Self-reflection allows coaching to take root

After years of coaching high potential executives, I’ve observed some factors that make the difference in whether or not they are successful. When an outside coach is brought in, it’s usually because there is something they need to polish or there is a problem they need to fix. Often, the change includes modifying their behavior, job execution, leadership tactics, or personal mannerisms.  

Here are some of the internal and intangible things that make the difference: 

The capacity for internal examination and reflection

Once an executive, or other high potential, has climbed a few rungs of the success ladder, he or she can be easily lulled into a false sense of complacency regarding his or her skills and credibility. After all, they can reason, they beat out hundreds, perhaps thousands, to reach this level.  

Unfortunately, for those who have limited capacity to look inward, the path to derailment can come faster than a hairpin turn.  

Jack was a brilliant negotiator and also possessed the technical skills that propelled his rise to the level of Vice President. Jack’s blind spot was his arrogance and disregard for the feelings of his employees and peers. When his bullying treatment of others reached crisis proportions, the company enlisted my help as his coach.  

After interviewing the people around him at all levels, I presented him with the feedback. It wasn’t pretty. “These people are idiots,” he explained to me as if I had missed the obvious. “I’m smarter than all of them and they are too thin-skinned when I prove it.” His inability to look in the mirror eventually cost him his job. 

In another case, I was asked to help a brilliant statistician, who couldn’t explain his work to the executive team in laymen’s terms. When first presented with the idea of working with a coach, he said, “My reports and findings are self-explanatory. They should be obvious to the executive team. They just don’t understand the field.” Once he realized his work was useless unless it was understood, he was willing to learn how to win the credibility he deserved. 

The ability to learn from and act on feedback

I worked with a new plant manager, who was having problems adjusting to an old-fashioned, autocratic culture. Rather than rejecting the feedback because of its source, he was able to use it to modify his style. “I know this company has its flaws,” he said, “but if I can be successful here, I can be successful anywhere. I’m going to learn a lot about how to change a culture—it’s going to be a great learning experience.” 

In another case, I was working with a female executive who received some stinging feedback from her peers. Some of it was based on some false rumors. She came around to this conclusion: “If I am going to change their perceptions, I guess I am going to have to behave in a way that makes them change their thinking.” Along the way, she discovered that she had inadvertently contributed to some of the perceptions, and was able to positively change her credibility in the eyes of her peers. 

In both cases, they were willing to take the change process to heart and put energy and enthusiasm into doing their personal development “homework” between sessions, to reach their goals. 

The willingness to disclose to others that they are working on themselves

Some coaching situations are done without involving others but in many cases, involving others is necessary and desirable.  

Take the case of Tom, a hothead who blew up at the slightest provocation and intimidated his staff. He agreed to let me interview his colleagues for feedback, because he realized without it we wouldn’t have much data to work with.  

Once he heard the collective opinion about the damage his behavior caused, he called his team together and thanked them for having the courage to be honest. He then read a list of the behaviors he never wanted to display again and gave them permission to tell him if they ever saw him violate anything on his list.  

Starting that day, his team rallied around him and became a team of “coaches.” By being authentic and vulnerable with his team, he was able to jump-start the journey toward winning respect and becoming a role model for self-development.  

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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