Get a Coach

Mark L. Johnson / September 2019

The 2019 FMI Coaching Study from management consulting firm FMI confirms that executive coaching is highly effective and sought after by many progressive leaders.
    
While some might see coaching as remedial to help under-performing managers resolve their problems, FMI found just the opposite. Executive coaching suits high-performers. Leaders who take on a coach will see a nearly six-fold return on their investment, says the FMI paper, “Executive Coaching: Driving Real Results for Leaders in the Built Environment,” citing a survey by Manchester, Inc.
    
Executives in our industry should reflect on these surveys. Baby boomers are passing leadership responsibilities to the next generation. Many AWCI-member companies face transitions at the top. Young leaders have entered the executive ranks, or taken over the helms, at companies such as Daley’s Drywall & Taping in California, F.L. Crane & Sons in Mississippi and J&B Acoustical in Ohio. Even if your firm has an executive team in place for the foreseeable future, you’re likely encountering executive turnover with your customers. C. Brent Allen, vice president at Compass Construction in Ohio, says he’s getting to know a new guard at just about all of his customers.
    
So, change is underway. You may think you can develop your leadership skills on your own. Maybe. Or, you can hire a coach.

Tailored and Contextualized
In FMI’s survey, 91 percent of engineering and construction executives reported that coaching helped them with a leadership transition. Coaching was, in fact, the key element or “the most effective factor” in successfully completing the transition process, says Jennifer Jones, an FMI leadership analyst, executive coach and co-author of the 2019 FMI Coaching Study report.
    
“It’s not unusual,” writes Jones along with paper co-author Emily Livorsi, Ph.D., a consultant with FMI’s Leadership and Organizational Development practice, “for internal succession transitions to impact existing, internal relationships. This may mean leading and supervising others who were once superiors, peers or mentors.”
    
Executive coaching is “a highly tailored and contextualized method,” write Jones and Livorsi, helping leaders face “VUCA,” a military-derived acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
    
Let’s take an example. A project manager may sense the need to be super-assertive on a complex project laden with ambiguities. His direct, forceful approach, however, can come across as domineering to his crew. He thinks he’s no-nonsense. But others see him as overbearing.
    
He needs a coach who can help him develop true self-awareness—“the capacity to know your intentions and your skills, but also to know how you’re being received by your audience,” Jones says.
    
True self-awareness requires feedback from a variety of people. Where can you start?

360 Assessment
Jones says it’s good to start with what she calls “a 360 assessment.” It’s a 360-degree view of yourself by inviting a few executive-level managers above you, members of your staff (those you lead) and a few company peers to rate and give you comments on your leadership abilities. Your coach can organize this for you and, once you get the feedback, help develop an action plan to improve.
    
I like this example that I found in the KelloggInsight article, “4 Steps to Becoming a More Self-Aware Leader.” In the article, Karen Cates, adjunct professor of executive education at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, recounts the example of a young female executive who struggled to respond to older male colleagues who challenged her in meetings. Normally, she was confident, dynamic and quick on her feet, but her colleagues made her freeze up.
    
To help, Cates used role-playing scenarios with her client to help her develop a response mechanism to neutralize the would-be challengers. The young executive began building a vocabulary she could use to steer others’ challenges back to the agenda points at hand. This helped her “to increase her awareness in the moment, insert herself into the silence that followed derailing comments, and maintain the flow of the discussion,” KelloggInsight says.
    
It’s not easy to work out these kinds of issues on our own. It’s better to have a coach—an accountability partner who can reveal our blind spots and shortcomings and help us to improve.
    
FMI says 10 to 15 percent of us are already self-aware or gifted leaders. For the rest of us, let’s get a coach and work at becoming truly influential.

Mark L. Johnson writes about leadership development frequently. He can be reached via linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.