Check your ego

Executive coaching might be good for you and your organization

A strong ego is a typical characteristic of those who occupy, or seek to occupy, the corner office. Confidence and assurance, along with personality characteristics that facilitate leadership, are essential to personal and business success.

As important as those qualities are, executives also need a serious dose of self-awareness as well as a willingness to entertain alternative ideas and the possibility of being blind to some biases or weaknesses. Indeed, studies continue to show that as rational and knowledgeable as human beings think they are, they actually are subject to innumerable biases and sources of irrationality.

So, how do you go about exploring what you don’t know and discovering the hidden sources of bias and irrationality that might derail your career, your company, or both? Certainly, one way is to have a staff and colleagues who openly share their perspectives, concerns and advice. That, however, is rare. It assumes you are open to their input and that there are not ulterior motives also at work.

Objective perspective

An alternative, and a likely more objective approach, is to retain the services of an experienced executive coach — one who has seen it all, and dealt with it all, in a variety of complex organizational settings across many industries.

That is what I did a few years into my role as president of the University of Akron by retaining Frank Grosser, the principal of FTG Executive Group. The experience I had was invaluable in the success of my later years as president. By working both with me and the members of our senior executive group, we all came to understand better the interplay of the strengths and weaknesses among us as a team. In particular, Grosser’s wide range of experience was able to cut to the chase in assessing operational dynamics, thereby reducing the level of interpersonal conflicts that affect operational effectiveness — what some call “palace intrigue.”

Are you the problem?

Among many of the things I remember about my work with Grosser is this simple perspective: “What will seem as boldness to some may be seen as arrogance to others.”

That one statement has stayed with me and I now offer it to you as a reminder of what makes a CEO’s job so difficult. Not only do others second-guess you, they also hold differing perceptions of what you are about. Each of us thinks that we are right, that we have the better approach or that we should be in charge. That, of course, is an expression of how human partiality is always at work. Differences in perspectives are a source of interpersonal conflict, which manifests themselves organizationally through self-serving, self-aggrandizing goals, suspicions about the motives of others, and the tendency of executives to not work well as a team.

While it is well to reflect on the vagaries of the human condition, executive coaching may be just what you need to not let your own ego be the problem.

Luis M. Proenza, president emeritus of The University of Akron, serves as a Distinguished Fellow at the U.S. Council on Competitiveness and co-chairs the Innovation Policy Forum as a member of the Science, Technology and Economic Policy Board (STEP) of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.