Developing Sustainable Leadership Through Executive Coaching

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Developing Sustainable Leadership Through Executive Coaching

Contemporary industry leaders are often criticized for continuing with unsustainable business practices that are born from knee-jerk reactions, a short-term focus, or a myopic thought process.  Said more positively, the company’s goals (presumably maximizing profit…ethically) may be more readily achievable through developing the leaders who are running the organization. Executive coaching is an often untapped and ultra-valuable resource that enables leaders to refine their self-awareness, develop more adaptable behaviors to manage change and conflicts, and effectively lead people and their organizations to greater success.

Environmental and Social Sustainability

Environmental Social Sustainability

To be clear, we are discussing two distinct forms of sustainability at the moment.  A quick Google search on the topic will commonly result in social and environmental sustainability resources when discussing “sustainable leadership.”  In the face of growing environmental and social awareness, today’s leaders are certainly facing mounting social pressure to meet their profit-driven goals while doing so in a more employee-centric way and delivering more environmentally and socially responsible outcomes. 

These outcomes, or the “triple bottom line,” are often referred to as the three P’s – People, Planet, and Profit. Sustainable leadership doesn’t just account for current stakeholders, consumers, and employees; it also encompasses future generations in its planning and development.  

Sustainability Challenges

Those discussions have merit; however, our primary focus today is on developing people in ways so individual progress is sustainable.  We are talking about people in leadership positions, developing as leaders in a way where their personal growth is sustainable in maintaining their effectiveness across a multitude of situations, challenges, and circumstances.  

If this is confusing, ask yourself, have you ever gone to a couple-hour, a day, or even a week training program and received great education and content, or at least, tidbits that could help you?  If the answer is yes, now answer what you remember and actively integrate from that training right now?  There is little doubt that high-quality training programs have value; however, if you want your leaders to grow as individuals and effectively maximize the results of an organization, a more sustainable approach is advised.  

Have you heard of the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule?  The basic construct is that 80% of the difference-making work gets done by 20% of your people.  Similarly, some executives apply this standard saying they spend 80% of their time on the bottom 20% of performers.  The Pareto Principle has many widely accepted applications.  The simple question for you as a reader of this article is are you better off investing in the top 20% or the bottom 20%?

Let’s apply an overly simplified math formula to this.  Let us assume you have a $50M business and 20% of the people are basically responsible for 80% or $40M of that output.  Do we need to continue with the example?  While this may overly simplify the concept as there is certainly a myriad of variables impacting such an analysis, the basic premise is by improving the people ever so slightly who are driving the business, you are increasing the odds of growing the business exponentially.  

What is Sustainable Leadership?

What Is Sustainable Leadership

In the context of this article, investing in the 20% is a means to an end of maximizing the potential ceiling of your business.  Proactively helping leaders make better, more thought out and objective opinions can be dramatic.  The basic definition of Leadership implies influencing the people around them to do their best and follow the direction of that leader.  

I have yet to meet a leader who gets it right 100% of the time.  We are all human and subjected to our own biases, our own imperfections, and our own human limitations.  However, as you rise towards the top of senior management levels, the impact of your decisions comes with greater gravity.  Imagine if you are right 65% of the time.  What if you can make that 70% or even greater by having someone develop and challenge your thinking?

Getting the right partner to objectively challenge you such as a coach may be the key.  The trick is doing this in a way that future thought processes, organizational challenges, and action steps are applied by the leader on their own.  This is where sustainability comes in.  Having someone help work through issues is important; more critical is developing the leader so they can sustain and build off of current-day situations for future action.

Concepts like working on emotional intelligence (yes, a big buzzword of the last decade, however, incredibly powerful), engaging your people, interconnecting business operations, etc are an ongoing continuum.  While future leaders need to make their own mistakes to learn from, passing on and building leadership learnings will be a competitive advantage as we move towards the middle of the 21st century.

What Does This Mean For Me?

Quite simply, focus on the 20%.  More specifically, focus on the top 2% so they can be better with the top 20%!  Executive Coaching is important for the people at the top.  However, ideal candidates for executive coaching aren’t necessarily those who already have experience or a title. Executive coaches can improve leadership potential by working with those individuals who have the raw talent that with the right cultivation, make a real difference to the 20%. Other candidates who may benefit from executive coaching are higher-level managers who may have stagnated in their roles but would excel with fresh challenges and insight. 

Coaching leaders is an intensely personal journey, so it is critical to only work with candidates who are ready. Coaching is often sought after for many reasons.  The greatest success is usually seen when individual leaders are receptive to being challenged beyond their comfort zone.  

What Makes a Good Candidate for Sustainable Leadership Executive Coaching?

Sustainable Leadership Executive Coaching Candidate

A shockingly easy answer.  The ideal candidate is someone who has the following traits:

  1. Is in a leadership position; or transitioning into one
  2. Desire for personal and professional growth.  They cannot be a know-it-all.  Many people believe they are supposed to be right, supposed to have answers, or are simply smarter than those around them.  I once heard a CFO talk about some key owners in a particular organization, as people who “woke up on third base and thought they hit a triple.”  Recognizing that hitting for a high average means continuously working on the craft and attempting to grow in the skill of leadership is critical.
  3. Is receptive to a thought and challenge partner.  A good coach will not dictate policy or tell their client what should be done.  However, a good coach will challenge the thinking of the leader they are working with to explore other possibilities to find the best result.  
  4. Is invested in working collaboratively.  If a coaching candidate is not interested in someone exploring different possibilities, ways of thinking, and approaches, executive coaching may not be the best scenario for them.

Finding the Right Executive Coach

Executive coaches invariably come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, so finding the right coach to help you overcome your unique challenges is critical.  Many things such as gut feeling, a coach’s experience, style, availability, and more are important.  However, the single greatest trait to find is someone who you are comfortable with.  If you engage a coach and you are not willing to be honest and put everything on the table, there is already a limit to the success you can have with that individual.  Effective coaching will stretch you beyond your comfort zone and you need to work with someone you are willing to trust during the process.  

Strategy People Culture Coaching

We have been helping leaders for over a decade with what you just read about.  If you are interested in exploring more about executive and leadership coaching, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. Strategy People Culture is about “Fostering better awareness for people and business!” Call us at (833) ROCK – SPC or (833-762-5772), or email us at for more information.

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Andy Botwin

Andy is a seasoned executive & leadership coach, independent workplace investigator, and trainer with more than 25 years of experience working with companies across various levels. He was Chief Human Resources Officer for a 1500+ person professional services firm and a Principal & Chief Human Resources Officer for a top national professional services firm where he drove culture change in the organization culminating in recognition on Fortune Magazine’s prestigious 100 Great Places to Work in America.