CEOs need coaching too!
When we think about CEOs, words such as powerful, influential and demanding come to mind. We have seen numerous examples where CEOs brought organizations to new highs, and where CEOs brought organizations to bankruptcy. From 2000 to 2013, about a quarter of the CEO departures in the Fortune 500 were involuntary, according to the Conference Board (HBR, 2017). What a CEO controls, translates into 45% of a company’s performance (Bradley et al, 2018). This underlines that hiring the right candidate for the role of CEO, and developing the CEO, is crucial for the success, sustainability, transformation and well-being of the organization.
So, what mindsets, traits, skills, behaviors, and leadership styles should a CEO possess and or develop? Well, that is a great question, and the answer is not singular because leadership is complex, ambiguous and contextual (Paustian-Underdahl et al., 2014; Northouse, 2019), and let’s make an effort to provide some clarity.
Mindsets are mental lenses. These lenses decide what information is taken into account. Mindsets drive what leaders do and why. CEOs must cultivate growth, learning, deliberative, and promotion mindsets to take more effective decisions (HBR, 2020). Growth mindset, rather than fixed mindset, means that the CEO must believe that people, including oneself, can develop (Dweck, 2007). Learning mindset is all about wanting to learning something new and increasing one’s competency. Deliberative mindset is about wanting to seek out all kinds of information to build a rich picture to make optimal decisions, whereas promotion mindset is about playing to win rather than focusing on avoiding problems and losses (HBR, 2020).
Traits, such as -but not limited to, and dependent on context- being aware, adaptable, alert, ambitious, assertive, authentic, curious, collaborative, conscientious, decisive, open to experience, energetic, empathic, emotionally mature, influential, persistent, reliable, resolute, self-confident, responsible, visionary and stress-tolerant, are important leadership traits (Northouse, 2019).
In terms of needed behaviors, Harvard Business Review (2017) found that CEOs must decide with speed and conviction, engage for buy-in and impact, adapt course pro-actively, and deliver reliably.
As for leadership style, a CEO must develop a range of contextual leadership styles. Norwich University distinguishes between four CEO styles, namely transformational, authoritative, strategic and affiliative leadership. The transformational leadership style revolves around motivating and empowering people to drive change throughout the organization. The authoritative leadership style is the opposite. It is about making strict decisions and implementing policies without employee input. The strategic leadership style involves adapting in the face of change but remaining firm in protecting core values. It combines flexibility, steadfastness, big-picture thinking and an ability to see the small details. The affiliative leadership style revolves around fostering a culture that nurtures employees and puts the people first. This is achieved by building loyalty, strengthening emotional bonds, and administering praise. The affiliative leader maintains harmony and ensures that employees feel a sense of connection to the organization and its goals.
Next to this, according to McKinsey (2019), CEOs should focus on six domains whereby each domain is composed of three practices. The domains are: corporate strategy, board engagement, external stakeholders, personal working norms, teams and processes, and organizational alignment. Practices include reframe what winning means (vision), make bold moves early (strategy), stay active (resource allocation), promote a forward looking agenda (effectiveness), think beyond the meeting (have an agenda), seek balance and development (optimize capabilities), look at the big picture (purpose), prioritize and shape interactions (relationship building), build resilience (overcome challenges), manage time and energy (office), choose authenticity (leadership), guard against arrogance (perspective), show resolve (team work), defend against biases (decision making), ensure coherence (management processes), match talent to value (talent management), go beyond employee engagement (shape the organizational culture), combine speed with stability (organizational design).
The above underlines that we ask and need a lot from our CEOs. Being a CEO is a big responsibility with many facets and impact. CEOs shape our world. Hence, we want conscious and intentional CEOs steering us into the future, creating improved realities. To bring all of these pieces together, coaching is key. Coaching allows CEOs to take a pause, observe, take stock, reflect, explore, provoke one’s thinking, envision, strategize and take action. Coaching has proven to result in increased self-awareness, better, more sustained, and accelerated learning, and improvement in leadership performance (Forbes, 2019).
Contact me if you or your organization wants to experience coaching.
Botelho, E.L., Rosenkoetter Powell, K., Kincaid, S., and Wang, D. (2017) ‘What Sets Successful CEOs Apart’, Harvard Business Review (HBR), May-June issue, pp. 70-77.
Bradley, C., Hirt, M., and Smit, S. (2018) Strategy Beyond the Hockey Stick: People, Probabilities, and Big Moves to Beat the Odds. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons
Dweck, C. (2007) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, How we can learn to fulfill our potential. New York: Ballantine Books
Gottfredson, R. and Reina, C. (2020) ‘To Be a Great Leader, You Need the Right Mindset’, Harvard Business Review (HBR), January issue, available at: https://hbr.org/2020/01/to-be-a-great-leader-you-need-the-right-mindset (accessed on May 5, 2022)
Northouse, P. (2019) Leadership: Theory and Practice. 8th edition. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
McKinsey (2019) The mindsets and practices of excellent CEOs. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/the-mindsets-and-practices-of-excellent-ceos (Accessed: May 5, 2022)
Paustian-Underdahl, S.C., Slattery Walker, L. and Woehr, D.J. (2014) ‘Gender and Perceptions of Leadership Effectiveness: A Meta-Analysis of Contextual Moderators’, Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(6), pp. 1129-1145.
Sime, C. (2019) ‘How Does Coaching Actually Help Leaders’, Forbes, March 28, available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/carleysime/2019/03/28/how-does-coaching-actually-help-leaders/?sh=3daf42d01645 (Accessed: May 8, 2022)