Executive coaching has become one of the hottest fields in management consulting. But at the CEO level, a coach can offer the executive some excellent tips on dealing with the board of directors. What advice are top CEO coaches giving their clients on how to work with and effectively lead their boards?
"CEOs may come in assuming that the board members know what they don't really know, or at least that they can figure it out on their own," says Thomas McIntosh, a coach affiliated with the Silver Fox advisory group in Houston. Don't just hope for the best -- spell out ideas, options, and issues.
"One area where there are a lot of problems is when the CEO comes in to work with a board who are strangers to him," says McIntosh. "Try to figure out what their individual agendas are, and how they may conflict with each other. The CEO needs to build a running profile of each member, how to reach them, what sort of communication they want. Some might prefer personal phone calls, while others like a lot of information to read."
While some coaches advise the new CEO to ask individual board members for deep background on how to handle the other directors, McIntosh says that "asking members about the board's chemistry can be dangerous at this stage." It brings an air of plotting and conspiracy that the novice CEO should avoid. Better to let the directors bring up such "just between you and me" takes on their own.
Better still, a coach can serve as a facilitator between the board and its leadership. "The coach can help board members work collaboratively," says Carl Kaestner, of Robert Hargrove Consulting. "They can serve as a thinking partner for the CEO -- it really is lonely at the top." By turning the board itself into an executive coach, "they become an extraordinary combination, brokers able to create extraordinary relationships," Kaestner says.