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Executive Coaching – What to ask the person in the mirror

If you’re like most
successful leaders, you were, in the early stages of your career, given plenty
of guidance and support. You were closely monitored, coached, and mentored. But
as you moved up the ladder, the sources of honest and useful feedback became
fewer, and after a certain point, you were pretty much on your own. Now, your
boss—if you have one—is no longer giving much consideration to your day-to-day
actions. By the time any mistakes come to light, it’s probably too late to fix
them—or your boss’s perceptions of you. And by the time your management
missteps negatively affect your business results, it’s usually too late to make
corrections that will get you back on course.

matter how talented and successful you are, you will make mistakes. You will
develop bad habits. The world will change subtly, without your even noticing,
and behaviours that once worked will be rendered ineffective.

hard to see it when you’re in the midst of it; changes in the environment,
competitors, or even personal circumstances can quietly guide you off your
game. I have learned that a key characteristic of highly successful leaders is
not that they figure out how to always stay on course, but that they develop
techniques to help them recognize a deteriorating situation and get back on
track as quickly as possible. In my experience, the best way to do that is to
step back regularly, say every three to six months (and certainly whenever
things feel as though they aren’t going well), and honestly ask yourself some
questions about how you’re doing and what you may need to do differently. As
simple as this process sounds, people are often shocked by their own answers to
basic management and leadership questions.

manager in a large financial services company who had been passed over for
promotion told me he was quite surprised by his year-end performance review,
which highlighted several management issues that had not been previously
brought to his attention. His boss read several comments from the review that
faulted him for poor communication, failure to effectively articulate a
strategy for the business, and a tendency to isolate himself from his team. He
believed that the review was unfair. After 15 years at the company, he began to
feel confused and misunderstood and wondered whether he still had a future
there. He decided to seek feedback directly from five of his key contributors
and longtime collaborators. In one-on-one meetings, he asked them for blunt
feedback and advice. He was shocked to hear that they were highly critical of
several of his recent actions, were confused about the direction he wanted to
take the business, and felt he no longer valued their input. Their feedback
helped him see that he had been so immersed in the day-to-day business that he
had failed to step back and think about what he was doing. This was a serious
wake-up call. He immediately took steps to change his behaviour and address
these issues. His review the following year was dramatically better, he was
finally promoted, and his business’s performance improved. The manager was
lucky to have received this feedback in time to get his career back on track,
although he regretted that he had waited for a negative review to ask basic
questions about his leadership activities. He promised himself he would not
make that mistake again.

more information about Executive Coaching with Xenonex, including our 360
degree Appraisals, contact Suzanna Prout on 01423 876371 or email

(Author: Robert S. Kaplan)