I have a friend whose nephew is a professional basketball player. We’ve been friends with this family for a long time and have had the privilege of watching this young man grow up. We’ve seen how hard he worked to get where he is now. And we’ve seen the investment of time, energy, and money his parents made to help him turn his dream of the NBA into a reality.
The most important of these investments was getting him a really good coach. They made sure he had that support all the way through his early years, because they knew that’s what it would take for him to be able to play at a top-tier college and then to be able to turn pro.
It’s striking to me how different that is to how we think about coaching in the corporate world. There, companies tend to only invest in coaching for their senior executives. They don’t invest much – if at all – in the early years. Or if they do, it’s only for a select handful that they deem are “high potential.” What that means is that most talented people — who could become truly great leaders — don’t get the guidance and support they need to get there.
I’ve done a lot of coaching over the years for people at all levels. I think the challenges senior executives face are interesting ones. They have to shift how they manage. They have to think more strategically. They have to learn how to influence from the front of the room, rather than in the trenches. These are all great skills.
But many times, when I’m coaching someone in the C-Suite, I feel like I’m coming to the party a bit late. By the time someone is a C-level executive, they have established their ways of working. They’ve developed their theory of leadership. They’ve managed people – for better or for worse.
Some of them have had really good skills, and good instincts, and ways of leading people that were really quite effective.
Others, not so much.
They had certainly done well enough to get to the C-level, but their management styles, and some of their leadership skills, and even some of their personal executive presence wasn’t quite where it needed to be. That’s why I was being brought in to coach them. They had been promoted over and over again in spite of their management abilities because they were good technically. Until at some point, the lack of soft skills caught up with them and started to have an impact on the bottom line. And then they got a coach.
By the time someone has gotten to that stage in their life and that level in their career, it can be very difficult to make a change. Often, they’ve developed some rigidity in their ways of working. They’re set in their ways about what it means to be a leader, and what it means to “control people” (their words, not mine!). Many of these philosophies are, frankly, antithetical to what we know works to harness energy, generate excitement, and motivate employees. As a result, these leaders fail to create the engaging, productive, and satisfied workforce that would make their companies truly successful. That’s why Gallup reports that in 2022 only 32% of employees are engaged in their work.
What a tremendous waste of resources.
That’s why I created the Engaging Leadership coaching program specifically for middle level managers (with titles in the range of Manager, Director, or VP). I want people to build strong leadership skills earlier in their careers. I believe that when you’re first managing a team, or a department, or even a division, that’s when you have the most room to learn and grow. That’s when you can create a leadership philosophy and develop practices that actually work to inspire top performance. That’s when you can learn how to set standards, create buy-in for them, and hold people accountable for great results. That creates a win-win-win, for the manager who is doing a great job, for their team members, who feel more engaged and satisfied at work, and for the company, via business results.
As I mentioned, organizations sometimes make these kinds of programs available to people they label as “high potential” – and that’s great. But I believe there are a lot more people who have “high potential” than companies are willing to invest in. And I know, from the clients I’ve served and what they’ve been able to accomplish in their careers, that these skills are what make the difference.
If you’re soft-spoken, or shy, or you’re struggling to get the people around you to buy into your ideas, or you’re struggling to get out of the details so you can lead more strategically, it’s unlikely that your company will see you as high potential. They may appreciate your hard work, but they don’t see the fire that you have inside that has you longing for something more. And so, they won’t invest. They might not even promote you. They’ll let you work away at your current level as if that’s all that’s available to you. That leaves you stuck in a catch-22: to get the leadership training you need, you have to exhibit these behaviors. But for you to step fully into your leadership, you may need some coaching and support – for example, to get noticed, or to move past insecurities, or become more comfortable speaking up, or to delegate more.
That’s why I’ve set up the Engaging Leadership program to be something that people can invest in themselves. You don’t have to wait for your company to finally see that you’re worth it. You can decide right now that you are. And then show them what they’ve been missing. Or, if they still don’t take notice, find a new job with people who do.
The result is that you set yourself up as the leader you are meant to be, in an organization that is excited to have you. Waking up to that every day feels very different from being just another cog in the wheel.
In sports, kids don’t wait until they’re in the pros to get a coach or get a trainer for themselves. They start working with someone as soon as they show some potential. That’s what I recommend for you as well.
If you feel like you have the potential to be more in your career, to do more than you’re doing now, to make more of a contribution than you’re making now – then you are exactly the kind of person my team and I would love to help.
We’ve set aside some time to talk with you about your career – where you are now and where you want to go – your hopes and aspirations. If we can help you reach them, we’ll talk with you about what that could look like. And if we’re not the right fit for you, we’ll do our best to point you to another coach who would be. Our goal is to help everyone find the support they need – the right coach – to get them where they want to go. We’d love to do that for you, too. Book your call at zmcoach.com/apply today.
Here’s a video if you prefer to watch and listen to me talk about this topic: