CPJ Spotlight: Coaching C-Suite Executives and Business Founders


News from the Society of Consulting Psychology:

Coaching C-Suite Executives and Business Founders
Psychologists working as coaches provide distinct value to high-level executives

Synopsis: There are many types of senior executives, ranging from a start-up tech company CEO to the CEO in charge of $482 billion in revenues, 2.3 million employees, and nearly 12,000 retail stores across the globe (i.e., Walmart). “Corporate ultra-performers” are similar to ultra-performers in other fields – Olympic athletes, performing artists, physicians, special ops soldiers, etc. — as they have spent years honing their skills before rising to the top. However, executives differ in not having the opportunity to practice on the job, yet the consequences of their decisions can affect thousands of lives. For CEOs, the pressure of having employees’ livelihoods, mortgages, and retirement savings as their responsibility cannot be underestimated. Psychologist coaches must be well-prepared to meet this challenge.

What Ultra-Performer CEOs Want: The intensity and complexity of challenges faced by corporate ultra-performers demand a wide range of competencies from their coaches. These executives hire psychologist coaches for their understanding of behavior and uniquely valuable convergence of skills in people, organizations, and business. Executives may need a psychologist’s help to improve their understanding of other people and how best to lead them. They may want to better understand themselves, and often struggle to develop deep self-awareness. They want coaches who are willing to challenge them and tell them what they really think. Most importantly, psychologists bring their coaching expertise in behavior change to help ultra-performers bridge the gap between knowing the needed changes and making them.

Tips for Coaching Ultra-Performer CEOs: Psychologist coaches who have the opportunity to help an ultra-performer CEO should keep a number of things in mind:

  • Know your client’s world: Be able to understand the complex interdependent system of a corporation and the language of business.
  • Know your expertise: Leverage your psychological training and deep knowledge of human behavior, learning, and group dynamics.
  • Learn from your clients: Ask the questions others are afraid to ask or have forgotten to ask.
  • Be flexible: Adapt to the rapidly changing needs of your ultra-performer while maintaining your work’s overall focus.
  • Be courageous: Earn the ability to influence your ultra-performer, usually by persuading him/her to listen and respect your point of view.
  • Be helpful early on: Ultra-performers often have limited patience, so find a way to help him/her in the first or second meeting to earn their trust.
  • Know your limits: Know your talents, know your skills, and know enough to direct your client somewhere else if needed.
  • Be compassionate: Ultra-performers focus not on the individual, but on the business and shareholders, and because of this they often have to make difficult people decisions. Accept your executive for who he/she is.
  • Manage your ego: While coaches can have a strong impact, they are not making the decisions.
  • Bring judgment and perspective: Your compassion, courage, and wisdom are your most valuable tools.

Source: William H. Berman, currently president of the Society of Consulting Psychology, wrote an article about coaching C-Suite executives for Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research (June 2019). He has worked with senior business leaders for more than 15 years, at large companies like Diageo, Novo Nordisk, Goldman Sachs, New York Life, RELX, UBS, and many others. This entire CPJ issue focuses on coaching elite performers in a wide range of occupational settings – athletics, performing arts, business, military, and medicine.

CPJ is a publication of the Society of Consulting Psychology (SCP), a division of the American Psychological Association. SCP represents over 1,000 psychologists who translate psychological science into practical methods for consulting with individuals, groups and organizations to catalyze growth and change. 

Media Contact: Warren Djerf, for SCP. E-mail: warren@brookcomm.net or Ph: (952) 920-3908.

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