A good friend of mine took the picture you see here, with his smartphone, from his backyard on the banks of the St. Johns River, directly across from downtown Jacksonville. The photograph’s elements include a construction crane, the Isaiah D. Hart Bridge, Everbank Stadium (home of the Jaguars), and a particularly brilliant star that they tell us sits suspended in the atmosphere, 93 million miles away, unaided by any earthbound mechanical apparatus.
But, of course, at first glance (and really, every glance), it appears as though the sun is being hoisted above the stadium, and held in place there, by the crane’s cable, the failure of which would send the massive sphere crashing onto the field below, causing a disaster of even greater proportion than the one the Jags created on that very spot last season.
And it made me think: even the mightiest among us can use a little help now and then.
Leaders, from the frontline to the C-Suite, are often reluctant to acknowledge that they need help – that they could use a little support from time to time. The very best leaders, though, see it not as a sign of weakness to ask for help, but as a way to go from strength to strength.
We’ve seen great results from the following 2 ways of securing a little help:
First – and anyone, at any level of the organization can do this – identify one person on whom you can count to tell you what you need to know, but may not necessarily want to hear. This can be a peer, follower, or someone up the chain from you, but your boss is probably not a good candidate. (He or she should be doing this anyway.) Tell the person you’d really appreciate some bone honest feedback and the benefit of their perspective, and make it easy for them to tell you what you need to hear. If there’s already someone serving in this role for you, go to them and thank them, right now, and let them know that their input is valuable and greatly appreciated.
One other good way to get really valuable help as a leader is to engage the services of an executive coach – someone outside your organization who does this professionally. Here are some things to look for:
Gray hair is a good thing, but it’s not everything – One thing to consider: Does the person have the requisite experience to be advising you in the area(s) you want to work on? Generally, you’re looking for someone who’s been around the block a few times, and has the scars and gray hairs to prove it. Yet, the last thing you want is to wind up working with someone who has one year of experience that they’ve simply replicated thirty times, or someone who is not growing and remaining relevant themselves.
With all due respect to authors, pundits and academics, it’s highly preferable to work with someone who has the chops, built on real world experience. If you want to work on your leadership skills, for example, be sure to select someone who has significant real world experience in a leadership role, and is accustomed to working with people at your level.
You’re not hiring a buddy – A good coach is someone who has your best interests at heart, and because of that, can be counted on to be bone honest with you. They’ll tell you when you’ve got spinach stuck between your teeth, when you’re half-zipped, when your method isn’t working, and when you need to apologize to someone. In the same vein, they’ll be quick to notice and appreciate your effort and progress.
Easy access – Not unlike a physician’s patients, your coaching needs don’t always correlate neatly with office hours, let alone scheduled appointments. Make sure you’ll have access to your coach at non-standard hours.
A viable coaching process – Your coach should employ a process, a method that can be articulated and easily understood. That process should involve a good bit of homework on the coach’s part. Simply running someone through a 360-degree survey battery is not enough. It’s but a start. The process should include a written, mutually developed coaching plan that documents the intended areas of emphasis, coaching methods, and measures of progress. A confident and capable coach will be willing to put some (or all) of their money where their mouth is.
Richard Hadden is a leadership speaker, author, and consultant who helps organizations improve their business results by virtue of a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He and Bill Catlette are the authors of the popular “Contented Cows” leadership book series, and Rebooting Leadership. Their newest book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, published by John Wiley & Sons, is now available. Learn more about them and their work at ContentedCows.com.