The Power of CEO Coaching During Onboarding

Go Back to Searchlight Q3 2013


Lisa Thompson, Managing Director, Professional Services lisa thompson

Executive coaching is an important part of the corporate culture in many organizations. When done effectively, coaching can boost productivity and help build new career skills. Yet, many organizations don’t extend their coaching programs into the C-suite. Coaching the CEO can be one of the best investments an organization can make, since the impact goes far beyond the C-suite—and it’s especially vital during the onboarding of a new CEO. One of the best moves a board of directors can make when naming a new CEO is engaging an executive coach for a series of one-on-one sessions.

When a new CEO is appointed, whether from the outside or from within, there is often a steep learning curve. Someone stepping in from the outside needs to learn about the organization, the key players, board members and other stakeholders, and the overall culture. A CEO promoted from a functional area within the organization may need to hone skills in finance, technology, marketing, operations or other disciplines to excel in cross-functional management. And any new CEO may need to adjust his or her leadership style in keeping with the new position and organizational culture.

It’s much easier to put this support system in place at the time of hiring and onboarding, rather than several months down the road when the CEO may be reluctant to ask for help or too busy to make time for coaching. Although we talk frequently about the “first hundred days” being a critical breaking-in period for a new CEO, sometimes this acclimation must occur much more quickly, such as during a financial or public relations crisis.

There are several ways the coaching engagement should be customized to the individual situation. For instance, an executive coach might be invited to observe the CEO in action and provide confidential suggestions and advice. Or the coach might be directed to focus on one or more particular areas, such as conflict resolution, communication skills or working with investors and analysts. If possible, it is wise to enlist talented and informed people in planning the coaching objectives, such as the current CEO and one or more board members to provide their own views as a starting point. Aside from a more effective transition, the tangential benefits of involving key stakeholders in a CEO coaching plan include greater support for the CEO and the coaching process through wider participation in its crafting and execution.

A good executive coach can help the CEO focus on strategies for rapidly bridging any gaps in knowledge, skills or leadership style. In that regard, everyone in the organization—including the board and shareholders—benefits from having a CEO with the leadership skills and style to keep the organization moving forward toward its goals.

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