Category Archives: Team Dynamics

The Top 4 Myths That Keep Leaders From Hiring An Executive Coach

If you talk to executives or CEOs who haven’t yet worked with a coach, you’re likely to hear the same pervasive myths repeated again and again:

“Coaches are remedial. They’re brought in to help fix poor performance or to address a problem.”

“Executive coaching is too ‘soft’ to produce measurable increases in performance.”

“It’s my people who need fixing, not me.”

“Executive coaching places an overarching focus on fixing peoples’ weaknesses rather than playing to their strengths.”

Talk with someone who has worked with an effective, high-powered coach, however, and you’ll find that none of these statements are entirely true.

Today’s article features valuable insight on executive coaching from Ron Price, who is an internationally recognized business advisor, speaker, and author, and the President and CEO of Price Associates, a leadership performance consulting firm.

A Discussion With Ron Price, Founder and CEO of Price Associates

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Q:  To start off, can you tell us a little bit about your background and your transition from leading a large company to running Price Associates consulting practice?

Ron:  Sure.  I had a great, really wonderful experience in a leadership position from 1989 to 2000 in a company called AIM International.  During that time, we grew from about 30 employees to over 200 and opened business in a total of eight countries.  It was a time of great growth, a lot of learning, and lots of opportunities to work in different cultures and with diverse groups of people.  One of the things that was important to me while I was in that company was to get some good counseling and some good coaching myself.  I saw the value in having an outside coach who had the ability to help me process my thinking.  So as part of my profession, I hired several coaches while I was running the company.  Unfortunately, I had a mixed experience with coaches.  Most of the coaches I ended up hiring had a fixed program they wanted to run people on, or they had a bias of what they thought their clients should be focusing on.  The biggest gap I saw was that most of these coaches didn’t take the time to really get to know you and find out what you really wanted and the different reasons you wanted to have a coach.  They were all skilled people and I learned something from each of them, but there was not enough focus on empathy and understanding— they tended to assume a lot.

After leaving the business and thinking about starting Price Associates, one of the services I thought would be really valuable to owners and business leaders was executive coaching that was built on seeking first to understand and to really get to know the client, and then building a program around what his or her unique needs are.  That was really the passion that got us started with Price Associates.   It’s grown because of the number of wonderful coaches I’ve met— like Whit— who share common interest and common values. It’s also grown because of the other kinds of services that we provide beyond coaching.

Q: Some people view executive coaching as “soft” and have the idea that it won’t produce measurable, tangible results.  What are your thoughts on this?

Ron: One of the things that we recognize is that leaders inside an organization don’t get judged based on their efforts; they get judged based on the results that they create and on their performance.  So we focus on helping our clients not just demonstrate strong efforts, but demonstrate performance.  At Price Associates we call ourselves a leadership performance firm, which means that we execute our entire strategy based upon tangible, measurable performance goals for each client.  We have the responsibility of evaluating all of the factors internally and externally and putting together a strategy to create results.  We use a lot of different tools and methodologies for doing that.  We go through a process with new clients where we help them design what performance means to them.   What does superior performance look like to them and what are the results they’d be achieving?  We turn it into a more systematic or scientific approach with clear metrics.  A lot of the time when people think about coaching, they may think of the results as intangible— a lot of self reflection, introversion, a lot of “ahas,” etc.  Although we recognize the value of soft skills, as a part of our coaching we try to lead clients back to a tangible, measurable result so that at the end of our coaching they can say that they truly do perform at a higher level.

Q: I recently read an article in Business Week which mentioned that almost all top athletes have coaches, but that nearly two-thirds of CEOs don’t.  I’d be interested to hear your opinion on why some executives can be resistant to hiring a coach?

Ron: First off, another study indicated that even though two-thirds of CEOs don’t receive executive coaching, almost 100% said that they’d like to.  So the question is, if they’d like to get coaching but aren’t, why is that the case?  I think there are number of reasons that can happen.   Sometimes I think they have a misunderstanding of what they can get from a coach— they think of executive coaching as merely an activity to fix somebody who has a problem or something that has fallen apart.  Certainly there are those kind of situations, but today, there’s much more emphasis on executive coaching that’s built around developing a person’s potential.  It’s about helping him perform in a similar way that we approach coaching with athletes: a coach is helping an already high-performing athlete to perform at the highest possible level.

I also think sometimes that CEOs want the executive coach for their people.  They’re frustrated with their senior leaders or with the lack of cohesiveness or cooperation among their leaders.  They will often think, “I need an executive coach to fix these people.”  But it’s always easier to see what needs to be fixed in others than it is to see what needs to be fixed in yourself.

I think one of the biggest things that CEOs miss out on when they don’t use executive coaching is the development of deeper levels of self-awareness.  Whit is fond of saying that the number one cause of failure in an executive career is the lack of self-awareness.  This one of the great benefits of a good coaching relationship— the coach is going to help the executive to become much more aware of both his (or her) intent and impact.

Leaders hire a coach because a coach is an outside person: he is not part of the organizational structure and he has a special relationship with the executive in private.  He can have conversations with an executive or a CEO that cannot be handled by anybody else.  I think a lot of executives don’t have that kind of an experience and they don’t have that kind of knowledge, so they think of coaches as “fixing” people rather than helping take them to their highest level.  I think those are the main reasons why many CEOs don’t get coaches.

Q:  Thank you, Ron.  Lastly, to end our conversation, I’m curious to know what new trends you are seeing in developing leaders?

Ron:  That’s a great question and I have a number of responses to it.  The first is that I see a lot more focus on guiding the formation of leaders for performance rather than just generic leadership development.  There’s the ability to be a lot more focused on specific skills that will help a leader advance— more and more customization, if you will, in developing programs for leaders.

Another trend I’m seeing, which is a huge improvement over the past ten years or so, are the kind of assessments, or instruments, that are available to help people develop their self-awareness exponentially and to gain a much, much deeper understanding of what they do, how they do it, and why they do it, and then to be able to leverage that knowledge for greater performance and leadership effectiveness.

A third trend focuses on how important it is to organize and develop around a leader’s strengths and neutralize his or her weaknesses.  Still in America today, more training money is spent on trying to fix people than on trying to develop their strengths.  What we see is there’s more and more of a move to recognizing that uniqueness and developing according to the strength and the talent that a leader already has instead of trying to put something in there that’s not there.  If somebody is a quick decision maker and another person is a deliberate decision maker, instead of trying to change them and say that the fast decision maker has to slow down and the slow decision maker needs to speed up, we’re saying that, no, their tendency is what it is.  If somebody is a deliberate decision maker, how can we make him the most precise, the most analytical, the most comprehensive deliberate decision maker?  How do we help people to leverage those tendencies, because we need all kinds of decision makers?  Instead of trying to change people, how do we help them become the very most accomplished according to their natural style?  So that’s another one of the transitions— is organizing leadership development around strengths rather than trying to change people so much.

The fourth trend is a problem with succession.  A lot of organizations, not just in the United States but around the world, are having a difficult time finding the next generation of leaders.  This is because of the demographics— we have fewer people in the workplace as Baby Boomers retire— and this is also because of some of the generational tendencies that exist:  What the millennials value and want to get out of work compared to what the executives are thinking that they need and want to get out of work are very different.  There’s a tremendous war for getting the best talent and holding on to it, and it’s only going to intensify in the next ten years.  Companies really need to think about how they can build loyalty with their top performers if they’re going to hold on to them, because there are a lot of companies and organizations that would be quick to offer them a better deal or better package, so to speak.

The last trend in leadership that we see is the awareness of how important personal accountability is to leadership effectiveness.  This kind of personal accountability touches not only on character, but also on the leader’s commitment to continually learn and to continually develop his or her expertise— she recognizes that she has to get better and better every day and can’t just rest on her laurels because of an advanced degree or because of some past job somewhere else.  The constant learning and growing is an important part of the accountability. All our research points to personal accountability as being one of the most important skills or competencies that companies or organizations are looking for in their top leaders.

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Want to learn more about working with an executive coach? Contact Whit Mitchell, a Price  & Associates affiliated coach and team dynamics expert, today.

What Rowing Taught Me About Winning, Losing, and Leading a Team – in Business and in Life

In the hot summer of 1973, the Arab oil embargo created gas lines around the block, and the heat was barely tolerable.  A laid back 18-year old with a mop of blond hair was taking a year off from school, and responded to a help wanted ad at Eastern Mountain Sports in Boston. He was shown to a tiny, stuffy, windowless office in the back of a chaotic shipping area, also known as The World Headquarters of the People’s Mail Order Business – or PMO.

To reach the only free chair, which was shoehorned next to the manager’s desk and only half blocked what remained of the “aisle,” he had to wind around tables, file cabinets, a desk, a secretary, two clerks, and a sleeping golden retriever.  Every surface was covered with piles of orders rustling gently from the reciprocating fan as it swept back and forth in a fruitless attempt to relieve the humid summer heat.  A copy of Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book” rested next to a dead plant on the corner of the manager’s desk – not because anyone was a communist, but simply to tweak the somewhat humorless owner of the company who thought there was something suspicious about a group that worked hard and seemed to have a lot of fun doing it.  The walls were covered with schedules, a clock, shelves with old phone books, scrawled notes with big arrows pointing at nothing, and one large framed black and white photograph hung at eye-level next to the manager.  The photo was a close-up action shot of a collegiate eight oared crew taking the 2nd stroke of a race – strong men, muscles straining, oars bending, stern, focused expressions.  It was a great rowing picture of a great crew.

Dartmouth 1970

The young man stuck out his hand and said, “My name’s Whit Mitchell,” and pointing to the picture, added,  “I used to do that – I rowed in high school.”

The secretary, sitting with her back to the manager and the young man, announced with conviction: “You’re hired!”

“She’s right,” said the manager. “You’re hired.  That’s Manon, and my name’s Bill Pickard. Welcome to Eastern Mountain Sports.  When can you start?”

Forty years later, the two men remain fast friends.

Bill, who had rowed on championship crews at Kent School, Dartmouth, Vesper & Union Boat Clubs, and on several US National Teams, later went on to be the first women’s rowing coach at Dartmouth while earning an MBA at Tuck with Whit as an assistant coach. As coach, he cultivated excellence within a team of women who would go on to become rowing coaches, national team & Olympic athletes, sea captains, diplomats, firemen, doctors, lawyers, vice-presidents of Development, C-level business executives, mothers of successful children, and— as fate would have it— one who would become his wife.

Along the way, he learned many lessons that would contribute to his success in business, in relationships, and in life.

Today Bill heads up his own company, Pickard & Murphy, a Seattle based senior level management consulting firm dedicated to making significant improvements in its client’s strategic or operational business position. He has worked with clients including Boeing, Microsoft, IBM, and more.

A Discussion with Bill Pickard, President of Pickard & Murphy, Inc.

Q: What lessons can athletes draw on to help them achieve success in business?

Bill: All sports to some degree, (but rowing in particular), teach athletes the value of sustained hard work, deferred gratification, high expectations, and the benefits of teamwork. To make a great sword you take the best steel you can find, put it in a fire and get it really hot. Then you beat it flat with a hammer, fold it over, and beat it some more. Then you dunk it in an ice bath, and then you keep repeating the process until you have a strong, flexible, razor sharp blade. Rowing coaches are sword makers and crews are swords that love being shaped. The fire and the ice and the pounding build the physical and mental strength needed to develop the confidence necessary to prevail. That process teaches both the sword maker and the swords to do more than they thought they could do. In business and in life, you get out of it in proportion to what you put in.

A rowing coach’s job is to teach their athletes to “Pull As Hard As You Can.“ Not 95% or save some for the end— as hard as YOU can. When a coach tells a high school student to pull harder, that athlete gets tired and thinks he (or she) really is pulling as hard as they can. But as the athlete matures and keeps training, he realizes that he is capable of much greater levels of sustained effort. What used to pass for intense effort is greatly surpassed. As physical strength, aerobic capacity, and technique improve, the mind strengthens as well. Former limits are left in the dust. Every year, self-imposed barriers are peeled away like the layers of an onion. Hard work and improvement beget confidence, and it is confidence that allows a crew to come from behind and triumph.

The harder you push, the more you learn that you can do even more.

Much of what it takes to be a successful athlete is about breaking mental barriers, and the same goes for business. So much of business is about having the confidence to “go for it”, whether you know everything about a topic or not. You may not have done a specific task before, but you’ve successfully done things similar to it. Taking that knowledge, generalizing it, and working hard while simultaneously being confident enough to know that you’re going to succeed— that is what it’s all about. Having good teammates helps too!

Most of the time the magic works. Some times it doesn’t. But as an athlete, you also learn that life doesn’t end when you lose a race. If you’re going to take a risk, sometimes you’re going to fail— but you’re also going to win.

In business, like in rowing, to succeed you have to work really hard and sustain that level of effort. Always pulling as hard as you can in practice enables you to pull as hard as you can in a race. You know you can sustain it for 2,000 Meters in a race because you have done it dozens of times during all those miles on the river.

Success takes time and breeds more success.

The process is circular. It takes sustained, hard work to build the confidence necessary to continue to work ever harder so that you can improve continuously and ultimately achieve the team’s goals.

Q: What has being a rowing coach taught you about leadership, and how do these lessons apply to leaders within a business or organization?

Bill: Coaching and leadership are all about teaching, developing teams and working through other people. The coach isn’t the one out there rowing— coaches are the ones preparing a team to row and win the race.

Business leaders have to be able to do the same thing. Leaders must effectively transfer knowledge to their teams, delegate both responsibility and authority, and keep them focused so they can do their best. When a team wins, a good leader gives the credit to the team because the team did it; if the team loses, a leader needs to stand up and accept responsibility for the loss and turn the negative energy from the loss into positive energy, preparing the team to win the next race.

Much like a coach, a business leader has to keep a team focused on what they need to do to win and keep improving. In New Hampshire it is cold and the season starts later than in warmer locations. A coach in Hanover cannot let a crew get down if they lose early season races. By setting realistic goals and cranking up the pressure to perform as the season progresses, the coach can keep a team focused on getting better. Metaphorically and actually, wins that are hard to come by in March and April, come more easily in May and June. In business, even with the best of teams, there are often setbacks early in the life of a new program. The business leader sets expectations, pushes for improvement, teaches, encourages, focuses, and eventually success comes. People are individuals and they are unique— good coaches are great communicators and find ways to communicate with people in the ways that work best for them. Good business leaders do the same.

Q: What important lessons or key principles have you learned while coaching that translate into being an effective leader?

Bill: Whether you are coaching 7 year-olds or elite athletes or teams of programmers or engineers my philosophy is that regardless of the activity, people must feel safe and they must be having fun.

They have to feel safe in the sense that when they’re trying things that are really hard, they have to know that they might fail and might not “win.”

If they don’t win, they must come back, keep working, change a couple of things and try again. When they ‘get it,’ as the coach you need to tell them: “That’s it— you’ve got it!”  Reward progress and you’ll get more.

In business and on teams, if people think they’re going to get fired or disciplined or sidetracked if they fail or achieve less than expected, then they will avoid taking risks. No one wants to be the person who gets blamed for a failure.  Everyone wants to hear about his or her successes, no matter how small.

Create a culture that rewards success and risk-taking but doesn’t punish failure.

When senior management sets that kind of culture, they’ll encourage more risk-taking and ultimately more success, whereas if they have a culture that punishes failure, or never rewards or acknowledges success then they won’t have people taking risks or going the extra mile.

“Ya gotta wanna do it!” Regardless of whether they are athletes or engineers, if a team isn’t having fun, they are not going to want to do all the required hard work. Obviously not all aspects of anything are ‘fun’. Great stuff is hard! Five 2K erg pieces in one workout or working for days without sleep on a proposal aren’t ‘fun,’ but in the end the totality of the experience must be rewarding.  Members of a team need to enjoy the experience enough to keep coming back every day and putting in the miles that lead to success. People who are not having fun tune out, get cynical and negative, and drag everyone else down or simply leave.

If you work together as a team, you’ll get more out of people. As a coach if you set very clear and high expectations, your team will rise to meet them. If you don’t, they won’t. Business is the same. Without a clear understanding of what is expected, the team will flounder. If everyone ‘gets it’ then everyone can do their own jobs, and help the others do theirs.

If you want to be effective and win, you must set a goal and say, “this is the goal.” You may have a clear idea of exactly how to get there, or you might need the team to figure out the plan, and then execute it together.

Your team may look at the goal and say, “I could never do that,” but if you are doing your job, by the end of the season, they’ll get there, and they’ll know that THEY did it.

Give your team the tools they need to succeed, point them the right direction, and then get out of the way. They’ll do well.

Q: I understand that you used to send little inspirational messages to your athletes– any final words?

Bill: Sure!

“A diamond is a lump of coal that stuck with it.”

“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he blames someone else.” – Steve Prefontaine

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work.  And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011)

Great coaches and great leaders build…“heroic hearts, … strong in will to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” (Ulysses – Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1842)

“…Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir the blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency…”  Attributed to Daniel H. Burnham, 1910

“Doing your best is more important than being the best.” - Cathy Rigby, US Gymnast

“All sunshine makes a desert.”

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Turnaround Secrets of Highly Effective Teams: How to retain employees, resolve conflict and improve your bottom line

Two employees had already left the company — both women. Morale and sales were lagging.

highly effective team

Nine months later, the team’s level of trust and communication are higher, turnover has halted, and their sales ranking and happiness factor has climbed on their team.

How did they do it? What are the secrets to effective departmental and organizational change, and why do some teams succeed in turning around while others flounder and fail?

Whit Mitchell, President of Working InSync, lets us in on the secrets of change that are happening inside some of the most effective organizations in the world. For the past 30 years, through a method called Inner Circle Coaching, Whit has been helping teams open up the lines of communication, recognize “blind spots” in their behavior, and ultimately increase their bottom lines.

A Discussion With Whit Mitchell, President of Working InSync

Q: What are the signs, symptoms, or typical catalysts for change within an organization? How does a leader know when change is necessary?

Whit: They’re having too much pain. Eighty percent of my business happens when I get a call and there is too much pain. At that point it’s almost too late. The leader says, “There’s a problem with this team, the team is not responding, the leader has shut down, the doors are closed, the communication is bad, they’re number 38 out of 40 in sales, we just had 2 people leave,” and they go on and on about all the symptoms of the pain.

Today, for instance, I met with an organization where the pain is dealing with a very high level engineer who has been with the company for over 10 years. She is not effective in her communication with her boss and the team does not want to work with her because she is often in a bad mood, complains about her boss and working conditions and because of her attitude has decided not to train the newer engineer who is very motivated to learn. So the company’s going to get itself in a headlock because if she doesn’t train people to do what she does, they’re never going to be able to replace her and she knows this. She’s putting herself in a position of “they can’t fire me,” and the motivated engineer who is dying to excel and learn is going to eventually leave for a better job because he’s not being put in a growth position.

I was brought in to work with another top executive for 9 months because two key people had left his organization, both women, and there was some slight hint of discrimination. He was just not listening to the women and his language and leadership behaviors were poor. The organization didn’t want to lose any more people. When conducting interviews with his employees and boss I was  hearing , “Here’s a guy that’s arrogant, his office door is closed, he’s demanding, directive and people are scared of him. When they come to work a couple of minutes late they’d get yelled at,” so he was exhibiting many poor and unacceptable behaviors.

If I had to categorize my coaching, I would say it’s helping leaders understand the impact their behaviors are having on the outcomes of the company’s success. If we can change behaviors we can get a return on investment. If the human skills or soft skills get better, it can lead to the hard data and a return on investment.

I worked with his team for almost a year and at the end of the engagement I interviewed each of his team members. I was hearing words like ‘caring,’ ‘listening,’ ‘family,’ ‘fun,’ ‘I like coming to work,’ ‘relaxed,’ ‘team environment,’ ‘no tension.’

When you talk to a company like that and you ask, “How did those behavioral changes impact your bottom line,” they were proud to tell me that their sales results were 106% of budget, leaving them number 2 out of 40 in sales performance. If you’re talking bottom line, nobody left the company during our time together. It is has been shown that when a company loses a top leader the cost to replace that leader is estimated to be 3 times their annual salary.

So, we’re changing behavior and we’re getting return on investment. When people see those numbers, they get excited to know that behavioral changes at the top lead to lower expenses and higher returns.

People get excited to see that behavioral changes at the top lead to lower expenses and higher returns.

Q: Once a need for organizational change has been identified, what next? How and where does organizational change begin?

Whit: Change has got to start at the top. If you as the leader of the team or organization want to make significant change in your culture it has to start with you. Once other leaders in the organization experience your changes you have a new “lever” with which to use to ask for changes throughout the entire organization… but it starts with you first.

What leaders need in order for change to occur is to see themselves through their own eyes and through the eyes of their direct reports, peers, or board members. I spend much of my time during the first 3 months of executive coaching walking them through their individual Talent Reports while also speaking with those employees who they work most closely with, so I can get a really good picture of them. 

So I think the trick is to get them to change their mindset about things that they might not see as their own “blind spots” – information about their behavior that’s known to others who know them, but that they don’t know about themselves. It’s called the “blind spot.” My job is to help them close that window so they can see the blind spots that they may have that we – friends, family, colleagues, workers, and me as an unbiased coach – can see quite easily, but that they don’t see.

By helping them shift their mindset, eventually what I’m helping them to do is to commit to new behaviors. As you think about why people are hired it is usually for their skills. And if you think about why people are fired or why they left the job it has to do with behaviors. People are hired for skills and fired for behavior. If you think about times that you either wanted to leave or did leave a job, it was probably either your behavior or someone else’s behavior that started that process, not that you weren’t skilled enough to do it. So if I can help people understand the impact that behavior has on others, they can then have the information they need to make significant change.

Q: How does one effectively engage and motivate employees to “jump on board” with organizational change and to row in the same direction?

Whit: If I could give one tip to leaders it would be this: Engage people by asking questions more often than giving information about yourself. Find out about your team and make them feel important. Tell them what they’re doing right more than what they’re doing wrong and they’ll do more of what they’re doing right.

Tell them what they’re doing right more than what they’re doing wrong and they’ll do more of what they’re doing right.

If you’re a good leader, you’ll want to craft some insightful open-ended questions that get people speaking about themselves and their purpose and what they do well and what they’re passionate about in their life. Take them out for a cup of coffee, ask engaging questions. Learn about their family, learn about their work, learn about what they like to do when they aren’t working, learn about what matters most to them. If the leader comes in and starts telling everyone what to do, they’ve stopped listening!

When you engage other people and you become interested in others and you listen well, people will stay engaged with you. The minute you start interrupting and talking about yourself and what your plans are, you’re going to shut people down and they will stop listening to you.

Q: It’s one thing to enact change within an organization, but how does one ensure that this change persists, especially in the face of old and ingrained habits of “the way things have always been done”?

Whit: If you think about any changes you’ve made in your life that have stuck, usually you have some other person or system that is helping you with that change – something repetitive that comes back again and again. So in my work, the Inner Circle Coaching, I engage 5-6 other people around the leader I am working with. And every 30 days I’m going to ask them– and others on the team are going to ask them – specifically how they are doing with their desired behavioral change.

They’re conscious that they’ve got support and encouragement from the people around them. They’re working diligently at change and they’re committed to themselves and to this change process. 

In any kind of change process I believe strongly that you need to have others involved and engaged to help support you while at the same time you can support them in their change efforts. That’s the beauty of the Inner Circle Coaching process. Not only are people supporting the leader, but the leader is also asking, “What are you changing, what is the impact of that change and how can I support you?” It’s a two-way street. Everybody is helping everybody else out. Trust and respect become reality, stress and tension lessens and at the end of the day happiness is the reward for all of the hard work.

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Is your organization ready to work together like never before? Contact Whit today to learn more about how Inner Circle Coaching can work for you.

[Image source: Victor1558]