Today’s senior leaders face high expectations that go beyond being an expert in one primary line of business, principal role, or segment of the organization. In our fast-moving environment of mergers, acquisitions, divestments, and sell-offs, leaders are asked to come up to speed even more quickly as well as influence an increasing number of stakeholders across their organization in order to be successful. Given this climate, how are these leaders faring? And what can coaches do to help?
In 2008, the Institute of Executive Development and the global coaching alliance Alexcel reported results of a year-long market study designed to examine transitions that senior-most leaders (those executives in the top five percent of their organizations) make and to identify what helps them succeed and what causes them to fail. Participants included approximately 150 executives and talent professionals from more than 100 organizations in 12 countries and 21 industries. Participants took an online survey consisting of 18 multiple choice questions, plus a number of deep-dive interviews, specifically on the subject of internal and external transitions, how many failed, and why they failed. Failure was defined as when the leader failed to meet their organization’s criteria for success by the two-year mark. (This did not mean that all leaders who were considered “failing” were fired or moved out of their roles.)
We found that one in three senior executives hired externally failed to meet their organization’s criteria for successful performance within two years. This is consistent with and perhaps even more optimistic than results from some other studies, particularly those that focused on the entire executive population.
What was even more noteworthy was our finding that one in five senior leaders taking on new roles within their existing organization failed. The clear message here is that what makes a leader successful in one role in the organization will not necessarily continue to drive his or her success in the next role. We echo Marshall Goldsmith’s words (and title of his book), “What got them here won’t get them there.” Organizations must ensure that they offer sufficient help to leaders making internal transitions.
Why did so many of the senior-most leaders fail to make successful transitions? The top two reasons cited by organizations we surveyed were lack of interpersonal skills and lack of personal skills. (Note: Each survey respondent could choose to cite more than one cause of executive failure.) Only 15 percent of respondents said leaders within their organization failed due to lack of technical or business skills. The highest cause of failure was leadership skill deficits, reported by 68 percent of organizations. Another 45 percent of respondents reported failure due to leaders’ poor personal skills, including lack of focus and self-management. The implications are clear: obstacles to success in new roles are primarily due to what many organizations consider “soft” skills, i.e., those that focus on the quality and quantity of relationships that leaders craft and maintain.
So what can companies and executive coaches do to help? We gathered information on what companies are doing and what they deemed effective. Online onboarding and meet-and-greets are helpful for external hires, but clearly not sufficient for senior leaders. With leaders new to a company, mentoring programs and informal networks with other executives were the support modalities perceived as most effective. Customized assimilation plans and executive coaching were also helpful.
For internally transitioning leaders, the supports perceived as most effective were executive coaching and the creation of a customized assimilation plan. This speaks to the importance of creating a network of people that will help leaders differentiate the demands and needs of their old role from those of their new role, and develop more senior-level presence as they move through the leadership pipeline.
What does a customized assimilation program look like? Here is an example from my personal case files:
Mark had been with his organization, a Fortune 100 manufacturing division, for 14 years. He was promoted to a corporate vice president role. In this role (his 12th position in the company), he needed to rapidly form relationships with his new stakeholders, many of whom he knew from afar in his plant manager role but with whom he had never worked closely.
First, we reviewed the 360 evaluation generated for his former position. His strengths included his clear ethics, dependability, ability to collaborate with others, and easygoing manner. His primary leadership challenge was his tendency to be too easygoing with employee communication and feedback; we decided that in his new position, he would focus on giving clear, ongoing feedback (and FeedForward1) to his team and challenge himself to adopt a greater sense of urgency about results.
We crafted an assimilation plan that included an “all-hands” meeting with Mark and two levels of his direct reports. Mark organized and prepared to discuss his thoughts around issues including:
- Team vision
- Expected results
- Key customers
- First impressions of his role and of the team
- Expectations of the team
- Plan for ongoing review of progress.
We gathered anonymous information from the team, including:
- Important stakeholders
- First impressions of Mark and the reputation that preceded him
- Questions for and about Mark.
Then we facilitated dialogue between Mark and the team on these areas. My continued role as coach was to help Mark stay aware of his leadership style, leverage his strengths, and navigate around his potential derailers. He created a contact plan to help him identify and reach out to key stakeholders in his new role. We also developed ways for him to hold himself accountable for ongoing FeedForward to his team, boosting both their performance and engagement scores.
Two years later, Mark continues to be successful in his role. Comparing his previous transitions to this one, he credits the plan with saving at least six month’s worth of wasted time, false starts, and “water-cooler talk.” According to Mark, the work on forming key relationships quickly and creating a platform by which these relationships are maintained and deepened was the most valuable benefit of his assimilation program.
In conclusion, as leaders today must manage more frequent and more complex transitions throughout their careers, it is crucial for organizations and their internal and external coaching resources to take clear steps to help these leaders succeed in their new roles. Making sure that they continue to monitor and develop personal and interpersonal skills is absolutely critical to optimizing performance in new roles, even when they have clear track records of success in their former positions.
Alexcel and the Institute of Executive Development will continue studying what makes senior leadership transitions work and what causes them to fail. We welcome dialogue with organizations and internal coaches who are achieving success in this area, as well as those who are struggling to develop more robust programs for their senior leaders.
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (October Issue 2009, Volume 5, Issue 3).
1 This process, developed by Marshall Goldsmith, is a quick and proven method for helping successful people be even more successful. The practice of FeedForward requires a disciplined approach to following up with important stakeholders, which research has shown is the key ingredient to successful change. For more about FeedForward, see “Leadership Is a Contact Sport: The ‘Follow-up Factor’ in Management Development” strategy + business, Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan, Fall 2004.
Patricia Wheeler, PhD
Patricia Wheeler, PhD, is an executive coach who helps senior leaders transition successfully into bigger roles. She is Managing Partner for the Levin Group and Managing Director of Alexcel.
The objective is simple: Better decision making. The only issue is that there are so many different views on what we mean by “better.” At the core of all decision making is the need to balance power with responsibility as the vehicle for resolving the ‘better’ question. This article explores why that is so difficult. It also argues that exploring the concept of wisdom can provide invaluable insights into how to achieve the most effective balance between power and responsibility, which is central to what our values mean in practice, as well as about how we incorporate ethics into our decision making.
Wise decision making, inevitably, involves moral/ethical choices. It is not surprising that comments we might define as wisdom are essentially comments about the relationship between people, or their relationship with society and the universe as a whole. These statements are generally globally recognized as relatively timeless and are insights that help us provide meaning to the world about us. Yet how often do they seem to be almost totally ignored in futurist, strategy, knowledge management, coaching, and even ethics literature? We appear to spend more and more time focused on learning knowledge, or facts—which have a relatively short shelf life-and less and less time on knowledge that overlaps with wisdom, which has a long shelf life. Why is that? What can we do about it?
Western sociological and management/leadership literature is full of references to power. How to get it? How to keep it? And how to prevent it being taken away? In parallel, but rarely in the same studies, there is also an enormous amount of literature on the concept of responsibility.
While power is the ability to make things happen, responsibility is driven by attempting to answer the question: In whose interest is the power being used? Yet the two concepts of power and responsibility are simply different sides of the same coin; they are the yin and yang of our behavior; they are how we balance our relations with ourselves with the interests of others, which is at the core of what we mean by our values. Power makes things happen, but it is the exercise of an appropriate balance between power and responsibility that helps ensure that as many ‘good’ things happen as possible.
Leadership is nothing more than the well-informed, responsible use of power. The more that leadership-related decisions are responsibility-driven (i.e., the more they are genuinely concerned with the wider interest), not only will they be better informed decisions, but the results are much more likely to genuinely reflect the long-term interests of all concerned, which also happens to be a sound foundation for improving their ethical quality and sustainability.
In essence, the above leadership definition is exactly what could also be called ‘Wise Leadership.’ In this context, the concepts of leader, leading, and leadership are used interchangeably, although it could be argued that ‘leaders’ are individuals (including their intentions, beliefs, assumptions, etc.), while ‘leading’ entails their actions in relation to others, and ‘leadership’ is the whole system of individual and social relationships that result in efforts to create change/progress. However, the above definition can be used to cover the integrated interrelationship of those three dimensions.
Briefly, wisdom can be considered as: “Making the best use of knowledge…by exercising good judgment…the capacity to realize what is of value in life for oneself and others….” Or as “the end point of a process that encompasses the idea of making sound judgments in the face of uncertainty.”
Of course, wisdom is one thing and ‘being wise’ is quite another. Being wise is certainly more than the ability to recycle wisdom. In essence, ‘being wise’ involves the ability to apply wisdom effectively in practice.
Wisdom is by far the most sustainable dimension of the information/knowledge industry. But is it teachable? It is learned somehow, and as far as I know, there is no values/wisdom gene. Consequently, there are things that we can all do to help manage the learning processes more effectively, although detailed consideration of these are outside the scope of this article.
In the end, the quality of our decisions depends on the quality of our conversations/dialogue; not only dialogue about information but, perhaps even more important, about the best way to use that information. In other words, it is about how our values influence the decision-making process. Dialogue both facilitates the transfer of technical knowledge and is an invaluable part of personal development. Having a quality dialogue about values is not only the most important issue we need to address, but it is often the most difficult.
We need to recognize that the more change that is going on in society, the more important it is that we make sure that our learning is as effective as possible. That is the only way we have any chance of being able to equate change with progress. If we want to have a better future, the first—and most important—thing that we have to do is improve the quality and effectiveness of our learning.
In recent years we have seen considerable effort to move people from the idea of ‘working harder’ to ‘working smarter.’ But what is really needed is to move beyond ‘working smarter’ to ‘working wiser.’ We need to move from being the ‘Knowledge Society’ to the ‘Wise Society.’ And, the more we move along that progression, the more we need to recognize that we are moving to a situation where the important issues primarily reflect the quality of our values rather than the quantity of our physical effort. If we want to improve the quality of our decision making, the focus needs not only to be on the quality of our information but, even more importantly, on the ‘right’ use of that information; hence the importance of improving the dialogue-related issues mentioned earlier.
Why are we interested in ethics and the future? The answer is, simply, that we are concerned with trying to make the world a ‘better’ place. But for whom? And how? To answer both questions we need to re-ask fundamental questions: Why do we not spend more time to ensure that the important messages that we have learned in the past (‘wisdom’) can be passed on to future generations? How do we ensure these messages are learned more effectively? These are critical strategy questions, and lie at the very foundation of anything we might want to call the ‘Knowledge Economy,’ although what is really needed is to focus on trying to move toward a concept closer to the ‘Wise Economy.’ This focus naturally overlaps with the greater attention now being given to values and ethical-related issues and ‘the search for meaning’ in management/leadership literature.
Overall, wisdom is a very practical body of sustainable knowledge (/information) that has an incredibly useful contribution to our understanding of our world. Such an approach would enable us all to make ‘better’ (wiser) decisions, lead ‘better’ lives, and experience wiser leadership, particularly in areas that involve (either explicit or implicit) ethics- and values-related issues. This is also closely linked to establishing more appropriate relationships between power and responsibility.
If we cannot take wisdom seriously, we will pay a very high price for this neglect. We need to foster greater respect for other people, particularly those who have views or reflect values that we do not agree with. This requires us to develop our capacity to have constructive conversations about the issues that divide us; that, in itself, would go a long way toward ensuring that we improve the quality of our decision making for the benefit of all in the long term. So help us move toward a ‘Wiser Society.’
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2009, Volume 5, Issue 2).
Dr Bruce Lloyd
Dr Bruce Lloyd is Emeritus Professor of Strategic Management at London South Bank University.
Global Standards and Ethics
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The Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC) drives business coaching excellence as the global leader in robust, evidence-based practices. We support leaders, coaches, clients and companies with the knowledge, skills and resources to successfully navigate complexity and improve individual and operational performance alike. Our global community elevates all types of organizations, industries, and sectors using business coaching to achieve their strategic organizational and business objectives.
Building Our Distinct Profession
WABC is a self-regulating body that behaves as though it is regulated. We set professional standards, a code of ethics and integrity, definitions and competencies that our organization, representatives, members and providers are committed to upholding.
A consistent global standard for business coaching as a distinct discipline is critical to the evolution of our profession and industry.
As the first organization to create evidence-based business coaching standards, we strive to build public trust in WABC business coaches as a reliable and ethical community, committed to upholding rigorous standards and acting in our clients’ best interests.
To Unify Business Leadership Throughout the World
Our purpose is the ambition underpinning why we exist. As the core philosophy to who we are and why our work matters, our purpose is the foundation that grounds and guides the broader impact we strive to achieve.
WABC understands that to lead is not simply to act, but that the intention of our actions matters most. Leaders must be accountable to those we serve, and our values, ethics and integrity must align with the impact we want to create—for people, for the planet and for the common good.
At WABC, we are committed to unifying business leadership by establishing the highest global standards for business coaches and business coaching training providers available today.
Focused on What Matters Most
Our purpose is brought to life through our values, which guide how we remain actively committed and accountable to our clients, to one another and to ourselves.
OUR MISSION AND VISION
Realizing Our Philosophies
At WABC, our mission and vision focus our core philosophies of purpose and values into what we aim to achieve, for the business coaches we serve and the distinct industry we represent.
Our mission is to develop, advance and promote the business coaching profession worldwide.
We are committed to enhancing business coaching as a distinct discipline and building awareness, credibility and trust in business coaches everywhere.
We envision a world with a business coach working within every organization, business and government worldwide.
We believe business coaching makes for better leadership, strategic thinking and organizational management. Our goal is to raise the profile of business coaching to become standard best practice for high-performing businesses and organizations.
Ethics and Integrity in Action
At WABC, we believe that business is a potent force for solving social problems, and we are committed to building public trust and credibility in business coaching as a global industry.
Business coaches often work with those in a position of leadership, who can greatly influence the business decisions and culture of the organizations they represent. Especially when facing complex dilemmas, business coaches must have the courage to challenge their clients’ perspective and guide them towards ethical choices. Business coaches also need to know when they themselves may be encountering ethical dilemmas and how to reconcile competing interests and agendas.
The unique nature of our role makes it clear that each of us needs to possess a strong ethical orientation as we carry out this important work. It is for this very reason that WABC invested in developing a Code that could match to the challenges we, and our clients, can sometimes face.
The current WABC Code of Business Coaching Ethics and Integrity embodies the highest ethical standards and includes our Principles and our Safe Harbor Conciliation and Adjudication Process. It’s one of the most advanced and comprehensive codes of its kind in the world today, and is one of the key differences that set WABC business coaches apart from other kinds of coaches.
Our Code is reviewed regularly to be relevant to the latest in best practice. It serves to guide not only our day-to-day business interactions and decision making, but also provides direction during uncertain times to help us think deeply about how to conduct all our coaching across business contexts and cultures.
OUR GLOBAL COMMUNITY
Together We Grow
WABC is committed to unifying continued excellence—of bringing business coaches, members, providers, and partners together to share expertise and support colleagues, clients and organizations across the world.
We work alongside businesses and organizations both big and small, and WABC business coaches are united by the principles, philosophies and ideas that give us a common foundation and elevate our practice
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OUR LEADERSHIP TEAM
Meet Our Leadership
At the heart of WABC is a team of passionate individuals who commit their breadth and depth of their experience and expertise to supporting this vibrant association. We are also supported by committees, task forces and other working groups as needed to further our organizational goals and objectives.
“At WABC, we lead the best by committing to be the best—the best in high standards, quality service, and evidence-based thinking.”
Wendy Johnson is guided by an ethics-based ambitious vision: to have a business coach working within every organization, business and government worldwide.
Leading WABC is the ideal way for Johnson to leverage her passion and precision for the benefit of business coaches worldwide. Since 2002, WABC has become the leading global voice for business coaches, their training providers and their clients.
Under Johnson’s leadership, WABC has:
- Risen from national to global standing
- Led the development of rigorous self-regulatory initiatives and evidence-based global standards and credentials
- Expanded its footprint from 5 to 125+ countries
- Increased credential holders from 100s to 1000s
As a global thought leader in business coaching, Johnson continuously contributes to our community through a wide range of activities including coaching, mentoring, supervising, speaking, writing and reviewing of business coaching books and articles.
Johnson’s background is diverse, with expertise in business coaching, human dynamics, behavioral science and criminal justice. Before building her successful business coaching practice, Johnson ExeC Group, she served as a high-profile investigator, a law enforcement officer and a mental health therapist. These positions deepened Johnson’s commitment to public service, social responsibility and ethical behavior, traits that have defined her work at WABC.
Johnson holds several academic degrees including an MA in Counseling Psychology from the Adler School of Professional Psychology, as well as certifications in mediation, negotiation, conflict analysis, management, interrogation and investigation and business coaching.
“WABC’s steadfast commitment to business coaches, corporate ethics, integrity and evidence-based standards/practices is exactly what organizations worldwide need today.”
Doug Abrahamson brings broad and deep strategic management skills gleaned over decades of experience across multiple organizations and fields of practice.
For over 25 years, Doug has passionately championed the need to improve strategic management and planning skills within the field of public safety and security in Canada, the United States, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. Simultaneously, he has conducted research, authored numerous articles and book chapters, and presented on the need for evidence-based policy and practice, stakeholder engagement, good governance and business coaching within both the public and private sectors.
Doug’s work has given him an opportunity to collaborate with organizations such as Charles Sturt University (AU), the Justice Institute of British Columbia (CA), Rabdan Academy (AE), Saskatchewan Global Transportation Hub Authority (CA), Police Executive Research Forum (US) and the Victoria Police Department (CA).
Doug has an MBA from Royal Roads University (RRU) and a Doctorate of Public Policy from Charles Sturt University (CSU). He maintains his academic standing through his continued role as adjunct faculty with CSU, Honorary Research Associate with the Justice Institute of British Columbia, journal and book/chapter authorship and role as independent peer reviewer for three international academic journals.
“The need for great leadership, capability and confidence has never been greater. At the center of this need is the leader’s willingness to change and evolve to meet the current demands. Business coaching is a change enabler and WABC is the best in class at understanding and supporting this imperative.”
David Kincaid is among North America’s most recognized and respected opinion leaders in the field of brand management. He is the Founder and Managing Partner of Level5 Strategy, one of Canada’s leading strategic brand consultancies.
Prior to starting Level5, David was Chief Marketing Officer at Corus Entertainment where he helped set the organization’s corporate vision, values and positioning. Before Corus, David was Senior Vice-President of Marketing and Strategic Planning at Labatt Breweries of Canada, where he led the company’s expansion into the United States, Mexico and the Dominican Republic with successful turnaround and launches of brands such as Budweiser, Stella Artois and Keith’s.
David has a BA from Queen’s University, is a frequent lecturer and speaker at Canada’s leading business schools and conferences, and serves as Adjunct Professor of Marketing at the Smith School of Business, Queen’s University. In 2013, David was recognized by his industry peers when inducted into the American Marketing Association’s “Marketing Hall of Legends,” and has published two books.
Michele Ann Jenkins
Michele Ann Jenkins
“WABC’s content is developed from a deep understanding of the business coaching domain, the evolving needs of members, and its deep commitment to standards. WABC is positioned to be the go-to source for business coaches around the world.”
Michele Ann Jenkins has been working in web content management since people first realized web content should be managed. She got her start programming medical vocabulary management tools, then joined the San Francisco dotcom frenzy to work on Open Source web content management systems for the burgeoning online publication industry.
With 20 years of web development experience and a strong background in information science, Michele quickly analyzes client and user needs to translate them into actionable strategies that drive user engagement. Focusing in information architecture (IA), usability and content strategy, she finds creative ways to apply IA best practice and builds frameworks that are useful, solid and beautiful.
After many years of travel and working for UN organizations in Europe, she settled down in Montreal, Quebec to focus on information architecture and taxonomy.
Michele has a BA and an MLIS from McGill University, where she has taught courses in Online Community Development and Knowledge Taxonomies.
Leading from the Start
Steve Lanning and Hal Wright of the United States founded the National Association of Business Coaches (NABC) in 1997. NABC experienced steady growth within the first five years while the business coaching industry became one of the fastest growing professions in North America. NABC was positioned as “the association of choice” for business-focused coaches and the international business market.
To further global growth, NABC sought out a visionary leader to elevate the organization into a prestigious international association. Wendy Johnson of Canada shared the same vision—of an organization who could elevate excellence in business coaching, and unify business leadership throughout the world.
On May 31, 2002, Wendy Johnson transformed NABC into a new privately held federal corporation in Canada, and became WABC Coaches Inc.
WABC Coaches Inc. conducts business as the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC), and serves and develops business coaching markets around the world.
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