Lessons learnt for CEOs

Leadership + Management


Despite their successes some executives have acquired dysfunctional behavioural patterns according to an Insead leadership expert. They have assembled the ways coaches can teach CEOs some useful lessons.

To be successful, consultants coaching CEOs must first establish a working alliance with their clients and remember that the relationship unfolds in a specific context, never in a vacuum, writes Manfred Kets de Vries, a Clinical Professor of Leadership Development & Organisational Change at business school Insead.

“The first meeting is always the trickiest, as both parties try to determine if they can work together. If the potential client doesn’t feel engaged, there is very little chance that a working alliance will be established,” de Vries said.

To help CEOs coaches need to define a desired future. Questions that help in this process are: What brought you to see me? What do you feel is wrong in your work and personal life? What are the issues you’d like to work on? What would you like to be different?

During his own consultations the professor also asks about the managers’ personal history like their education, relationships or career trajectory but refrains from sensitive topics such as the person’s childhood. He also thinks that consultants should not get too argumentative with their CEO clients. “Based on my experience, progress can stall if clients are pressed to deal with issues that they are not yet ready to face,” the Insead expert said.

Coaching CEOs also means to delve into uncomfortable and difficult aspects of the executive’s life at some stage. According to de Vries one way to do so is by encouraging clients to share details about their stressors, frustrations and dissatisfaction.

So how does all this help CEOs? By coaxing them to examine their lives and maximise their potential, executives start acting out less and start being more reflective instead. De Vries compares this to Socrates’ saying that the unexamined life is not worth living. 



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