Improved Leadership. Competitive Advantage.

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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 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.

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.

On February 13th of this year, the Supreme Court lost an intellectual heavyweight, a model for conservatism, in Antonin Scalia. His death ignited a political firestorm as Republicans and Democrats now fight to replace this controversial Supreme Court Justice. Almost lost in this story, though, is the grieving. Perhaps few have grieved more than Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

These two represent an odd couple if there ever was one. Physically and intellectually, many compared Scalia to a bear. Demonstrative and biting, this ultra conservative Catholic was known to write scathing dissents and is largely recognized as the most aggressive questioner on the bench. Ginsberg, diminutive in size, was in many regards the opposite: strongly liberal and progressive, Jewish, and soft-spoken in her dealings. Amazingly, they were the best of friends. There are lessons here that touch upon leadership and personal relationships. We reflect on a couple below.

First, disagreement should never mean disrespect. It’s possible, although difficult, to remain passionate about an idea or a course of action without tearing another person, who disagrees, down. On the judicial continuum, it is difficult to think of two intellectual forces more apart in how they viewed the law and the Constitution. In spite of their differences, disagreement never boiled over to disrespect. Just the opposite, those that cover our nation’s highest court, remarked that there was mutual liking and respect between the two. So, the next time you diverge with someone who sees the world differently or suggests a course of action to solving a problem that you don’t buy, feel free to disagree—but do so in a way that never spills over to disrespect. By the way, if you ever want to see what NOT to do, go on to Facebook and see the political hate and viciousness. This isn’t discourse. The leaders that read this newsletter are better than that.

Second, we need to leave our egos at the door. We should invite and be comfortable with people attacking our ideas—just as long as they aren’t attacking us. We’ve seen too many people take it personally. In a spirit of true intellectual honesty and curiosity, Ginsberg and Scalia seemed able to divorce their personalities and friendships from their judicial opinions and philosophy. In other words, they attacked each other’s ideas with rigor and force without attacking the person. Maybe most importantly, they seemed to welcome the intellectual challenge—without ever taking it personal.

Some parting thoughts and questions—do you always get defensive about your proposals and ideas or, conversely, do you welcome—even invite—challenge? As a leader, are you fostering relationships like Scalia and Ginsberg where ideas are ferociously attacked without ever going after the person? Do people feel free, even encouraged, to disagree? When you’ve witnessed another leader attack a person rather than their idea or proposal, did you correct and coach them? Or did you look away?

The death of Antonin Scalia has, on both sides, instantly turned political. Lost in the carnival atmosphere, however, are some elegant leadership lessons. Just maybe, because of this column, we’ll disagree better this month. By the way, if you can’t disagree in a healthy way or lobby good challenges at each other, you have a teamwork problem. Your next step should be to call Evan at 240.727.5965 or send an email at evan@elpadvantage.com.