The use of coaches to enhance productivity and life satisfaction has been embraced by leaders  and has been in the news for years.   Here’s one example. In an article entitled, “It’s Super-Boss” (Sullivan, 2014), the benefits of coaching to a hardworking, talented entrepreneur is described. In this case, the executive had a successful IT company and was married with children. His goal? He wanted to do better. Despite the success and money, his life had become more complicated.  He did some soul searching and thought about future given life changes within his family and followed up on a Board member’s suggestion to seek out a coach. After some initial resistance, he began working with a coach. The coach’s plan involved an assessment of the executive’s strengths and weaknesses, his buy-in, and a “game plan” to upgrade behavior and skills that others had deemed him “difficult to work with”. The outcome was positive in that the entrepreneur was a better leader and became more productive:  he felt less stress, moved to another venture and lost 50 pounds. In this case, coaching lead to greater life satisfaction, continued financial success, and better health.

How can coaches deal with the resistance of a leader, who is not deep into soul searching, but in need of change?

Compassionate Candor is the term that describes the coach’s strategy to provide objective information on actual and perceived performance with the finesse that facilitates the executive or leader to move from “I’m right, they’re wrong” or “My way or the highway,” to “Hmm, perhaps this deserves some thought.”  Leadership development through coaching can only go as far as any given leader will be open to.

Active listening, feeding back what the client says in their own words is a first step. In addition, it is necessary to express an understanding and concern, given that the client is most likely experiencing usually distressing conditions. Coaches can simply ask, “Do you feel that your situation is understood?” The client’s answer provides the coach with feedback about when and how to proceed with the condor component of the coaching.

Some of the key features of this approach involve the realization that a major strength may become the entrepreneur or leader’s Achilles’ heel. For example,

  • A previous thinking or management style is no longer useful. For example, entrepreneur may spin dreams and options with his or her generative, creative brain. That is his or her strength. However, at some point, the creative period is over. The innovation needs to be tested, designed, or produced. The leader needs to curtail the creative process and move to the implementation process or delegate the responsibilities.
  • A skill or strength, previously ignored, is now required. For example, an entrepreneur may have worked alone extremely well. He or she built a company doing everything from the ground up. Given the implementation or operational phase, however, there is a need to share information, gain input and delegate. The leader needs to schedule time to team up, collaborate and share information.  Development of leadership skills will be essential as support staff are brought on board.

When these situations evolve, the entrepreneur voices thoughts such as, “It feels Mistake1overwhelming”, “Things are bogging down” or “I’m running on empty.” The coach is compassionate in listening, accepting the feelings, and then, helping to specify the good (and not so good) aspects of the situation. The candor part evolves when identifying and quantifying the performance gaps. In a corporate setting, the coach can ask the leader to review his or her recent performance appraisal. Are there telltale signs of a performance gap? Has the leader or executive been passed over for a new project?

The compassion component lowers stress and allows the leader or entrepreneur to better listen and process information about performance strengths and gaps. The candor aspect involves clear, objective information about the gap (or vulnerabilities) and how strengths and strategies may be used to circumvent or remediate the difficulties.

Coaching involves both science and art. The art involves the coach’s skill in balancing the leader’s need for compassion and understanding with the need for objective, clear feedback on performance. Too much compassion and the leader doesn’t have the information necessary to enhance performance and productivity. Too much candor, too early in the coaching process may trigger client shut down and turning a blind eye to professional development.  Active listening and careful questioning help the coach time the best use of compassion and candor.

Reference: Sullivan, P. “It’s Super-Boss!” New York Times, Wealth Section. Tuesday, February 11, 2014. Page F1, F4.


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