The World’s Top Executive Coach?

by Ron Potter

I spent much of my career being an executive coach, so I was very interested to see who the Wall Street Journal had named the World’s Top Executive Coach.

So who did the Wall Street Journal identify?  Queen Elizabeth!

My wife and I have been big fans of the TV drama The Crown.  Several times in the series The Queen met with the then-current Prime Minister.   Her very first such meeting was with Winston Churchill in 1952 when she was 26 years old.  That sounds like a pretty intimating start to me!

Giving Orders

British law forbids the queen from giving orders or publicly taking sides on matters of state. Her only constitutional right is to be kept informed.  However, she is free to ask questions and offer her point of view.  It’s amazing how powerful genuine questions can be.

As Britain’s longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth views herself as an impartial advocate for the people. But her primary motive, it seems, is to be helpful. She often ministers to her ministers.

Broader Perspective

The article says that “One of her greatest assets is an unrivaled wealth of historical perspective.  I have found this broader perspective to be useful in many settings.  Sometimes I will hear my grandchildren (becoming young adults now) say things because they’ve heard some of our misguided public officials say so.  I’m sure I sound like an old man to them much of the time but I simply try to help them see a subject from a much broader perspective.  Even if I restrict that perspective to my own lifetime, it covers over 50 years more than theirs.  I watched socialism form, turn to dictatorships, and collapse.  They have none of that experience when they seem to talk fondly of a more socialistic government.

Safe and Secure Place to Talk

The article talks about how The Queen gives the prime ministers a safe place to speak openly without fear of reprisal.

I used to meet with one CEO an afternoon every month.  I would show up after lunch and we would talk about anything on his mind sometimes running well past the 5:00 quitting time.  Leaving the meeting late one evening his personal assistant asked me (a little too seriously I might add) if I was selling drugs.  My response was of course not but why would she ask me such a thing.  She said that the CEO never gave anyone more than an hour of his calendar.  I would show up and we would spend several hours talking and laughing.

The Queen also provides prime ministers with something few world leaders ever get— a safe place to speak openly without fear of reprisal.

Queen Elizabeth’s role isn’t vastly different from that of a traditional executive coach. Most business leaders who employ coaches tend to swear by them. One recent study found that 71% believed coaching improved the performance of their companies, while 69% reported making better decisions.

Truly great coaches are a rare breed. It’s hard to find someone who possesses both vast experience and a keen sense of the present. But Queen Elizabeth’s approach to the job suggests that great coaches need something else, too— a deep reservoir of restraint.

Most great mentors will often have a better grasp on a tricky situation than the person they’re advising. But they’ll resist the urge to be a helicopter coach. The only way to help leaders learn and grow is to allow them to make their own mistakes.
The only responsible method is to let them speak openly, guard their secrets and, once in a while, try to redirect their thinking incrementally. Doing that requires humility—and lots of practice.

Good at powerful questions

This is something everyone should understand.  If you look at that heading again you’ll notice that coaches (I suggest this applies to everyone though) are good at using powerful questions.  If said another way, good questions are powerful!

One source you can turn to is the book A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger.  The subtitle is “The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.”  In his book, Berger refers to a recent research study of thousands of top business executives which found that the most creative, successful business leaders have tended to be expert questioners.

Berger is a source I’ve mentioned many times in this blog.  Listen with the intent to understand, don’t listen with the intent to respond.  Also in his book, Berger says “throughout his life Einstein saw curiosity as something holy.  To see curiosity as holy, you must ask questions with the intent to understand.  Be Curious!

Leaders and Coaches

I don’t care if you’re a leader, a team member, or a coach.  Being good at any role requires—

  • A broad perspective
  • The integrity required to make conversations safe and secure
  • The curiosity to listen and learn.


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