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Better Relationships Make Better Leaders
By Linda J. Miller, MA, MCC

Have you noticed that some people are incredible leaders and some aren’t? What is it about those that are that separates them from those that aren’t? Corporate leaders are recognizing that being a quality leader doesn’t just happen—it takes a desire and a commitment to excellence which doesn’t often occur in isolation. In fact, many are hiring outside resources to assist them—outside resources called executive coaches.

Over the past three years, several thriving leaders have hired me as their executive coach. Each is a high functioning individual who is a leader in his industry. Each has far more business experience than I, and yet we have been able to forge strong and successful coaching relationships.

What I’ve learned as I’ve interacted with these leaders is that while they have already accomplished so much, the 80/20 rule still applies. Eighty percent of the challenges in organizations are people-related. If that’s true, then something is missing for leaders that could make them so more effective. As I’ve thought back over the past three years, several themes have emerged.

Commitment to Relationships
Many books and articles have addressed how important it is for leaders to care for their people. Fortune published a cover story entitled “Why Leaders Fail,” which clearly states that leaders who succeed care about their people and show that they care. Yet many leaders don’t know how to do this. Many do not encourage their people to interact with them objectively and honestly.

What keeps leaders from inviting others into their inner sanctum? So many simply do not have people in their lives who are not intimidated by them and who can be, or will be honest and objective.

Once engaged with an executive coach, these same leaders consistently state how valuable it is to set aside the time to talk with someone who can be objective. Some of the comments I’ve heard repeatedly are “I wasn’t thinking very clearly when we started, and you’ve helped me see a different perspective.” And, “It was incredibly valuable to be able to hear myself saying what I did. I’ve not voiced these thoughts before.” “You’re the only person who knows what I’ve been thinking. It’s been helpful to take the time to talk about it.”

Even though it takes time, this type of conversation is time well spent—to focus on deepening the organization’s culture, or think about resource deployment, or determine what actions will be most effective, or to strategize about challenging work relationships.

Whatever the coaching conversation covers, it is usually a “just in time” discussion with immediate application and relevance. And, when leaders in turn have this kind of conversation with their people, value and care are communicated.

Executive coaches have skills and insight to help leaders look within for answers and to come up with their own solutions. This is very different from counseling or consulting. When leaders experience a strong coaching relationship, they see the value of collaborative, meaningful conversations, and they can apply this with their leadership teams.

Listening to Learn
In all conversations, the executive coach is listening to learn. This is a different focus than conventional listening, which is usually a distracted, intermittent hearing process. Listening to learn means setting aside distractions, assumptions and answers. Listening to learn means being open to a different perspective or approach.

I dare you to try it…as a start, try listening for three to five minutes during which you are totally focused on what the other person is saying. Be aware of when you are thinking about your inbox or calls that you must return. Be aware of when you want to jump in and solve the problem. Instead, just listen. Fully present. Fully intent on the speaker. Listening to learn.

Listening is a gift you give to others. It communicates value and care. As your coach listens to you, you will be asked questions to clarify or to draw out more information that will move you forward. As you share, your coach listens past the words to what’s under the words that may not be spoken and that may unlock the answer that’s being sought.

Intentional Focus Leading to Intentional Action
As the coaching relationship begins, one of the keys is confidentiality. As the confidential relationship is established, coach and leader can begin to address where the leader currently is and where he wants to be in the future.

I use a coaching model called “C-FAR” for this process. The first step in “C-FAR” is to Connect. Connecting involves developing the basis for a coaching relationship, establishing confidentiality, trust and a safe place to share openly and honestly. Once the connection is established, it’s time to Focus. As the leader is encouraged to focus, specific and targeted questions are asked to assist the leader in articulating the heart of the matter. Most leaders come with a general focus, which becomes more clearly defined through the coaching process. As the focus becomes more specific, it’s time to look at Action.

Action is a critical part of “C-FAR.” Without action, it isn’t coaching. Yet action isn’t always about doing something. Sometimes action is a thinking activity. Sometimes it’s a gathering of information before the action is determined. Intentional action is the goal, with the risks, consequences and benefits thoroughly explored.

Toward the end of each coaching conversation, it’s time to Review, the final segment of “C-FAR.” If leaders reviewed after meetings with individuals and teams, there would be a substantial reduction in miscommunications. The goal of the review process is to create clear agreements before leaving the coaching conversation.

Not all leaders are ready to work with an executive coach. Based on my experience with leaders, many have said that the most valuable aspects of working with an executive coach is having someone who can listen objectively, offer a different perspective, challenge their thinking or assumptions and be thoroughly present with them. They appreciate the commitment to confidentiality and the focus on action.

Is that something that might be valuable for you? If so, consider an executive coach for your own development as well as a way to learn new relationship behaviors to bring to your leadership team.

Linda Miller

As a trainer and coach, Linda Miller believes that successful businesses are supported by strong internal dynamics. Since her introduction to coaching in 1995, Linda has focused on its launch and expansion within numerous organizations, Currently, Linda serves as Director of Coaching Services with The Ken Blanchard Companies.

Contact Info:
Phone 602.268.1110
Fax 602.276.0148

Questions to Ask an Executive Coach

  1. What makes you credible as an executive coach?
  2. In what industries have you coached? At what levels?
  3. What is your thinking about coaching to an industry where you don’t have experience?
  4. What mistakes have you made as an executive coach?
  5. What is your greatest learning?

Questions to Think About When Starting to Work with an Executive

  1. What challenges am I facing right now, general and specific?
  2. What one thing can I change that would positively impact my organization?
  3. What am I missing that I can’t afford to miss?
  4. What are my key leaders saying that I need to hear?
  5. What attitudes or biases are holding me back?



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