CEOs Want Second Opinions

second opinionsC-suite executives may have a reputation for being tough-minded, independent decision-makers, but even the best leaders need some coaching. A new study, however, suggests many of them aren’t getting it.

Research conducted by the Center for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance and The Miles Group finds nearly two-thirds of CEOs not receiving the leadership counsel they seek.

The survey of more than 200 CEOs, board directors and senior executives of North American public and private companies found 66 percent of CEOs indicating they do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches. Nearly half of senior executives said the same.

If top leaders aren’t getting this type of input, it’s not because they don’t want it, according to the study.

A full 100 percent of CEOs said they are open to making changes based on feedback, as did 90 percent of senior executives. Eighty percent of directors indicated their CEOs are receptive to coaching.

Kevin Cashman, a Minneapolis-based senior partner in Korn/Ferry International’s leadership and talent consulting practice, agrees that “most CEOs do not get coaching, but are generally open to it,” adding that Korn/Ferry research and experience indicates CEOs seek coaching to deal with ambiguity and manage complexity; build high-performing teams; lead and influence across global enterprises; and coach, develop and optimize key talent.

“[The] current generation of CEOs [are] much more open to coaching and development than previous ones,” says Cashman. “Most have been assessed or coached earlier in their careers, so [they] are open to the value.” 

With so many top leaders suggesting they are amenable to outside advice, HR has an opportunity to step in and narrow this coaching gap, says David F. Larcker, director of the Center for Leadership Development and Research at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a co-author of the study.

“HR can help by making it clear that seeking coaching can be a good thing, as opposed to something that an executive should be cautious about revealing because it identifies a weakness,” says Larcker. “Obviously, HR can set up a process of finding good coaches and pairing coaches with executives. I think it’s also important to—maybe publicly within the company—celebrate the successes that occur when someone becomes a much better leader after coaching.”

While C-level execs have been successful enough to learn the leadership positions they currently hold, “they still need to develop additional skills that enable them to become great leaders,” says Larcker.

“Nobody has all the skills they need for this type of job. It is important to have some expert advice about what needs to be improved and how best to do this.”

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