Working with an executive coach is not for the faint of heart. In fact, if you’re going to get the most out of the experience, it can be both exhilarating and exhausting. In a great coaching relationship you confront truths about yourself that are often hard to see, you learn how to be uncomfortable and still do what needs to be done, and you exercise muscles you never thought you had. You also walk away with a much deeper connection to your authentic self, greater self-confidence, and an exciting vision of the impact you want to make for those around you.
In my executive coaching practice with high potential leaders, I get to learn first hand what truly makes a difference between the leaders who meet the goals they set for our coaching work, and those who miss out on the opportunity.
On the surface these leaders have a lot in common. They are all senior leaders in Fortune 500 companies. They are smart, ambitious, and committed to their careers. Their companies want to invest in their growth. The coaching process we work through is similar.
Yet, across hundreds of coaching hours with these leaders I’ve observed five practices that truly make a difference in whether leaders meet their goals or not. Those who do transform themselves, progress rapidly in careers, and transform the organizations they work within (one of them is on Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women list). The key variable that makes a difference is not me (the executive coach) at all. It’s the person being coached and what they practice.
So, whether you are going through an executive coaching process or not, you can use these five practices to more predictably meet the goals you’re setting for yourself. If you’re considering getting an executive coach, read this first and see if you’re up to the challenge.
Here are the five biggest differentiators:
Transformational leaders practice taking personal accountability. This is the single largest differentiator in progress I have observed. The people who get the biggest gains from the coaching process practice asking the question “What can I do to (reach an outcome)” or “How am I contributing to (what’s working or not working well). They don’t blame the organization, the culture, their boss, or others. They don’t wait for something external to change. Transformational leaders decide to have choice and power to affect change – starting with change within themselves . Marshall Goldsmith in this brilliant video proposes the six questions you can ask yourself every day to hold yourself accountable. He has 32 questions he pays someone to ask him every day to hold himself accountable.
Transformational leaders connect with their strengths, purpose and values. Through the coaching process each leader connects with their authenticity. Yet, it is the people who truly practice bringing their unique strengths, purpose, and values to the workplace every day who make a difference. Research shows that when we are focused on our own values and sense of purpose, it makes us more courageous, confident, and resilient in the face of stress, challenge, and change . So the simple practice here is to write these (here’s how) and spend five minutes every morning reviewing this list and deciding three ways you will bring this, your full and authentic self, to the workplace today.
Transformational leaders are willing to experiment with new behaviors and take action even through discomfort.While they are firm in their core, transformational leaders are agile in their behaviors . They are willing to stretch themselves out of their habitual ways of being and behaving to try something new when their habitual behavior is not working. They are willing to experiment and develop new parts of themselves to be more agile to different situations. In my book “Wired for Authenticity”, one of the seven practices of authentic leaders is “Choose be before do”. The practice is asking yourself “Who do I need to be that best serves this situation?” and take action from there.
Transformational leaders bring a mindset of curiosity rather than judgment. Our human brains love short-cuts. It’s the way we evolved and it’s an excellent survival mechanism. It takes too many calories for our brain to re-think routine decisions. We like to take the same route to work every day and that same preference for acting out of habit becomes how we lead. We make assumptions fairly unconsciously. Yet all the change happening in today’s world we cannot afford to assume or judge. The simple practice is to ask yourself “What am I seeing as true that could just be an assumption?” or “Is there a different way I can be looking at this person or situation that will enable us to reach our goals?”
Transformational leaders look for the opportunity in change. When change happens (and I’m not talking about the kind where you won the lottery or got an unexpected raise), transformational leaders practice finding the opportunity in it. The simple practice is “what is the opportunity in this situation?” In this way these leaders don’t waste energy resisting the change but focus on creating something new with the change.
The good news is that you can use the practice of asking yourself a set of simple questions every day to practice each of these practices and make them into habits that will serve you in creating transformational change – starting with yourself.
A version of this post first appeared on my Forbes blog.