Learning to be coachable
I want to thank Andy Halley-Wright for his recent advice on how to improve my website. Andy is a brand expert, having worked for years as a strategist at Young & Rubicam. I am a brand expert, as an executive or consultant developing dozens of brand strategies over the years. Andy was complementary about the values of generosity and wisdom that were evident in my website. He likes the name, Executive Springboard. He was also very clear that my website, in total, was not getting my own brand message across. He asked, “Who designed your website?” I answered, “I did,” and I could hear the cringe on the other end of the phone! He offered some tangible steps to fix my messaging. I fully intend to build Andy’s advice into my website. But not right now. I don’t have time right now.
I’m bringing this up not to invite thousands of people to add their comments about our website (go ahead, I'd love the feedback!) But because it says a lot about an important aspect of succeeding in corporate life --- being coachable.
We see this a lot in our practice. I had a conversation with a CEO about whether offering up coaching or mentoring to an executive came with an implicit criticism of the exec’s ability to do the job. “Are you not fully confident in me? Is that why you are offering this?” It’s a little self-serving of me to say, “Well, give every executive a mentor and then nobody will feel singled out as needing coaching when others don’t.”
Our consultancy has lost out on mentoring engagements, because new executives could not find the time to fit in a mentor. I am sort of relieved not to take on these engagements, yet saddened to think that the unwillingness to be coached is indicative of future problems.
“Not enough time” is somebody’s way of saying that they have more pressing priorities. We all have the same amount of time in our calendars. Some may work 14 hours a day, some might game or exercise or make time for family activities. Some might think their own career development is a priority. Others may not. Even among mentored executives, we recognize a high incidence of cancelled sessions. The calculus is that an executive places higher priority on the day-to-day issues that require their time than the investment the company intends to make in their development.
I can relate. Upon reflection, there are few things that hit me at my core more than for somebody to think I am not competent. So, I know from personal experience that it can be very difficult to ask for help that will improve what I do, or even to accept it when it is offered.
Here’s the hard truth. When 20,000 hiring managers were asked in a Center for Creative Leadership 2011 survey what were the top reasons why an executive hire failed, here were the five leading responses:
So, this unwillingness to heed advice, much less admit it is needed, is the biggest single source of failures among executive hires. What might feel like insecurity looks like arrogance and ends in disappointment.
For those of us who might not find being coached a natural thing, here are five steps you can take.
Given how often coachability plays into an executive’s success or failure, maybe there is extra motivation to recognize when we are being coached and when our responses can color how we are viewed. With this in mind, Andy, let me tell you that I take your comments on my website seriously and that I fully intend to take on several of the suggestions he made. But just not yet!
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Executive Springboard President Steve Moss shares learning from years as an executive and a mentor.