Professional Development

How an Executive Coach Can Help Boost Your Career

Written by Jessie Liu

Eden Abrahams has a life so fascinating, we almost wanted to interview her on that alone. She’s worked internationally as a strategist and corporate communications expert, and moved on from there to become a respected executive coach and the head of Clear Path Executive Coaching.

She took some time out of her busy day to speak with us about the challenges a modern executive faces.

Why would an executive need coaching?

To borrow an acronym used by the U.S. military, we are living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world, which demands a different kind of leader than the old command-and-control model that worked when companies were hierarchical and the operating environment wasn’t in a continuous state of flux. Executives today in just about every sector are grappling with increasingly complex challenges that demand new ways of thinking, problem solving, decision making and relating to others. High-performing leaders aren’t born with these skills. They develop them by cultivating self-awareness; a flexible, adaptive mindset; and a commitment to continued learning and experimentation.

Executive coaches can play a valuable role in helping leaders and managers clarify their goals at critical junctures in their career and acquire the right tools and perspective to evolve, advance, and thrive. Partnering with a coach can help executives improve their emotional intelligence capabilities, learn from past mistakes, strengthen their reflective and strategic thinking capabilities, and create time for meaningful non-work pursuits that provide balance and perspective. In many cases, executive coaching engagements also focus on building or improving skills related to effective communicating, executive presence, and time management.

What unique challenges do executives face in their careers?

Executives face many external challenges as they navigate their careers. Flatter, leaner organizations mean there are fewer opportunities for linear advancement, and even relatively senior managers need to be skilled at the art of influencing without authority to operate successfully in these environments. Trends like globalization, rapid technological innovation, and demographic shifts have dramatically altered the employment landscape, resulting in a “new normal” characterized by job insecurity, a more opportunistic and less loyal workforce, and greater pressure on executives to deliver results in a shorter time frame.

Concurrently, the search for meaning at work is a powerful internal driver that is redefining – for many of us, at all stages of our careers – what a fulfilling career looks like. Particularly in wealthy, developed economies, the belief that we should find purpose and self-actualization at work – and not just in our extracurricular activities and relationships – is much more prevalent than it was even a generation ago. Executives who work in organizations that don’t offer significant opportunities for professional development, personal growth or community service should be thinking proactively about how to address that deficit, both for their own benefit and to promote greater employee engagement.

On a practical level, the takeaway is that all of us, executives included, would do well to adapt an entrepreneurial mindset when it comes to managing our careers. Because in a VUCA world, thinking of yourself as “labor for hire” is a far riskier strategy than remaining nimble, dynamic and in perpetual upgrade mode – just like any good start-up does.

When transitioning to a new career, what should an executive be aware of?

Whether you’re looking to change jobs, employers or careers, making the transition successfully requires having 1) a good understanding of your value proposition, including your transferable skills, 2) a compelling story that highlights your professional journey, noteworthy accomplishments, interesting experiences and personal interests, and 3) a robust, diversified network that will help you learn about interesting opportunities, make serendipitous connections and explore new directions and possibilities that may not yet be on your radar screen. Finally, before you accept an offer, make sure you’ve done adequate due diligence on the company culture and have a clear understanding of your role, your mandate and how your performance will be evaluated.

Is it really “lonely at the top”? What should executives do when they feel overwhelmed?

In a 2013 poll conducted by Stanford University, nearly two thirds of the CEOs surveyed said they lacked outside leadership advice – but nearly 100% of them said they wanted it. So yes, it can definitely feel lonely at the top, but it doesn’t have to. When you’re taking risks with limited visibility, making decisions that have enterprise-wide impact and communicating a vision to inspire and motivate your team, it’s critical to have a robust support network. Many senior executives, including CEOs, find value in joining small, facilitated peer discussion groups where they can confidentially talk through critical issues with others who’ve grappled with similar challenges. Having an objective, outside collaborator to serve as a sounding board and confidante – someone who’s invested in your success and isn’t afraid to ask tough questions or offer an alternative perspective – can also be quite helpful. An executive coach can play that role, as can a trusted mentor or advisor.

What trends in executive hiring should we be keeping an eye on?

Here are two that I find particularly interesting:

1. According to a recent survey conducted by HBS professor Boris Groysberg, along with the executive skills that are considered most desirable by companies today – leadership, strategic thinking and execution, technical and technology skills, team- and relationship-building, communication and presentation, change management and integrity – having a “global outlook” and “meaningful international experience” are becoming increasingly sought-after attributes for C-suite hires. Another evolving trend is the preference for team-player leaders vs. bossy stars.

2. One of the key findings that emerged from a “source of hire” survey conducted last year by performance-based hiring expert Lou Adler is that interpersonal loyalty is an increasingly important factor in securing a new job. In a recent LinkedIn post, he wrote that “being referred by someone you know – whether the person contacted you or you contacted them – seems to be becoming the new default for getting another job. While company loyalty might be on the decline, it appears interpersonal loyalty is on the rise.” According to Adler, over half (56%) of all jobs are either filled by internal candidates or by people the hiring manager knows personally or has sourced via trusted peers and colleagues. So, more than ever, it pays to keep your contacts current, and close.

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About the author

Jessie Liu

Jessie Liu is a digital marketer, specializing in SEO, Digital Analytics, Content Marketing and Social Media. She helps lead TheJobNetwork’s content marketing efforts, including content strategy and promotion strategy. She believes in data-driven decision making. She recently adopted a Beagle mix puppy named Happy. Feel free to tweet her @jessiecliu for pictures of her adorable new puppy or just any marketing related stuff.

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