Most senior executives are in touch, both at an intellectual and emotional level, and can articulate quite accurately, the strengths that make them effective business leaders. The intellectual awareness has extended to emotional awareness since they have been consistently rewarded for these strengths. In addition, in most cases they like using them and get emotional satisfaction from employing these assets to achieve tangible and visible results.
However, many executives do not have this same level of emotional awareness of their weaknesses. I am not talking here about all weaknesses, but specifically those that get in the way of these executives maximizing the impact of their strengths. They tend to blame other people for their diminished impact. “This is the way I am and people should understand that,” is a common expression. This lack of emotional awareness is a key blocker to successful coaching, i.e. coaching which results in some lasting change in behavior patterns.
If this awareness can move from the head to the “gut”, an executive begins to realize and own the actual impact this behavior is having on his peers and subordinates. Once this occurs, the executive can feel empowered to share this with his associates and actually enlist their support for his desire to change. “If you see me doing this, give me a sign. I really want to change but this is so engrained I know I will be working on it forever. Your pointing it out to me will really help.
Lasting changes in behavior require two things. The first is a genuine desire to change on the part of the executive. The other is the “institutional space” for that change to occur. The first is obvious, the second more subtle.
If an executive has an engrained pattern of negative behavior, it is very difficult to change. In most cases, it will never completely stop. There will be slippages. Without “institutional space” every regression will be met with cynicism. “I know she is trying but there she goes again,” is the conversation around the water cooler.
However, if the executive has enlisted the support of his associates in his attempts to improve, there is both immediate constructive feedback, which limits the regression, and a tolerance for the slippage. “He started doing it again but I pointed it out to him. He not only stopped but also thanked me for pointing it out. I really admire his effort.” is the new conversation at the water cooler.
Good feedback from both the boss and the coach can be a trigger for moving awareness from the head to the “gut.” This can’t be antiseptic feedback. It too must be delivered with emotion. Nonchalance can’t be tolerated. “You don’t get it. Let me say it again. This is getting in the way of your career and could be a derailer. Get it.”
Without emotional awareness on the part of the executive, either no change will occur or it will be short-lived.
Ed McDougal has been a Senior Advisor in WJM Associates' Executive Coaching Faculty since the firm’s inception. Ed was formally a Vice President at Bankers Trust Company and Executive Vice President for National Westminster Bank.