How to Use a Leadership Coach September 18 2012

How to Use a Leadership CoachThink for a moment about the best boss you’ve ever had. Get a specific person in mind. What did they do that made them your best boss? Jot your answers down on the left side of a piece of paper in a column labeled “Best Boss.” Go ahead, we’ve got time.

All done? Now, think of the worst boss you’ve ever had. What did they do that made them the worst boss? Write those answers down in the right hand column labeled “Worst Boss.” It shouldn’t take too long. The Worst Boss answers come a lot more quickly for most people than the Best Boss answers.

Now, here’s another question for you – do you want to be someone’s best boss or their worst boss? Unless you have some serious issues, I’m guessing it’s the best boss. Your own answers to the best boss question can give you a target to shoot for but how can you be sure you’re hitting the mark?

One way to go is to hire an experienced leadership coach that can help you take an objective look at your performance and guide you in the process of making adjustments that will make a positive difference to you, your team and your organization. Don’t have the budget for a leadership coach? Lots of organizations have a cadre of trained internal coaches you can call on. Check out what your organization has to offer. Yet another option is to pair up with a peer from another part of your organization and agree to coach each other. (Here are some simple and straightforward ideas on how to do that.)

Whatever route you choose to go, here are three suggestions to get the most out of working with a leadership coach:

Make It Designated Balcony Time: Harvard leadership professor Ron Heifetz likes to point out that leaders can either be on the dance floor or the balcony and that it’s important to alternate your perspective between the two on a regular basis. When you’re dancing as fast as you can, it’s hard to see much beyond what’s right in front of you. Use your time with your coach as designated balcony time to pull the lens back and look for the patterns in what’s going on down on the dance floor.

Answer Different Questions: By spending some time on the balcony with your coach, you might notice that the actions you’re taking on a regular basis aren’t getting you and your organization to where you need to go next. A good coach is going to ask you questions that you probably don’t usually ask yourself. Answering different questions can help you get out of an action rut. Expect your coach to help you with that.

Build Better Habits: My guiding philosophy as a coach comes from Aristotle who said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” Your coach should be able to help you identify a few new habits to take on that will make you a more effective leader and then support you in grooving those behaviors. You want to look for leadership habits that are in the sweet spot between relatively easy to do and likely to make a difference.

What’s your take? What do you want to get out of working with a leadership coach? If you’ve worked with a coach before, what advice do you have for first timers who want to make it a valuable experience?

3 Responses to “How to Use a Leadership Coach”

  1. HelenCH says:

    Interesting post Scott. I work solely as a professional leadership coach and the first priority I have for my clients is that they have a clear leadership vision and can express it to their team. This ensures that everyone knows the direction they're heading and the role they play in achievement and success.

  2. 1. Up front expectations. Define what outcome you're trying to accomplish, how long you expect it to take, how much work each party will be putting in, what kind of shape the sessions will take, etc.
    2. Come prepared. I am constantly thinking of questions that I want to ask my coach and saving them for our sessions. I do the assignments he gives me and take responsibility for getting the most out of our time together.

  3. Suzanne says:

    When I worked with my first leadership coach ten years ago in a financial firm, he asked me to make a list of the habits I would need to attain the level of success I wanted. We worked on that list for close to 13 months and I'll tell you, it made me a better person. Better for my direct reports, better for my managers, and better for my spouse. Suzanne

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