We had just finished a global conference. The forty plus leaders from three continents had left and were headed back to their different parts of the world. The CEO and I were relaxing in his office recounting the lessons learned from the session. His words to me went something like this:
- We’ve developed a leadership team that is doing some astounding things. I have never experienced a team working at this level.
- I’ve learned so much about leadership over the last couple of years. It’s amazing how differently I now think about leadership compared to what I thought I should be doing earlier in my career.
- This global culture that we’ve built is going to help us weather almost any foreseeable storm. We could be in better shape.
At this point, I have to admit that I was feeling pretty good about myself and the work we had done together. He had just hit the three main function of my company: Team, Leadership, Culture. I must be doing something right. But then he said something that really shook me. He said, “But your real value is…” I had no ideas what he was about to say. What else was there beyond Team, Leadership and Culture? He continued, your real value is when we just sit and talk like this. At that moment I understood the value of executive coaching.
When You’re Already the Best
Years ago, I had an opportunity to visit the Colonial Golf Tournament in Fort Worth, Texas. I had chosen to walk the course with a few of the players rather than stay in one location.
Tom Watson was at the top of his game during those years. He may have been the best player at the time. Certainly nobody knew more about the game of golf or his personal golf game than Tom Watson. He is a real student of the game. Toward the end of his round I noticed that he began to lose his drives to the left.
On the 18th tee his hook was so pronounced that he almost hit it in the water down the left side. He finished his round very calmly, but as he was exiting the 18th green I noticed that he looked very directly at one person and seemed to nod his head as if saying, “Come with me!” It turned out to be his swing coach and they headed off to the practice tee.
As I observed from a distance (I could not hear their words) Tom had lost that calm demeanor and was franticly motioning to his coach that something had gone dramatically wrong with his golf swing. As his coach calmed him back down and suggested he try a couple of minor corrections, his practice drives began to sail long and true. With a smile of contentment, he hit drive after drive right down the middle. Even though he may have been the best in the world at that point, he still needed a coach to help him correct minor flaws that had creeped into his game.
Are You Selling Drugs?
Those words were asked of me a little too seriously by and Executive Admin that I had come to know. My slightly shocked response was, “Of course not!”, why would she ask? She told me that her CEO never gave more than an hour of his schedule to anyone. Yet, when I showed up once a month he would clear his calendar for an entire afternoon and she would hear us in his office talking and laughing for many hours.
Was I selling drugs? Not the pharmaceutical kind but yes, I was providing the CEO with something that helped him deal with his stressful and complex business life. Time to think, talk, and ask questions with a trusted coach.
Reboot Your Heart and Mind
Rich Karlgaard is one of the authors that I like to read. Last year he wrote one of his regular contribution articles to Forbes magazine with the above title. He was speaking of Bill Campbell, one of the Silicon Valley legends that had recently passed away. Bill was a successful leader in his own right but Rich was explaining that he would be remembered most as a great coach to several of the valleys biggest names. This role of being a sounding board, a safe listener, a wise counsel is present in the lives of many successful leaders.
Have you found this person(s) in your life? Are you even looking? Are you serving that role for other people? Listening, sharing and asking meaningful questions. We all need coaches.