G.A. Taylor Fernley: Even leaders need to follow somebody’s advice Featured

8:01pm EDT May 31, 2012
G.A. Taylor Fernley G.A. Taylor Fernley

In today’s rat race of a world we call business, CEOs often overvalue themselves, believing, for example, that they have all the right answers. Wrong.

For just that reason, CEOs need leadership coaches now more than ever before. Why? Perhaps because they are so involved in their organization, they are not able to rise above it in order to serve as an unbiased, neutral and effective leader.

At the expense of “opening up the kimono too far,” I am a living, breathing testament of this fact and struggle to overcome it. For that reason, I am on a continual search for sounding boards of respected and experienced individuals who might guide my hand and challenge me to “question my answers.”

Many CEOs with whom I speak talk often about how it is lonely at the top. They, in my opinion, are not asking for pity. What they are asking for is the comfort of others who have walked a mile in their shoes, those who make big decisions daily, decisions that have significant consequences for others.

This is where leadership coaches come into the picture. Over the years, I have worked with several coaches — some good and some not so good. But I learned from each of them. Good coaches, quite candidly, are the ones who do not pull any punches and are brutally frank with you. They seek to be honest brokers of ideas, opinions and suggestions they have gathered and feed them back to you in a constructive fashion.

Good coaches also listen and learn from what CEOs and executives have said, and seek to share expertise in helpful ways, especially when it comes to challenging and questioning the answers you give them. And, best of all, they hold you accountable.

With the skills of a good leadership coach, many positive outcomes will result and improve your positioning and impact as an industry leader. Here are my top five qualities for any worthwhile executive coach:

  • An acknowledgement and self-awareness that CEOs do not have all the answers for the problems their company faces.


  • An ability to learn from others who have, as they saying goes, “walked a mile in my shoes.”


  • A sense of comfort that the coach will hold all conversations in the strictest of confidence.


  • An ability to look at things from a more neutral and unbiased perspective and be accountable to your commitments.


  • A realization that a company will benefit from a CEO who is empowered to translate what they learn from the coach into an all-new leadership style and approach, which can then be used to grow the organization.


When CEOs learn these all-important fundamentals from a coach, they can model that behavior, first moving their management team to a higher level of performance, then creating a trickle-down effect to other members of your company. The net result should be a sense of increased engagement and creativity within your organization.

Don Phillips’ book, “Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times,” perhaps said it best. Borrowing from Abraham Lincoln’s own words referring to his strategies during the Civil War, Phillips noted that, “Leaders should realize that successful alliances put the (CEO) in a position of strength and power.”

Put another way, alignment with a coach will rapidly pay for itself and help you differentiate yourself from the competition.

In my judgment, no company today should operate without access to a leadership coach. Call them a coach, a trusted advisor or a strategic partner. Don’t get hung up on the title. Just get one. You will find it one of the best investments of your life.

G.A. Taylor Fernley is president and CEO of Fernley & Fernley, an association management company founded in 1886. Reach him at tfernley@fernley.com, or for more information, visit www.fernley.com.