Assuming a senior leadership position within a company is an important career milestone whether you’re helming a scrappy startup with a handful of employees or managing a sprawling multinational corporation. While many of the leadership skills that got you to that point will continue to be useful, there are a number of demands that are unique to the CEO role. Even if you’ve held senior executive positions before, each new company presents you with distinctive organizational and industry issues that will likely be new to you.
As the senior leader of any organization, people often turn to you for answers and guidance. It can be tempting to believe that you’re the smartest and most capable person in the room, especially if you’ve enjoyed a string of successes on your way to that executive position.
The reality, however, is usually a bit more complicated. You might not always know how to make the best decision or recognize how your behavior is affecting the people around you. Hidden biases could undermine your thinking, and your high expectations of others may not be realistic.
An executive coach can help you to recognize your blind spots and make you more aware of how they affect the people around you. They provide an honest, unfiltered assessment of your behavior and the way you’re perceived by employees and peers alike. By improving your self awareness, you can take a more humble approach to leadership that allows for collaboration and reflection.
2. See the Big Picture
Running a company can be an overwhelming responsibility. With so many decisions to be made and so much pressing work that needs to be done, it’s easy to become lost in the day-to-day details. All too often, however, CEOs find themselves spending more time dealing with the crisis of the moment rather than charting a sustainable path forward into the future.
Many senior leaders reach their positions by taking a very hands-on approach to dealing with issues, but to be successful at the executive level, they must be able to build and empower strong, capable teams to execute strategy. This frees up their time and energy to address greater organizational concerns.
Executive coaches have the benefit of standing apart from the fray, which allows them to point out when you’re beginning to lose sight of the big picture. They help you to reframe challenges and identify new approaches to solving problems that may not be apparent when you’re in the trenches. Delegating responsibility doesn’t come naturally to every leader, but having the guidance of an executive coach makes it easier to accept when trusting others to deliver is in their best interest.
3. Let Your Guard Down
Being a CEO can be a lonely experience. Even when you have the best team in place and have the utmost confidence in your company’s direction, every problem and concern that bubbles up somewhere in the organization finds its way to your desk. It ultimately falls to you to balance the needs of your customers, the health of your workforce, and the expectations of your board or investors all at the same time in order to keep the company moving forward.
Without someone to turn to for advice or support, CEOs can find it difficult to develop new ideas, consider different approaches, or even look at challenges from another perspective. An experienced executive coach can serve as a valuable resource for a senior leader who may not always know the best way to handle situations. They offer solutions and guidance from a human perspective, recognizing that sometimes even the most successful executives just need someone to listen as they work through challenges.
4. Recognize Your Strengths
Although it’s important for leaders to have a degree of humility about their abilities, it’s also critical that they recognize what they’re good at. Some leaders don’t fully appreciate their strengths, assuming that their most exceptional qualities aren’t anything out of the ordinary. This can cause them to have unrealistic expectations of others. Delegating responsibility is all well and good, but not if it prevents a leader using their biggest advantages to drive innovation, growth, and efficiency.
The other risk of taking your strengths for granted is the possibility that you’ll often set yourself up for frustration as you step into new roles. If you’re not meeting your own expectations in your strongest areas, chances are that you won’t be a very good judge of how well you’re performing in others.
Working with an executive coach can help CEOs develop a more accurate assessment of their capabilities. By recognizing what you’re good at, you can put strategies in place that leverage those qualities for the benefit of the company. Rather than wasting time spinning your wheels and struggling, you can work with an executive coach to develop an approach to leadership that truly moves the needle and puts you in a position to succeed.
5. Focus on Your Goals
The most successful leaders recognize that learning never stops. Even if a senior executive has served in a CEO role before, they need to approach the job as a new opportunity to learn and grow, both professionally and personally. Today’s dynamic global economy isn’t going to wait around for leaders to settle into their roles. If you’re not thinking about how you can improve as a leader every day, you’re already at risk of falling behind.
Of course, setting professional development goals and taking steps to pursue them can be rather difficult when you also have to lead a company. Dealing with ongoing issues and solving short term challenges will take up quite a bit of your time, which makes it hard to devote the time and energy necessary to improve as a leader. Executive coaches can help bear some of this burden by providing guidance and resources along the way. They are also extremely effective at holding leaders accountable for following a development plan that pushes them to work toward their goals.
It Doesn’t Have to be Lonely at the Top
Just because a CEO sits at the top of the organizational chart doesn’t mean they have to go it alone. Coaching can be immensely beneficial to executives whether they’re moving into a CEO position for the first time or transitioning to their latest position in senior leadership. Whether they partner with an executive coach or choose to participate in a CEO peer group, today’s leaders have plenty of resources when it comes to developing their skills, making better decisions, and learning to manage their teams more effectively.
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A lifelong serial entrepreneur and community leader, Mark Stagen, Founder of XLN, started his first company at age 15 and hasn't looked back. Since then, he’s founded, and later sold, several successful companies, including Telecore and Emerald Health Services, which have generated over $1 billion in combined revenues. Mark also founded the Youth Business Alliance, a non-profit organization that works with High Schools in economically challenged areas to educate, motivate and inspire the students on business, entrepreneurship and career development.
Mark has received numerous business and community awards including: EY Entrepreneur of the Year and Inc. 500. He is actively involved in YPO and has served in many leadership roles including Chapter Chair and Regional Chair. Mark received his BA in three years from Yale University, was a member of the Yale Football Team and is an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at the USC Marshall School of Business.