Life can be lonely at the top

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23Jan2009

Life can be lonely at the top

  • By Ian Bradley
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Executive coach as a confidant

A large part of my practice in executive coaching consists of providing the unique perspective of an informed outsider.

Lonely executiveThe informed part is relatively easy to define. I bring an extensive knowledge of psychology to address problems in the workplace.  Psychology is truly an impressive field that spans everything from neural science to social behaviour.  The discipline provides a precise vocabulary describing a rich array of constructs that can be used to characterize the challenges facing executives.  In any given day, I find myself finding relevancy for many psychological concepts such as impression management, operational definitions of change or  goal-setting. In short, I can easily find application in industry for many of the psychological principles that comprised my training in clinical psychology.

The benefit of the “outsider” aspect of my perspective may not be as obvious, but I find that it is often just as valuable.  In my experience in dealing with workplace psychology, I have found that as one advances in an organization, one gains power but loses social support.

In a way, this is paradoxical since power, perks and pay all increase with organizational advancement, but not social support. The vital ability to talk to colleagues about problems and challenges diminishes with success often leaving C-level executives alone to wrestle with the problems of the company.

Consider the typical, regional sales meeting where district sales managers are held to task concerning missed sales targets by the VP of Sales. After the particularly tough meeting, the managers can gripe over coffee during the afternoon break, the Sales VP running the meeting has less of an available audience for ventilation. Often, his or her senior executive peers are too busy with their own issues to share and compare notes. Or, more regrettably, the Sales VP is under so much pressure to achieve results, that discussion with other executives about the road-bumps to goal attainment are perceived as signs of weakness.

In addition to bringing psychological solutions to workplace problems, my role as an executive coach involves being an important, and sometimes the only, confidant. This role is especially important with sensitive topics such as succession or major organizational change where careful preliminary planning is required before the issues can be expressed more directly in the workplace.

A trusting relationship with an informed professional might be the best way to summarize the practice of executive coaching as delivered by a psychologist.

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