Surviving the Limelight
When is an Executive Coach most valued by a client? Not surprisingly, often when a client is most surprised! Getting blindsided by the unexpected is part of the job for executives, but how they handle an awakened dragon is what really matters. As an Executive Coach, your role in this rebound cannot be underestimated.
Consider as an example Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who recently attracted more visibility than usual when she set a reasonably straightforward human resources policy for her company to limit telecommuting. Regardless of whether you agree with her on the necessity of employees being present at an office every day, it is hard not to be surprised by the public outcry in response to her internal company announcement. She is the company’s Chief Executive Officer, she is in the midst of a tough turnaround, and she has the board assigned authority to run the company day-to-day. The fact that her decision attracted so much public attention – headline news around the world – likely surprised even her.
Was the reaction of non-Yahoos likely to cause her to change her mind? Pretty unlikely. Was the media sensation that found reason to demonize her an easy punch to deflect? That seems equally unlikely. Had you been her Executive Coach, what would you have said to her? More importantly, would you have been ready to say anything at all?
I would presume that Ms. Mayer has a well-established support system including personal and professional mentors to help dust her off after a fall, but what about those executives a notch or two down from the top job at companies like hers? Surely the loud reaction to her memo represents an extreme, but as a former CEO myself, I assure you the spotlight can shine unfavorably without warning. Senior executives are almost always operating at a high level of visibility, both within their companies and to the outside world. Say the wrong thing or implement an otherwise innocuous tactic in any compromising manner and the wallop that follows can be bone crushing.
There are unlimited roles an Executive Coach can play in serving a client, but perhaps none is more vital than the quiet sanctuary of crisis management. Wherever the Executive Coach might be weighing in on the spectrum of support – from consultant to mentor – the sounding board an Executive Coach provides to an executive under fire can ensure continuity over severance. A seasoned Executive Coach might be the only individual qualified, prepared, and able to help an executive repel hyperbole and steady the ship. How much the executive can depend on a coach in times of unwanted celebrity may mean the difference between getting through the interrupt or falling prey to demoralization.
To be clear, it may not be the surprise act causing an unusual uproar that delivers material damage to the executive’s business agenda. It may be the executive’s immediate and unformed response. There is an extraordinary distance to navigate between thoughtful, timely reaction and analysis paralysis. An Executive Coach remains in the executive’s corner with 100% objectivity, without conflict of interest, and without intellectual or emotional compromise to help the executive sort through all available options in near real-time.
Remember, an executive is a champion, just like a star athlete. The executive has signed onto the team roster to win. All executives know they will be surprised by the response to one of their decisions sooner or later, but that does not mean they want to dig themselves out of the muck alone, especially when they never saw the sinkhole coming. Where an executive has a trusted Executive Coach accessible for counsel, that Executive Coach can guide the executive toward accessing empowered resilience to any potentially catastrophic attack. Responding to attack will always be part of an executive’s job, but incorporating the focused perspective of an Executive Coach to respond with inspiration can make for a brilliant recovery.
When John Vercelli and I run our simulations and role-plays for Coaches Training Institute to help ready a CTI Executive Coach for the highest levels of client service, we are not just thinking about how to help an Executive Coach win a client. We are deeply concerned how an Executive Coach retains a client, adds tremendous value to the critical work of a client, and is always available to help that client keep winning no matter the obstacles they encounter. Because an executive must be nimble and responsive in today’s 24 x 7 x 365 competitive environment, an Executive Coach must be equally if not more nimble and responsive. Anticipating the unexpected is of course impossible in the specific, but necessary in the abstract. You never get an extra beat when the spotlight shines. You sing when the light comes on. Being ready is what makes you great, and being present is what makes you forever dependable.
No one can ever tell you when a fire is going to ignite. The only thing you know for sure is there will be a fire. Being an Executive Coach means you are a vital part of your client’s response team, often where the team is just you and the executive. Are you ready for that level of responsibility? Are you ready to help your executive win when the odds are at their lowest? If so, the difference you make can mean everything. For that you will always be cherished.