Improved Leadership. Competitive Advantage.

The essence of a competitive advantage lies in a simple precept; to secure a competitive advantage you must have something that others don’t. For a moment, we want to comment on our competitive advantage—our executive and leadership coaches are without peer in the industry and are the seeds of our advantage.

Below, we highlight how we are different and better. By addressing this question, we offer some insight on how you can select and best prepare to get the most out of your leadership coaching experience.

Although we’re good—real good—in fact, there are two sides of the coaching equation. Of course, ELP supplies only one side of the equation—the coaching role. However, the other side is equally important—if not more so. And that’s the individual leader being coached.

While many think that the executive/leadership coach does all the heavy lifting, that can’t be further from the truth. The heavy-lifting metaphor just used is appropriate, as we’ll draw on the comparison between our coaching model and what a physical trainer does. So, out of the gate, leaders must want the experience. The best coach or the best physical trainer in the world can never drive change if the individual, at his or her core, does not want to get better. Sadly, this is a waste of money, resources, and most depressing, time. Second, the individual leader should mentally prepare for discomfort. Think about it—when we start a physical training regimen, we often look silly and feel particularly vulnerable as we try new routines. As we at ELP have witnessed, the same applies for the leader. Before leaders can grow, they must tread in the vulnerability space.

More than you think, people feel naked and afraid here. Especially leaders, who for years, were socialized that portraying strength and invincibility mattered most. Just like the physical training phenomenon, though, getting stronger and faster is impossible without stumbles and awkwardness that accompanies learning new and different exercises. Finally, just like the best athletes, leaders should be self-aware and receptive to coaching and feedback. While we always hesitate to issue declaratives, we violate that now. It is impossible to benefit from any type of coaching with a defensive, “I know best!” mentality. To the contrary, the very best coaching experiences we’ve been a part of involved the leader demanding tough feedback and inviting challenge. Inviting challenge, of course, requires us to shelve our egos and to replace it with courage and, you guessed it, the vulnerability notion mentioned above.

So, let’s get to ELP’s part of this coaching dynamic. At ELP, we abide by some key factors that distinguish us from the pack. First, we intellectually and emotionally push to the point of slight discomfort. Aiming for this sweet spot is critical. We embrace the physical trainer mentality mentioned above; if a physical trainer pushes too hard, people will quit and ask, “Why am I paying to get abused?” Conversely, though, if a physical trainer doesn’t push hard enough then people won’t lose weight or run any faster. Because of this, we aim to push slightly beyond the comfort zone where real progress is found. Also, and like the best physical trainers, we believe in accountability. The number one reason that individuals reach for the physical trainer is for the accountability component to the relationship. Left to our own devices, we won’t do the hard work or push the extra bit.

With an accountability partner, though, that dynamic changes. While we can often ignore or just flatly dismiss promises or commitments that we make to ourselves, we don’t like to let others down. That’s where a physical trainer or an ELP coach is needed. Finally, and unlike many traditional leadership coaches, we don’t waste time on the esoteric. We don’t want to know ‘why you don’t like your mother.’ Many of the executive or leadership coaches that we’ve encountered get into therapeutic space or the arena of licensed psychologists. We aren’t that. Not even close. We focus on driving performance. Specifically, we’ll build an ELP simplified, strategic One Page Plan for you, and then we’ll work the plan—not entirely unlike what a physical trainer does when he establishes goals and develops a plan to achieve those goals.

To recap, ELP offers among the best executive and leadership coaches in the world. But as good as we are, the individual still owns a good portion of this relationship. If you are interested in securing an executive or leadership coach that’s guaranteed to improve your trajectory, reach out now to one of ELP’s principals and original co-founders Robin Bichy at robin@elpadvantage.com.

In 1979, Harvard Business Review published a landmark article entitled “Much Ado About Mentors”. Of the 1250 executives that responded to their survey, almost all attributed some level of their success to the presence of a mentor. If you are reading this right now and you don’t have a mentor, then you should stop reading. Reflect. Find yourself a strong and capable mentor. To be unequivocal and clear—there will never be a good reason NOT to possess a mentor. No excuse. While all mentors are, by default, coaches, not all coaches are necessarily mentors. So, we would like to take a moment and highlight some of the key duties that one should expect from a mentor, and also, a coach.

Kathy Kram, out of Boston University, is considered the research expert on mentoring. She identifies some key duties of the best mentors. Notably, she contends that strong mentors will perform the functioning of ‘spotlighting’ for their respective protégés. Spotlighting means helping to direct executive and managerial awareness towards the many good attributes of the protégé. Put differently, a good mentor will highlight and share the wins of those he or she mentors. In a way, a mentor becomes the advocate for the protégé. Another important function of mentors is to protect. Even the very best leaders make mistakes, and some of those may even be big mistakes. To ensure that mistakes never become career killers, it is important for a mentor to protect (not coddle) and shield her protégé from the damaging, and often political, consequences that can occur from an error. We’ve heard someone once say that good mentors not so much build great careers for their protégés as much as they save careers from the dustbin of history. Of course, mentors provide some level of friendship, affirmation, coaching, and counseling to junior leaders.

Mentors differ from coaches along several, important lines. First, mentoring relationships tend to be more personal and intimate. There is often a heavy emotional or affect component to the relationship. Related, many researchers contend that mentors tend to adopt a holistic approach towards their protégés—one that is both personal and professional. Second, mentoring relationships take more time and often last longer than most coaching relationships. It isn’t uncommon for mentoring relationships to last 5 to 7 years; some, we know, actually engage in mentoring relationships that last a lifetime. Coaching, by contrast, is less personal, and more performance focused. Also, and some may contend is a benefit of coaches, they are slightly more detached and may be able to view issues in a more objective or dispassionate light. Using the metaphor from above regarding physical training, a mentor is your workout partner who is just slightly better and wiser than you. A physical trainer is akin to your executive or leadership coach with specialized expertise who can look at your workout regimen without bias and with some level of objectivity.

Our recommendation is to invest in both because mentors and leadership coaches fulfill distinctly different functions. While we can’t fulfill the mentorship role, we’re unsurpassed when it comes to executive and leadership coaching. To learn more, contact Robin Bichy at robin@elpadvantage.com.

The last month with our clients brought a new crop of coaching/leadership questions. Of all of our questions, one, in particular, stood out. It stood out because it seemed to spark the holy trinity of unhealthy emotions—anger, sadness, and profound frustration. We, simply, asked, “Who writes your To-Do list?

The answers to this question almost caused us to stop and start an episode of Law & Order: SVU. SVU, of course, stands for Special Victims Unit, and that’s what we got: a ton of victimization. Answers floated across the spectrum. To the question of who writes your To-Do list, we got the following responses: my boss, bad employees, agencies, incompetent or lazy peers, auditors, regulators, clients, regulators, VIPs, and corporate HQs. None of these is the right answer. Admittedly, all of the above are contributing authors to your To-Do list, but they should never be the primary author. The correct answer to the question of who writes your To-Do list, of course, should be YOU. You are the first author of your To-Do list.

One interview with a rising star executive speaks volumes. She told us that as she drove into work every day, she mentally reviewed her To-Do list. However, the day never, ever went as planned, and within minutes of walking into her office each morning, her To-Do list would, invariably, ‘blow-up.’ As certain as death and taxes, she recounted that her To-Do list and her priorities were the main and consistent casualty every day. She acknowledged the dangers that we touch on below.

When you allow or give permission for others to write your To-Do list, you are essentially making an assumption. You are assuming that a boss, an outside agency, or regulator knows your business better than you. That’s a faulty assumption, don’t you think? The person who should know your team’s or your organization’s business better than anyone is YOU. When we hold this assumption, other bad outcomes are sure to follow. Namely, we lose control and are now along for the ride. Predictably, we get into crisis management mode as opposed to addressing the important, but not necessarily urgent, matters at hand. Ultimately, we find in ourselves in an unenviable position—we respond only to the symptoms of an issue without tackling its root. In our experience, departments, divisions, and organizations that fail to assert themselves as first authors of their To-Do lists, are unfocused and undisciplined.

Before we move on to the Leadership In Action portion of our celebrated eNews, reflect, for a minute, on who exactly is the primary author of your To-Do list. If the answer is not YOU, reach out to Dr. Evan Offstein at evan@elpadvantage.com to discuss how you can fight back. Until then, consult the Leadership In Action portion of this Newsletter to get you moving in the right direction.