Leadership is lonely – that’s why coaches are needed


Leading others in the quality of CEO, managing partner or team leader is not the most complicated thing in the world, but there are two key paradoxical issues : first – one can only learn to be a leader while being one, and second – the higher the top, the lonelier it is there.

Yes, they teach management at business schools and at numerous courses. This is good business, no doubt. And after all, time spent in business schools might be a good investment for developing social capital. You meet great, inspiring people, including the faculty, at best business schools. These relationships come handy later. Still, most top executives will tell you that up to 70% of their managerial competencies has been developed on the job, gaining experience from one’s own successes and failures. So to become a great leader, one has to learn by being one.

An executive spends most of his/her time with others. Often encouraging and coaching others, talking about their challenges, fears, problems and questions. At the same time he can hardly be open about his own issues with anyone. It is a lonely role.

It is common to say that one can learn from his experiences. But the experience is not the thing that teaches us. It is us who interpret the experience, tell ourselves what happened. Learning takes place only in case one understands what happened. But human mind is built in clever way to avoid unpleasant conclusions, however obvious these might be to others. That means – it is easy to avoid learning, especially if feedback is biased, like it is the case with leaders. Best way to understanding the experiences is through explaining it to someone, talking it through with someone else who is able to understand and empathise and is no part of the picture in any way. So the coach is an outsider, who is also able to get inside your skin – understand what client thinks and feel how he feels, not being part of the systems the client is involved. It is a huge benefit, if the coach is not from the client’s organisation and neither of the client’s personal circles of family and friends. Coach is trained to reflect his understanding back in a way that helps client to see oneself with the eyes of other people. That’s what coach does and no peers, relatives, or friends can do.

Executive coaching is a development process for executives happening in one-to-one or group interaction with the client – either executive or a team – with a trained professional in clearly defined professional setting and time frame. It is a structured intervention that both parties recognise and perceive as such and happens regularly during an agreed period of time. Professional coach has clear understanding about his method and proved qualification for this. The client’s interests and needs are primary in the process, even if the fee is paid by the organisation, usually personified in a sponsor – superior to the manager or the person who has the authority to the decision for hiring a coach. Sometimes the expectations, terms and objectives are specified in an agreement between the three parties – coach, client and sponsor.