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Jobs in finance: using a career coach to improve your prospects Back  
Management style is just as important as technical competence in the impact a new chief executive officer (CEO) will have, Caitriona Murphy writes. She recommends the use of a coach to assist in the transition to the role of CEO, as this will help the CEO manage his relationship with the chairman and build effective interactions with non-executive directors.
LLanding the position of CEO is the pinnacle of many a corporate career, but the newly appointed chief shouldn’t expect to automatically have the loyalty of colleagues or board, or that the skills that got them to the top will alone guarantee a successful tenure. Management style is just as important as technical competence in the impact a new CEO will have and the corporate legacy they leave behind, but the abilities it demands are not to be found in academic textbooks. Coaching and Mentoring, however, is expressly designed to address the kind of ‘non-technical’ issues confronting senior executives. Relationships with colleagues or non-executive directors, leadership qualities, delegation skills, and prioritisation of time and objectives: these are real and pertinent issues in successful management, and are best addressed through the skills and experience that coaches apply to the task.

An illustrative example of the challenges facing a newly-appointed CEO is that of Tom X, who realised a life’s ambition by taking the top job in the financial services company where he’d spent much of his career. Not only did he beat off more gung-ho applicants for the post, but he could also take comfort in having the declared backing of his board. The chairman, a prominent name in the sector with forthright views, supported the new CEO. However, eager to prove the wisdom of the selection decision, and drawing on his own experience of leading edge senior executive development in the international market place, he suggested to Tom that he now follow the example of his peers in the US, the UK and elsewhere and get himself a coach to help his transition to the new role.

Tom’s choice of TCPI as his preferred coaching provider was heavily influenced by the track records of the coaches; their quality assured methodologies, and the training, tools and supervision they had from their UK associate. His selection of Fran, a coach from TCPI’s panel, came after detailed discussions with the TCPI account manager, based on the detailed profiles of each coach’s background and experience. This was followed by a ‘preliminary fit’ meeting between Tom and Fran (not his real name), to establish that there was indeed a good basis for developing the kind of mutual trust and rapport that would allow effective coaching to take place.

At this preliminary meeting Fran and Tom exchanged professional and occupational details, so that each knew how the other had progressed through their respective careers; and discussed the kind of learning and experience the coaching programme could deliver. Fran also arranged for Tom to speak, on a confidential basis, with other TCPI clients.

They discussed the practical arrangements for and the frequency of contact, and, most importantly, the absolute confidentiality of the process. With an agreed working template in place, the programme kicked off with a half day session where they identified and agreed on the handful of key issues arising from the business needs and Tom’s own development which would form the core of the coaching content for the next year. Once the discussions began in earnest, therefore, both men had a clear idea of where the process should lead, the strengths that Tom could apply to his task, and the areas where Fran’s input might be most productive.

Some of the issues on Tom’s agenda related to managing his own relationship with the chairman and building effective interactions with some key non-executive directors. Helped by Fran to explore his own perception of how a satisfactory and productive chair-CEO relationship should operate, together they considered how his current handling of that relationship could be reframed to more closely match his own view of the desirable situation. One of the initiatives to spring from this was for Tom to seek an off-site open conversation with his chairman about his own agenda as chair, and to use that to identify common ground on important issues. Others included agreeing a programme of chair involvement in some key company and customer events, and proactive servicing by him of the chair report slot on the regular board meeting agendas. As the benefits from this developing chair-CEO teamwork started to flow, Tom’s ideas for harnessing the talents of non executive directors found a willing ear in his chairman, and several were acted on in the redesign of board committee structures and membership.

His chairman continued to live up to his demanding reputation but Tom’s confidence at board meetings grew apace as the trust and support he earned from the chair began to yield results. His own performance at meetings came to reflect more accurately his very capable delivery on targets. In essence, he was not only achieving results but was being seen to achieve results. As his confidence grew he felt more comfortable and powerful in his new leadership role. He was also enjoying it hugely.

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