There are no pressures greater and no challenges as complex as those that come with the CEO position. And the job is often a lonely one.
Executive coaches are now commonplace in organizations, particularly at the top levels. My experience for the past decade as a CEO coach has been an energizing and rewarding one. The role of the CEO coach is unique, because the job of the CEO is unique.
And the average longevity for CEOs in North America is less than 3 years. CEOs are beleaguered by constant pressure from shareholders, boards of directors, government regulators, the media and special interest groups. And the list goes on.
The job of CEO is unique from several perspectives: No one else needs to hear the truth more, and gets it less from employees; no one else is the focus of criticism when things go wrong; no one else is the final decision maker on difficult and often lose-lose decisions; and finally, no one else enjoys the almost hero-celebrity status and rewards.
For these reasons, and many more, no one in the organization needs an honest, close and long-term relationship with a trusted advisor than a CEO. As many CEOs have told me, the most significant issue for them to deal with is the feeling of intense and profound lonely at times.
So the role of the CEO coach becomes critical for a CEO who uses the coach wisely. And for the coach, working with a CEO poses a number of potential minefields and dilemmas that must be dealt with:
Over-identification. The coach must be able to immerse himself/herself in the CEO's world and experience without merging identities. While the coach's presence in the organization may be commonplace, they are not part of the organization. So while the coach can empathize and be compassionate with the CEO, the coach's job is to be detached and sometimes brutally honest.
Communication. How much information and the kind of information that is provided between the CEO and the CEO's boss--the Board or President--and employees can be very dicey. The coach must be vigilant about peoples' ulterior motives and yet be a source of information that can help the CEO.
Feedback. One of the CEO's most important tasks is to develop leaders in the organization, which requires honest assessment. The coach's feedback can have enormous impact on careers.
Loyalty. If the CEO pays for the coach, it's obvious the coach serves the CEO. But if the coach's bill is being paid for the organization, the board may require some kind of reporting of results by the coach. In this case, the nature of the data collected and information about personal discussions must be handled transparently.
Friendship. Often, the coach develops a friendly, personal relationship with the CEO, who will often share more personal information with the coach than anyone else. And while the friendship can help, it can sometimes be too close. The coach must still maintain a professional perspective, one that allows the coach to be honest with the CEO.
Ego. Being a CEO coach can give the coach considerable status which could inflate the coach's ego. The coach must ensure that his or her self-worth is not intimately tied to that of the CEO's status.
A CEO coach can be a trusted role model, advisor, guide and mentor who helps the CEO shape visions, tap new energies and generate desired results. But more than anything, the CEO coach can provide an oasis of calm, a relationship of trust and honesty to help the CEO fulfill an extremely demanding role.