Being a leader in current times is very challenging and the failure rate is high. Leaders can maximize their probability of success and job satisfaction by having a personal or executive coach.

Political, business and community leaders are failing in increasing numbers. What do I mean by failure? They are fired or resign because of issues of competence or behavior. According to the Harvard Business Review, two of every five new chief executives fail in their first 18 months on the job. And it appears the main reason for failure has nothing to do with competence, knowledge, or experience, but rather with hubris, ego and a leadership style out of touch with today. Ronald J. Burke at the Schulich School of Business, York University, researched cites data which shows the average tenure of Fortune 500 CEOs is reducing, and the percentage of CEOs being asked to step down for performance reasons is steadily increasing.

Sydney Finkelstein, author of Why Smart Executives Fail, researched several spectacular failures during a six-year period. He concluded that these chief executives had similar deadly habits chiefly related to unchecked egos. David Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo, in their book, Why CEOs Fail: The 11 Behaviors That Can Derail Your Climb To The Top And How To Manage Them,present 11 cogent reasons why leaders fail, most of which have to do with hubris, ego and a lack of emotional intelligence. Call it overconfidence or ego, but powerful and successful leaders often distrust or feel they don’t need advice.

A study by Kelly See, Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison, and Naomi Rothman, published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision, concluded one characteristic of powerful and successful leaders is high levels of self-confidence. Unfortunately, the researchers say, the higher the self-confidence, the less likely these leaders are open to advice and feedback.

Stanford’s Graduate School of Business recently completed a survey of 200 CEOs, board directors and other senior executives about how they receive and view leadership advice. The survey showed two-thirds of CEOs do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside sources. Gretchen Gavett, writing in the Harvard Business Review, says that this because there is still some residual stigma that coaching is somehow “remedial” as opposed to something that enhances high performance, similar to how an elite athlete uses a coach. Part of the stigma comes from boards themselves. The other interesting dichotomy emerging from the survey is what CEOs are looking to be coached on versus what the research says they need to be coached on. CEOs rated conflict management skills the highest, whereas board directors say their CEOs need to work on mentoring skills and sharing leadership. Yet much of the research shows that leaders often lack the so called “soft skills”—empathy, compassion, serving others, and humility.

It has been my experience in coaching hundreds of executives, middle managers and aspiring leaders that the areas for greatest growth, which translates into both improved performance and job satisfaction are:

  • Self-awareness. Leadership development needs to be an inside-out process that focuses less on competencies and skill acquisition and more on increasing your self-awareness and understanding your values, life purpose, desired legacy;
  • Emotional self-mastery. Again, a superficial program of increasing emotional intelligence through techniques and tips of such things as simple listening skills or facilitation skills avoids or neglects the more important requirement to understand, manage and master your emotions; and understand and respond appropriately to the emotions of others. This also means developing humility, and demonstrating the positive emotions of compassion, empathy, kindness gratitude;
  • Developing influence and persuasion, rather than power and control behaviors. Mastering these competencies starts from a place of using them for the greater good and not some self serving or manipulative place;
  • Empowering others to be independent with encouragement to grow personally and professionally. Leaders can have no greater task than developing others, and this requires coaching and mentoring skills;
  • Developing your positive interpersonal skills. This includes your capacity to establish rapport with others; motivate inspire others; and master conflict both resolution skills and having difficult conversations.
  • Committing yourself to something bigger. This includes a commitment to help make your community and the world a better place in which to live.

 It is unlikely or at best very difficult for someone who has a vested interest in the organization—a boss, a board director, or HR individual—to assist a leader or aspiring leader in developing and mastering the areas described above. And it is difficult for a leader to feel comfortable being totally vulnerable to someone inside the organization. These are not impediments for a relationship with a coach, who can establish an oasis of safety and yet complete with honest feedback with the objective of significant changes in behavior. For the aspiring or new leaders, having a coach to guide them through the often stressful initial stages of being a leader also becomes critical.

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