to trust others more. Their ability to retain an idea of the ‘big picture’ allows them to remain more open to ideas and avoid the ‘my way or the highway’ trap so many leaders can fall into.
3. Linked to the previous point, a highly nuanced approach to leadership allows leaders to be more comfortable with glorious failures. Brave attempts that do not produce the desired results, are not an assault on the identity of the leader. Nor are such lacks of success a prompt for criticising the originators of the idea and plan. In such subtlety of leadership approach lies the germ of risk taking, innovation, rapid iteration, agile work. Why? Because people led by such leaders are not scared to make a decision, try something out or just crack on.

Develop yourself to develop your leadership

Developing your ‘Self’ as a human being enables you to live a more fulfilled life but also allows you to lead much more effectively. Your ability to align your actions to your values and your role, improves markedly. Encouraging the creativity and uniqueness of others, maximises the resources of those you lead. Remaining squarely in your leadership role supports high performance and confidence in others too. You working on you, will aid your ability to succeed as a leader in these fast-paced times.
Dr Glenn P Wallis is the Director of Wallis Partnership Ltd a specialised leadership consultancy. When your organisation is ready to make effective leadership a business imperative, you can contact us here we would be delighted to hear from you.

Stretch don’t snap

StretchHigh performers like to be stretched. Indeed they will push themselves, if you as their leader are not providing sufficient opportunity for them to learn, aim high and ultimately hit it out of the ball-park. There are several areas to be mindful of with these driven types however and it is to those ‘Red Flags’ that this post will now turn.

Coasting

If, as a leader, you fail to provide frequent chances for high performers to engage deeply in their work and to be challenged by it on an almost daily basis, they will get bored. That’s not a possibility, it’s a given. Where we are asked to work within our comfort-zone all the time, disengagement will naturally follow as sure as Q2 follows Q1. High performers live to learn and contribute in a way that has meaning for them. Sure, some may do it for reasons of ego or the accompanying reward but in my experience of working with hundreds of these high performers, most seem to do it for the reward that comes from the achievement itself, rather than just some extraneous recognition.

Burn-out

As a senior leader, when you look around your team and know that there is someone whom you trust deeply to deliver excellent work under often quite tight deadlines, the likelihood is that they become your ‘go-to’ person. Often. Usually, too often. Due to the fact that these high performers want the stretch and love the challenge, they are often not the best at saying ‘no’ to the extra workload you put their way. Before they (and you) know it, they can be overly relied upon and in deep danger of burn-out. That is the worst of outcomes for them and for you.

Lead differently
  1. Challenges for leaders when leading this kind of high performer are several, including your own ego and self-confidence, which may lead to you squashing the opportunities for this person in fear of the fact that they might out-shine you. My advice? Make your aim to be out-shone by members of your team. Regularly. Your ability to develop such key people is an important indicator of what a great leader you are, not the opposite.
  2. Rather than over-use the superstars, provide a greater stretch for those in your team who are not at that level yet. Ensure that these ‘nearly-theres’ are pushed and challenged, so that they can add more value to the work of your team. There is more capacity and potential in these people that is being left on the table, than there is from you and your current high performer, both of who (Hint! Hint!) are working very close to their maximum most of the time.
  3. Recognise that you and those in your team, work best under conditions of stretch. Whilst you or the context, may mean you mis-judge that from time to time, remember that moderate challenge helps focus the effort and makes sustainable high performance a much likelier outcome.

Dr Glenn P Wallis runs a boutique leadership consultancy, where he and his team help organisations perform better through developing higher quality senior leaders. If you want to discuss how you can raise the strength of your leadership bench then you can contact Glenn here.