So, what does coaching for CEO look like?

Infographic demonstrating CEO Coaching leadership

Setting objectives, questioning, listening, prodding, a little bit of ass kicking, and supporting. Any other questions?

OK, for those who want more detail on what’s entailed in coaching for CEO, let’s explore this for a minute.

I work exclusively with CEOs and their senior leadership teams. CEO coaching is different from other coaching, just like major league coaching is different from high school coaching. CEO coaching varies not so much in process but in impact, both financially and on the lives of people whom CEOs affect.

The stakes are higher — much higher!

Let me tell you about the CEO coaching relationship with one of my best clients. He’s the very talented CEO of a privately held international company. He ascended the organization’s ladder because ownership and the board of directors saw that he was a bright, emotionally intelligent, strong strategic thinker who knew how to assemble an effective team and foster commitment.

He has built a very profitable business that continues to grow in spite of being in a challenging industry with many disrupting factors.

Why would this guy want CEO coaching? For the same reason all great athletes have a coach.

Because innate talent is only half the battle!

Like every other CEO, he has had challenges and wanted a thought partner to help him contemplate options and make tough decisions. He has had sticky issues with people on his senior leadership team that I’ve helped him sort through. He has had divisions that underperformed that we got back on track. He has had relationship issues with his board members that we’ve improved. He has blind spots. He has had self-doubt, occasionally believed his own headlines, and had to reorganize the company — several times. He’s challenged in growing his business.

He understands that those he works with admire and want to please him, so he asks me to tell him the truth when others won’t.

I’ve been friends with some of the people I coach, but I’m not a paid friend. I want to help folks achieve their objectives, not give them a back rub or have a beer when they have a bad day. (I occasionally drink beer with the people I coach but have yet to give a back rub.) I have a peer-to-peer relationship with my clients. Neither is subordinate to the other.

We start with objectives. What do you want to work on? Why will your significant investment in coaching help you be a better leader and businessperson (unless you want a cheap coach —you know, the one who’s still paying off his or her student loan)? The objectives may change over time, and we’ll work through some urgent issues, but our conversations must lead somewhere and provide a return on investment — for you, me and your organization.

I don’t do life coaching, though we’ll talk a lot about life. Nor do I offer marriage counseling, though we’ll talk about your spouse, partner and family. If you think the world is out to get you or you can’t trust anyone, see a psychologist.

If you want to run a kick-ass organization, improve your leadership skills, or have a thought partner to help you think through tough issues, look for a seasoned executive coach.

What’s the process like? See the first paragraph. How often? As often as necessary to meet your objectives and not waste our time. We’ll find a meeting cadence that works for both of us.

I don’t care where you live; we’ll meet primarily face-to-face, because that’s how people communicate best. You may come to me, or I may go to you, but phone, video and email will be secondary, not primary, tools.

How long will this take? As long as it takes. Most of my clients are with me for a year or more.

Behavior change is not easy for any of us and the challenges that a CEO faces are tough. You may get the big bucks, but there is a reason for that. Those who have not been in your shoes don’t get it.

Is it fun? Sometimes! I like to laugh and be around others who do too. We work on very serious stuff, but we’ll have fun while we do so. Not all the time, but part of the time. Some of it’s just hard work. If you’re averse to this, you might find a paid friend.

One of my best clients said to me, “I’m a much better CEO because of our work together!” That’s what CEO coaching is.