External input

This is a really interesting article to which I would add a couple of small, but important footnotes.

First, the role of the External is to provoke thought, discourse and action in an empowering way.  Or as my Greek colleague Athina phrases it Analysis, Synthesis, Praxis.  However, the External should be wary of becoming a prop within the business, as this might suggest that the Executive being coached is not progressing.

An analogy:  Over time, a keen driver may progress from their initial learner driving instructor teaching basics, to an IAM instructor teaching Road-craft, to a driving coach developing fluidity and a feel for the road… and maybe even to a race tutor who is able to help the driver push the boundaries.  Each has a deep understanding of their field and a range of techniques designed to progress a driver at a particular stage in their driving life.

In the same way that you would probably not employ a learner driving instructor to advise you over the years if your goal was to compete in NASCAR, so an external should be chosen for their appropriateness to your current challenges and assessed regularly.  A relationship might still last months or years, but it should be assessed by both Executive and External in a similar way as any other part of a business.

Second, it is vital to remember the balance of power in the relationship.  The Executive runs the company, whilst the External is only there to provoke thought, in the same way that a cross-organisational strategy team might do.  Many MD’s of SME’s have a problem taking up their authority through lack of experience or because, for example, they have had the same staff since day one.

The External can help address problems such as abdication of responsibilities, but they must not become a proxy leader in the process.  Their aim should be to augment the experience of the Executive and help them develop a well rounded, sustainable approach to running the business.

Third, change tends only to be able to occur when there is space for change… in the mind of the Executive.  The use of an External, whether they be an experienced coach or another business leader, will only bear fruit if time is allocated to consider the different opinions and new options; a concept that is an anathema to many business folk.

I am a strong advocate of the value of the External to Executives and their businesses.  May I suggest that you put some time in your diary to think about it?

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