Competitive advantage Featured

11:54am EDT March 11, 2004
When a company experiences a problem, employees often look to their CEO for guidance. But to whom does the CEO turn for advice?

J. Daniel Matthews, president of Lincoln Business Consulting Inc., says a CEO coach can help top executives bring out the best in themselves.

"Being the CEO of a company, large or small, is often a very lonely position," Matthews says. "(You would think) as the boss, they can do and say whatever they want. In fact, they have to be very careful about everything they say and do."

A common misconception among top executives is that once they've reached this level, there is nothing left to learn. Matthews compares successful CEOs to world-class athletes who have relied on coaches since they first began practicing their sport.

"Like a professional sports coach, a CEO coach can see potential for growth and improved performance that already successful people like athletes and CEOs might not even see in themselves," he says. "A CEO hires a coach to help bring out their best."

Coaches lend objectivity, perspective, encouragement, accountability and focus to their clients, and serve as teacher, mentor and adviser. Matthews says most CEOs are anxious to tap into resources to help them do a better job.

He sees four common qualities in his clients that make them more successful than their counterparts.

* Passion for continuous improvement. "They may be happy, but they're never satisfied with themselves or with anything else," he says.

* Obsession with lifelong learning. "They're constantly reading, going to seminars or belonging to groups that educate."

* Having the ability to think strategically, coupled with the ability to execute effectively.

* Seeing themselves as servant leaders. "They have a real desire to bring out the best in themselves and the people that they lead. ... Very often, people who seek the highest forms of service turn out to be the most effective leaders," he says.

Matthews says employees of a servant leader often say their CEO is constantly working to give them better tools, better technology, a better work environment or clearer goals.

"They perceive the leader as somebody who is a resource for their own success, not as a boss or someone who just tells them what to do," he says.

After initial contact, the CEO and coach arrange to talk in person or on the phone to determine if the relationship is a good fit. Matthews, a member of the International Coach Federation, says if he and a potential client do not match well, he can refer the CEO to another coach in the network.

Another essential element to the coaching process is commitment. There are no signed contracts, but Matthews requires complete commitment from the CEO -- the same commitment he promises to them in return.

"A CEO coach is always looking out for his or her CEO," he says. "A coach is like that CEO's competitive advantage in the arena of business management."

Discussion in coaching meetings are confidential. The coach and CEO hold one- or two-hour meetings two or three times a month, although this may change, based on the client's needs. During these meetings, Matthews provides forms that he has developed and other resources to help his clients work on their objectives and plans.

"It's their agenda," he says. "(The CEO coach) is just there to help facilitate the continuous learning process and to help them to be more successful with less wear and tear on them." How to reach: Lincoln Business Consulting Inc., (866) 236-2622 or lincolnbusinessconsulting.com


What's next

J. Daniel Matthews, president of Lincoln Business Consulting Inc., has to keep his CEO clients on top of their game. As the business world changes and demand rises for quality CEO coaches, new coaching styles are evolving.

Matthews shares some trends in CEO coaching

* Niche CEO coaching. "I think you're going to see more specialty or niche CEO coaching in the future," Matthews says. "There are many ways for CEO coaches to differentiate themselves, and I think you'll see coaches who have specific coaching skills for a specific area or emphasis. Some that I have focused on have been family business CEO coaching. I grew up in a family business ... so I've had a lot of experience with family business management, and that's a special interest of mine."

* Female CEO coaching is a rapidly growing area, because women "may not have had the same traditional access to business mentors and coaches as what men have had," Matthews says.

* Next-generation CEO coaching prepares young people in a family business or those being groomed for executive positions.

* Coaches specializing by company size or industry type. "What it takes to be a coach for a start-up company is a slightly different skill set than what would be required for somebody coaching the CEO of a large, multinational company," Matthews says.

* Character training and coaching "reminds us of what's really good and true, and helps us practice good character in our businesses and in our everyday lives." Matthews says that "good character needs to be taught, encouraged, and most important, it needs to be modeled by CEOs."