If you’re like most successful leaders, you regularly seek advice from your peers or colleagues in an effort to assess the quality of your own plans or ideas. You get the perspectives of trusted associates about the issues you’re facing, and you’ve come to appreciate that your best decisions are often made even better by incorporating the insights of others who have walked in your shoes. Whether you work in medicine, law, businesses of all types, tech startups, associations or philanthropic organizations, you will feel ― at some time during your career ― that you could benefit from a relationship with a seasoned advisor. We often read about the value people find from working with a coach, especially at organizational levels below the C-Suite. However, at the C-Suite level, the term “coach” may not be viewed as appropriate for what they are seeking to support their work.
For many years, I have been serving as an executive-level advisor to a wide range of organizational leaders. These clients have come from the legal and medical professions, from international corporate businesses, and from membership and trade associations, foundations, and charitable and religious organizations. In most cases, these clients have been referred to me by trusted colleagues because most leaders are seeking an executive who has experience at the level they fill and who is known for maintaining successful, productive and confidential relationships. In other instances, when I am brought in to an organization to work as a coach for managerial staff, this has led to working with the senior leader or leaders.
So, what motivates senior leaders to seek an advisor?
In a phrase, “It’s lonely at the top.”
The roles and responsibilities of positions in the C-Suite are quite isolating because everyone else in the company in some way works for them; seeking internal advisors can cause internal conflicts or be construed as undue favoritism. I often hear clients describe their positions as being “lonely.” For this very reason, C-Suite leaders often seek an experienced executive who understands the challenges they face ― someone who is able to be an unbiased questioner and advisor regarding ideas or projects they are considering. Senior leaders need a trusted colleague, external to their organization, who can help them see more clearly the nuances of sensitive governance or internal political situations resulting from management and board relationships they face.
The clients who need executive-level advisement don’t need a local “coach.” They need someone who has walked in their shoes and who can give them the perspective and honest counsel they need. The relationships I maintain with my executive clients span wide geographies and sometimes several years. I have counseled clients during their travels across the globe, especially when they find themselves in need of a confidante to help them assess an unexpected situation they are facing or to take a “deep dive” into a proposal that is under consideration. Our calls or meetings often don’t fit into the typical “every few weeks” coaching cycles that work for managers. When my clients need advice, I am available, often on short notice. We do, of course, schedule regular check-in calls but our relationships fit the realities of busy schedules and the intense and sometimes unpredictable pressures of running an organization.
In the end, even the very best leaders need a trusted advisor. It’s a relationship that goes beyond typical coaching and a process that makes great leaders even sharper. If you’re interested in learning more about how an executive-level advisor could help you and your organization, I’d welcome the opportunity to speak with you.