Sunday, August 1, 2010

Working with an Executive Coach - An Intro

Involved but not intense
Relaxed body language
Listen with all your senses
Great eye contact
Be close but don't invade

Obviously these are not my ideas, but how many times have we been caught up in the moment, and neglected these qualities in both our personal and professional dealings? How many times have you been in a situation in your career development where you felt you needed a sounding board for why you do what you do? These questions and others drove me to work with an executive coach.

Now the title implies that I'm management, and I'm not. Why then would I chose this type of instruction? Let's face it, at some point, many of us will move to management. When you get there, will you arrive ready? What if you want to own your own business someday? Will you come up with a great idea, fall short on execution and mismanage your resources such that your organization goes bankrupt or gets picked up at a fire sale? Certain events are inevitable; what will you do to minimize risk or improve chances of success? Will you become a manager or leader similar to one you've disliked, or that you've admired? Like I commented on in my post about knowing your limits, your skills help you win, your overconfidence makes you lose.

So what does executive coaching look like? I meet every other week for an hour. For the first part of the session, we discuss items I need immediate help with. For example, I might have a few sales presentations to executives and I need to review their fundamental concerns. Is my assessment of their business accurate? Can I estimate whether this organization is profitable based on employee count and revenue? This helps me in putting our technical strategy in perspective when making recommendations to the account executives I support.

As far as the products I position, especially anything related to metrics or intelligence, I want to offer recommendations that improve the chances our software will be used throughout our customer's organization. For example, we know that experienced managers I present to will grade their employees and make attempts to move the middle 70% upwards. Am I positioning our dashboarding or reporting capabilities in this way or am I simply saying that we can measure performance?

For another portion of the session, we discuss personalities, and how best to relate to them. You may have heard of Myers Briggs, and other models. We do something similar, however the methodology we use, Social Styles, I feel is much quicker and practical when you're on your toes. We choose people we know, try to fit them into a personality profile, and build methods for addressing their needs appropriately. We all like to be communicated with according to our preferences. And why wouldn't it make sense to study these groups, and help adjust your interactions according to their preferences.

For example, someone with a Driving style like myself, is characterized by someone who responds best by being given your best recommendation, rather than options. An Analytical style is the opposite. If you hadn't at least studied my body language, the objects in my office, and phrasing, you might have proposed too many options to me, and I'll likely ask you to whittle down the choices. Thus requiring another meeting or at least introducing some delay in your engagement.

Usually towards the end, we discuss business problems and set todo's for next time. This involves some reading and general observations at meetings. Did I quickly estimate the personality styles on the key decision makers of the deals I'm working on? Can I articulate the organizational reasons for purchasing?

This is all incredibly interesting to me, but how does it benefit the organization I work for? By putting someone in front of decision makers who understands operationally how a manufacturing organization reconciles its build plan against the sales forecast, or how a multichannel support organization is measured by, is more likely to build rapport, and gain confidence with our business partners in a variety of engagements. I also have articles and books to read, organizations to research, and business problems to study at home.

How do you get the most out of an executive coach? Have a clear understanding of what you're looking to get out of it. After all, it's your time. Ask yourself what else you're doing to work intelligently and exploit leverage points. Ask yourself what you're naturally good at, and also what you're inclined to do. Your coach should be able to help you identify your shortcomings, recommend an improvement plan, and help you see around the corner. I've been working with Michael Ker from Acceleration Leadership for the past 5 months and it ranks up there with the best calls I've made this year.


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