Knowledge Center

Even The Boss Can Benefit From Extra Attention

By Timothy Bentley

Wouldn't it be great to march right into the boss's office and say exactly what you think about the way he or she is doing the job. Without being disciplined, sidelined, humiliated, or fired.

"Let me tell you exactly why that new scheme of yours isn't going to work," you'd pronounce in your most authoritative tone. "And while I'm at it, here's why you never get honest feedback from your employees. Furthermore...."

Such a heady sense of power, not to mention freedom. Plus the chance to really make a difference!

The fact is, I've often been asked by CEOs, VPs, directors, and other senior managers for advice on how to improve their leadership.

A vice president loosens his tie and leans confidentially toward me. "Our firm is on the verge of winning huge new contracts," he says. "We've got a great product, but we're facing potential disaster. Take me, for instance. I have zero training in people management, but with our staff ballooning, it's become one of the biggest areas of my work.

"Our executive group needs you to tell us how to develop our management skills. We want to be ready for the next big wave."

The VP’s genius is that he understands just how much he doesn't know. As an HR professional told me recently, "The problem facing fast-growing organizations is that senior people often don't realize how much they need to improve their skills."

The impact of coaching is so profound it can improve the output of entire organizations. In fact, Fast Company magazine described it to executives recently as "product development, with you as the product."

The hard part is getting started. As you've doubtless noticed, it's not considered cool for senior people to admit they need improvement.

Speaking privately, a bank vice president summed up the situation like this: "Many executives are insecure. They fear that if they admit to having problems, they'll be seen as inadequate, and lose their jobs. It's hard for them to say they'd like help developing their skills."

That's one reason you may never be invited to tell your boss a thing or two.

But safely behind closed doors, many an executive will acknowledge that being in charge leaves them feeling shaky and uncertain. They may be highly intelligent, technically skilled, and politically adept, but they're also ordinary mortals overwhelmed by responsibility.

Some of my most fascinating clients are the owners and executives of high tech firms, those amazing companies which move at just past the speed of light. Last week, a president stared for a moment at the floor, then asked almost shyly, "Are you sure I'm not too far gone, for you to work with?"

He sounded genuinely pleased when I replied that I was excited by his openness, his promise, and by the remarkable energy bubbling through his firm.

You see, while your boss may want me to be brutally frank and utterly direct, he or she doesn't want to be blown out of the water. They wish to emerge with their dignity intact. That's why coaching them requires compassion and a light touch.

If it's beginning to hit you that you've heard very little about this profession, that's not surprising. Coaching has been making waves in the U.S. for a few years, but elsewhere it's still regarded as a casual sideline for consultants and therapists. This country has only a handful of dedicated coaches.

But the number is certain to grow, because the need is there. In a just-in-time, knowledge-based environment, evolving organizations have no use for old-style managers.

They no longer need people who can give orders, they want leaders.

They hire executives who know how to inspire, and since that's not a skill people are born with, they have to learn it from someone.

Another factor is the better-educated, highly-skilled workforce. They're simply not interested in working for bosses who play by worn-out paradigms.

So the self-styled tribal chiefs, feudal lords, straw-bosses, corporate generals, and captains of industry of the past will never again dominate the corporate scene. The new executive is a people person, a continuous learner who keeps in close touch with his or her own mentor, coach, or advisor.

By the way, if you're still tempted to march into the boss's office, you might consider reinforcing some of the smart decisions she or he made recently. You're certain to get a better hearing.

Timothy Bentley is Chief Operating Officer of Panoramic Feedback.

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