Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Excellent Executive Coaches and Executive Leaders Have Presence

As unbelievable as it seems to me, I have recently passed my 27th year in the executive coaching field. Then when I look in the mirror and notice the grey hair on my head and goatee I realize I may have amassed the experience that many crave when they enter the profession like I did at the ripe old age of 30. I can remember growing a beard when I started, back in 1983, to hopefully look more mature. All I accomplished was to appear like a young rookie with a scraggily beard!
After so many years as a coach I have had the privilege and pleasure of hiring, training, mentoring and observing a significant number of bright, young, promising coaches. And some were maybe not so young, but still new to the work and looking ahead with great hopes. Many times I have been asked about what characteristics I look for when I search out the next generation of coaches to add to our organization. The answer has always been the same. It does not matter if it is our youngest generation (we have coaches in their late 20’s and early 30’s) or those that can compete with me on the age scale; presence is always the factor that separates a great coach from a good or poor coach.
Presence is elusive in definition as much as it is in character. You know it when you see it show up in front of you and many wonder what it is that is different with this person but they can’t seem to put their finger on it. When they do we often hear folks say that it is something that is innate in someone and not something that can be developed. I don’t agree. Presence is a characteristic that each and every one of us can add to our portfolio and continue to massage as a profound strength in our character.
Excellent executive leaders also carry this key characteristic in their leadership briefcase. I have an exceptional executive coaching friend, Valerie Williams in New Jersey ( that recently wrote her latest book, (she has written several books on leadership), titled The Influence Puzzle®: 6 Aspects of Powerful Executive Presence. This book and Valerie’s coaching process moves leaders through their own development path toward defining and developing their leadership presence. Valerie says, “Executive skill development alone is the old leadership paradigm. It is insufficient. The new leadership paradigm goes far beyond skill development to focus on leading and influencing people at a much deeper level. The new leadership paradigm is combining higher level leadership skills with the strategic use of your leadership presence. Skill development is a good start. However, it is not enough for today’s complex business challenges. The most strategic tool you have is not a skill; it’s your presence.”
You can tell the difference. Leaders that exercise their executive presence stand apart from other executives. Are you one of those leaders that stand out? If not, you are likely a leader that still depends solely on your leadership or technical skills to lead your organization. Valerie goes on to say, “If you still believe that leadership skills alone will get you where you want to be, then you may never achieve all that you could be. Executive effectiveness in this business environment requires a much deeper level of development - one that goes beyond traditional executive development. Success today requires a thorough exploration of how your own personal presence drives results.”
When we ask participants in our leadership workshops to name the people in their lives that have had the most impact on them they universally pick leaders with characteristics that describe presence. Take a moment to think of those people on your list that have made a difference in your life. What about you? Will your name show up on the minds of these participants and the people you lead?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Will You Be Ready?

We recently conducted exit interviews for one of our clients when two employees resigned on the same day. Both were quality players in this organization and had each put in four and five years respectively before moving on.  Our best people will always be marketable given either good times or bad. And when they start to exit it calls for a review of how we are doing and what we need to do to most effectively attract and retain our top talent.
Over the past eighteen months our coaching business has experienced slow but steady growth. I would like to credit this growth to our brilliant work as coaches and possessing the best resources of executive coaches at our ready disposal. And I know that this has been a success factor for us since we started Leadersearch way back in 1991. Therefore, we continue to espouse the belief that companies are realizing the need to use coaches to partner with them through the economic reset we are experiencing.
Our workshop business has been a harder sell as this economy settled into reality.  We run half day, full day and multi day workshops coaching participants through a variety of leadership development topics. As I’ve talked with other friends in the training and development business it seems consistent that business is off for them in the range of 40% or more. I’ve often heard how training is one of the first things companies take off the table when trying to shave costs. It would be interesting to know from companies what their experience has been during past downturns, what productivity impact they had when they either cut or maintained training budgets.
In a recent workshop I had a participant say, “I hate it when we train them and they leave.” referring specifically to younger generation professionals. I said, “What happens if you don’t train them and they stay?”.
When our best and brightest are always marketable, given good times or bad, what are we doing to develop them and keep them? Recently, the Wall Street Journal posted an article titled – “Despite Cutbacks, Firms Invest in Developing Leaders”. The article suggests “Despite layoffs and recession-starved budgets, many employers are investing in leadership-development programs, hoping not to be caught short of strong managers when the economy recovers.”  Bret Furio from Philips Electronics North America said, “Identifying and grooming leaders is important in good times. In times of crisis when the economy is struggling, it’s imperative.”
We have witnessed an increase in the coaching side of our business since this economic downturn has gripped the world, particularly, the relationship coaching work that has become an integral part of our practice. It seems that the issues that were overlooked when we were running hard, making money and being successful, become critical when times get tougher.
I have enough grey hair to have experienced a couple of recessions. A key learning from any of these previous experiences is that we learn more about ourselves, and those around us, when times become different, particularly, tougher times. The best tests of true leadership show up when our people get scared. And we’re not talking problem solving, doing or project managing skill sets. We’re talking about the ability to have the conversations that are necessary in order to build the relationships that produce the most effective productivity. The Journal article continued on to state “executives believe that without capable managers, their ability to come through the recession in a healthy fashion is diminished.”.
Sage leaders will look at this recession and define it as our new reality, our new economy and our economic reset.  A recent survey by a San Francisco marketing firm revealed some quality characteristics for these leaders and companies during this time of economic reset:
*They know and value their core strengths.
*They recognize new opportunities quickly.
*They demonstrate flexibility and persistence.
*They show speed in executing plans and strategies.
*They provide extreme customer service.
*They create powerful and vibrant teams.
There is not a better or more necessary time in a company lifecycle than now to lead effectively. Are you stepping up to the plate or are you one of the statistics that contribute to the #1 reason people leave organizations – their manager sucks? It is definitely a time to run with our winners and cut our losers. We need to be dynamic enough to manage this economic reset and come out the other side with a herd of running horses!