As executives rise to the top they discover that their success is no longer just about individual performance. During their climb to the top, they begin to encounter challenges that they had never before faced. Some executives rely on their own talents and abilities to navigate the often treacherous waters of an executive career occasionally seeking guidance from trusted friends and colleagues. Friends and colleagues are helpful, but often lack the ability to be impartial.
Early in my career a friend recommended that I meet with an executive coach. The first time I sat down with one he listened to my challenges empathetically and then told me that because I was a “seasoned veteran” and had already made it to the top that I had most of the answers, and that I needed someone to help me find them in the deep recesses of my mind. He said that he could help me find the answers to my most pressing questions. I realized at that point that this guy would never be able to help me. The truth is that I didn’t have the answers. I needed someone who could help me solve real-world problems that I had never solved before in my career. I believe that an executive coach can be helpful, but I have met so many coaches with varying backgrounds and qualifications that I didn’t know how to choose one that was right for me.
When executive coaching didn’t work another friend recommended that I find a mentor. I found a fantastic mentor: someone who was very successful in their career, and who had all of the answers. We met many times for lunch and talked for hours. I told her about my problems and issues at work and she gave me lots of advice. I left every meeting feeling ready to conquer the world. I followed her advice at work and was surprised that her answers to my problems didn’t work! I realized that her advice was based on her context and not mine. Feeling hopeless about my situation once again, I went back to my trusted network for advice.
Another friend advised me to hire an expert consultant who’d solved tough product strategy problems before. The consultant I hired came highly recommended, possessed the right credentials, references and track record. He came into the office, took a look at what I was doing, watched me in action, and then made lots of recommendations. His direction helped, but I didn’t understand why his solutions worked. I could see results, but I didn’t benefit from the learning experience because he was doing most of the work. His efforts were not empowering me to handle similar situations in the future.
After meeting with an executive coach, an experienced mentor and a professional consultant, I was ready to give up on finding someone who could deliver what I needed (coach, mentor and consultant). Where could I find this elusive and mythical creature? The truth is that they are all around us. They are the managers, directors and executives who have the best performing teams in their companies, the lowest turnover, and the highest morale. Simply put, they are leaders and they practice a style of management that combines coaching with mentoring and consulting. Fortunately, I found such a person to help me and went on to achieve great success in my career.