07/15/2014 02:52 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

You Are the Chief Executive, But... Are You Coachable?


If you desire to be a great chief executive leader, being coachable is required. You simply can't achieve leadership greatness if you only depend on your perception of how you lead. There was a time in my life that "being coachable" was not a possessed trait. In fact while feedback was desired, when heard, it was rather hurtful and not something embraced. Can you relate to that?

If we are truthful -- most of us say we want feedback about our leadership style and effectiveness. When someone gives us feedback we often disregard the positive comments and concentrate on the negative comments. We then either can't believe what has been said or we just don't hear it. In order to grow as a transformed executive leader, listening and acting upon feedback is imperative.

The desire to listen and learn from feedback makes or breaks our ability to grow. We are coachable if we can hear and grow. If not, we aren't coachable. Fortunately for most of us, there comes a time when the desire to listen and learn is greater than the pain in hearing feedback. Consequently executive leadership characteristics grow and effectiveness as an executive leader escalates accordingly.

When in graduate school, an instructor told us that the higher you go up the corporate ladder the more unlikely someone will tell you if you have bad breath. While that was shared in a tongue and cheek way, it is true. Once you have positional authority where you have the power to ensure employment, or not, you often won't hear full truth. Feedback can then be quite skewed giving you the impression you are doing well when in fact there areas needing your attention to grow.

How do you get the truth about your executive leadership effectiveness so that you can grow? Here are a few ways that help...

  1. If your organization has a strong and effective 360 Feedback program in place, participate. 360 Feedback is a tool that if used well in an organization can be very helpful. It is a formal program and is done in an anonymous fashion. It is so named as it is intended to obtain feedback from a full 360 degrees around you -- your employees and direct reports, your boss or board, and others you work with in your organization. However, if organizations don't follow the process of gathering feedback with effective follow-up and a plan with timelines for improvement, the results are less optimal and typically not as helpful.
  2. If you don't have a 360 Feedback or similar organizational tool but you have a human resources department, enlist the director or leader of the department to send an anonymous survey. This survey should be sent to five to 15 people you work with closely (organizational size depending) to obtain feedback about your effectiveness as an executive leader. It is best if you have all levels provide input -- employees who work for you, direct reports and board members you work with. The focus should be simple -- your strengths and weaknesses as an executive leader.
  3. If you have a boss (board chair or board member) who is experienced with giving feedback and is respectful and truthful in sharing feedback about your effectiveness, listen and allow them to mentor you.
  4. Enlist an executive coach who can watch you in action, has your best interest at heart and is honest and respectful in sharing observations about your effectiveness as a leader.
  5. Study yourself and watch the way others react to you -- employees, your executive team, and others. This is helpful if done with any of the tools mentioned above to match your perception with others.

Now you have selected and implemented a mechanism to obtain feedback, then what's next? Working with many executive leaders, knowing what to do with the feedback is as hard if not harder than hearing the feedback. Habits are hard to change and many people are of the opinion that we are stuck with the way we are and can't change. That just isn't true. People can and do change if the feedback is respectful and delivered in a way that honors the person. Time is needed to allow us to change.

Here are a few tips to help you move forward and change:

  1. Examine whatever facts you have about your executive leadership style and effectiveness as objectively as possible
  2. Remember to pay attention to what others say about your strengths as well as weaknesses in order to balance the scale, so to speak
  3. Realize that if others perceive you differently than what you see in yourself, it isn't about who is right, it is about what your willingness to consider a different perspective
  4. Begin identifying the drivers that cause the behaviors others see in you.
  5. Develop a plan that can address the drivers and transform your weaknesses into strengths.
  6. Implement your plan, notice, and celebrate your improvement independently.

Remember many of us are great at noticing weaknesses, particularly in others. But we are less capable of noticing when someone has changed and flipped a weakness into strength. It might take time for others to notice the difference, but over time, they will.

The most important lesson is to learn how you can embrace a personal life-long coachable spirit. If you do, everyone around you wins.

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