Monday, September 13, 2010

Executive Coaching Translated

Now, more than at any time in my decades of working in and for government, public sector executives are experiencing extraordinary levels of stress and pressure. Some are feeling under siege. There is so much pressure to do more with less. Doing more with less is not an altogether bad thing, of course (but staying sane is a good thing, too!).

Being a senior executive and leader in government today is an incredibly difficult job – and it’s made even harder because it’s too often a “solo” gig. There’s little, if any, support and coaching.

The spoken and unspoken expectation of public sector executives is that they should know their job, their business, and therefore don’t need any coaching.

It’s funny, though, that almost no one in the private sector believes that. Nearly all of the top executives in Fortune 500 companies – and indeed, many leaders in the private sector – have one or more executive coaches.

(I certainly have my own coaches. Two of the most active of my coaches are Terrell Blodgett, former leader with the City of Austin, a lifetime member of the International City-County Management Association (ICMA), and a Professor Emeritus at the LBJ School for Public Services; and Joel Fleschman – psychologist, facilitator and regular “in my face” guy.)

I’ve had the opportunity to work with some distinguished government leaders as an Executive Coach. My approach begins and ends with listening.

  • First, listen, and listen good! And by that, I mean listen deeply – listen deeply to what is really going on for the executive and for the organization. The focus here is on the executive. If a coach can help the executive be more effective, the entire organization will become more effective.

  • Second, listen for the solutions. My experience is that the answers are more often within you than not. It sometimes takes a little playback, some thinking-out-loud, and a few of the right questions to get a handle on the issues and the solutions/strategies.

  • Third, listen for results. What do you need to make happen? All effective strategies begin with a clear, complete understanding of the needed results. A coach must be sure you are very, very clear about what results you are after – otherwise, you may get to a different result than what you need.

  • Fourth, listen for the worst enemy: yourself. We all have self-defeating thoughts or behaviors that limit success. What we believe often becomes reality. Recognition of those self-limiting thought habits and patterns – and working with the executive to ensure they are understood and addressed – is critical.

  • Fifth, listen for the obstacles. There are always impediments and barriers to progress in the environment. Those have to be managed, including difficult relationships. An effective coach is experienced enough to help develop short and long term relationship strategies.

  • Sixth, listen for the culture. Successful coaches can pick up on markers of the organizational culture and the history of the organization, and then use that information to help leaders see how to make things move forward in your particular environment. This will help create the road map for leading and managing change. This is something my coach, Joel Fleschman, has taught me and is particularly skilled at doing. The language, beliefs and behaviors of the organization are what we have to work with – so we had better understand it quickly, and well.

  • Seventh, listen for partners. No leader accomplishes results that truly matter by herself or himself. They seek out and enlist the help of performance partners inside and outside of their organizations than can help the executive achieve his or her results.

  • If you’re a government executive dealing with some of the extraordinary pressures and challenges in the field, get some reinforcements! I’m happy to talk with you about how I can help, or you may choose to work with someone else – but regardless, enlist an effective coach who can strengthen you. Your work is only going to get more challenging, not less – and people are depending on you to be as effective as you can, so that you can make your organizations as effective as they can be.

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