Study: CEOs Just Wanna Be Coached

A new Stanford study finds many chief executives are receptive to outside input on leadership decisions, but more than two-thirds say they don't get that desired coaching.

It’s lonely at the top, and CEOs wish they had someone to talk to outside of the chain of command.

That appears to be the message of a new study by the Stanford Graduate School of Business (conducted in concert with The Miles Group and Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance) that concludes CEOs rarely receive outside leadership advice, but nearly all of them want some form of executive coaching.

More details from the study, which talked to more than 200 upper-level executives, below:

The problem for top execs: Though nearly all chief executives are receptive to making changes based on feedback, two-thirds say they don’t have someone offering it from the outside—a problem when they are trying to avoid leadership “blind spots.” “Given how vitally important it is for the CEO to be getting the best possible counsel, independent of their board, in order to maintain the health of the corporation, it’s concerning that so many of them are ‘going it alone,’” The Miles Group’s CEO, Stephen Miles, said in a press release on the study. “Even the best-of-the-best CEOs have their blind spots and can dramatically improve their performance with an outside perspective weighing in.” The top issues executives want to be coached on include conflict management, team-building, mentoring, and leadership delegation.

CEOs are usually the ones to ask: Executive coaching isn’t generally foisted on CEOs but rather requested by them. When asked whose idea it was to receive coaching, 78 percent said it was their own, while 21 percent pointed to the board’s chairman. But no matter who asks for the help, the advice received from coaching is largely kept private, with more than 60 percent of executives keeping the information gained between themselves and their coaches.

What HR should do: According to Human Resource Executive, HR pros should make an effort to assist with finding executive coaches for their leaders—even if the CEOs are successful on their own. “Having a coach for a CEO should be like having one for a great athlete or actor,” said leadership consultant Gary Rich. “Even though they are top performers, elite even, they still need someone to hold a mirror up to them, someone they trust.”

The full results of the survey [PDF] are available on the Stanford website.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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