My executive coaching practice is limited to CEOs of small and midsize companies who are also major shareholders in their companies. I do not advise non-CEO executives and non-owner CEOs as my primary client. I do work with broader members of an executive team at the request of a CEO client typically related to a major initiative that has surfaced as a result of our working together.
Unlike most executive coaches, I do not focus on the “soft skills” of being a CEO – leadership, communication, conflict resolution, public speaking, people management, executive presence. These skills certainly are important but only cover half of what is needed for a business to be more financially successful.
You can have great leadership qualities, excellent people skills and get your team to work together well, and still have a business be a financial failure.
CEO “Hard Skills”
As an executive coach, I coach and advise my clients on the other half of being a strong CEO — the so-called “hard skills” which include strategic decisions, financial tradeoff decisions, building an executive team, setting up a company to be sold, buying a company, R&D investment decisions, marketing strategy, distribution channel selection, pricing, compensation strategies, and more.
In my style of coaching, the simplest measure of success is greater growth in revenue, profits, and cash flow. The results are very bottom-line oriented, even if the topics of focus tend to be cross-functional in nature.
From Entrepreneurial Founder to “Professional” CEO
My practice specializes in transitioning a successful entrepreneur into a successful “professional” CEO. If you’re like most of my clients, you don’t believe in “giving up control” to an outsider. At the same time, you may have this nagging feeling in the back of your mind that your company is entering new territory that’s no longer familiar.
Executive coaching provides a middle ground that enables you to continue to lead your company while benefiting from the experience and skills of someone who is strong where you may be weak.
Matching Your Weaknesses to My Strengths
Incidentally, this is quite common in my executive coaching practice. For CEOs that are intuitively great salespeople, I will force them to focus on profit margins, cash flow, operations, and organization — all the areas that such a person would not naturally think to focus on. Great CEOs who come up from the sales “track” are inclined to think every business problem can be solved by just selling more. The wise ones realize this is not true, but it can still be a bad habit none-the-less.
On the flip side, sometimes I will have a CEO that’s an inventor or very technical in nature. The bias of this kind of CEO is to just invent a new product, thinking that it will solve all the problems in a business. In this case, I will force the CEO to focus on sales organization, distribution/channel strategy, and marketing approach. In short, I tend to shift my focus to be exactly opposite of what my client is naturally good at.
Often I will work with a CEO that is overly tactical or detail-oriented. While this is certainly good at times, I will often force focus on “big picture” strategic issues, such as adapting to major shifts in marketplace demands that can not be addressed by just doing more of the same, shifting the business toward high profit margin customer segments or product lines, and a host of strategic issues that such a CEO would tend to not think about unless forced to do so.
In addition, my style is to be very analytical, logical, and financial in orientation. Many of my clients are more intuitive, “gut feel” type decision makers who recognize that they need someone they respect to vet “gut feel” inclinations with market data / operating facts. The best decisions are ones that consider both the intuitive and the analytical.
Common Executive Coaching Situations
I’m called in as an executive coach in a number of common situations.
In some cases, your company is growing quickly and the business is now much larger than you imagined when you first started the company. With this growth comes new growing pains that are actually quite common (from my perspective) but may seem daunting if you’ve never managed a business of this size before.
Typically symptoms include:
- You’re stretched too thin and can no longer keep your hands involved in everything. (In this case, the underlying problem is your organizational structure, middle/executive management team composition isn’t adequate for this size company.)
- You’ve hit a plateau in sales that you can’t seem to break through. (This can be caused by a wide range of factors from a market shift, to lack of market differentiation in your offerings, to problems in your sales management leadership or sales force structure.)
- Your business is growing quickly, but you keep running into sudden cash flow crunches unexpectedly. (This is often a sign that you don’t have a part-time or full-time CFO and your financial controls are not mature enough to manage the business at its current size.)
- You face pressure from clients to cut prices and margins are eroding. When you hold the line on discounting, your sales volume suffers. (This is often the case of lack of uniqueness and differentiation in the marketplace for your product and services. This is either an underlying marketing problem, where your offerings really are unique but you aren’t able to get your message across in the marketplace, or the problem stems from a genuine lack of differentiation in what you do — in short, your business is too similar to your competitors.
- Your customers are complaining about customer service quality issues. (This is usually a problem of immature systems and procedures in customer service or poorly defined recruiting and performance management criteria. In organizations growing in excess of 100% per year, often the problem is a cultural one, where cultural norms for quality have not been established).
- In short, the skills needed to start a business and get it to a successful level are very different from the skills needed to take a successful business and expand it. What got you “here” doesn’t get you “there.”
Types of Executive Coaching Clients
My executive coaching practice focuses on working with owner/CEOs in businesses ranging from $1 million to $25 million (the revenue range where many of the issues I mention above typically emerge). In terms of industry, I most often work in a range of service industries — consulting firms, ecommerce companies, and software-as-a-service providers.
To Learn More
To learn more about me and my executive coaching services for CEOs, please request my free information guide that provides you with a more detailed description of my unusual background, a summary of my key business philosophies, and a list of my areas of expertise.