CASE STUDY 1: Transition from Technical Leader to CEO
Coaching is a vital component of making a successful transition to a new role. It is especially valuable when the individual is transitioning from a technical or functional leadership role to that of a CEO. Many soon discover that” the skills that got you here won’t keep you here.” The CEO focus must be on creating and communicating the company vision, mission, and overseeing execution of key initiatives to grow the business. A CEO is also responsible for setting and modelling company culture, recruiting talent and managing performance and career development. This requires different skills and perspectives than in earlier career roles.
My client is a young CEO in his first CEO role, having previously been a successful engineer. He has a proven long-term track record of success in the aerospace industry as a global operational leader. We were introduced by one of his key investors. Our coaching process has allowed him to successfully navigate the transition from technical leader of others to that of a respected effective CEO.
When we began working together, my client had been a CEO less than one year. He had investors and ambitious goals for the organization, including growing revenue tenfold in five years. To do this he knew he needed a highly engaged workforce, the right people in the right roles, and a culture of accountability. He needed to set the company vision and key initiatives and clearly communicate those. He had also never before worked with a Board of Directors. Moreover, due to the lack of certain key roles being filled in his first year as CEO, his emphasis had been more tactical than strategic. He wanted this to change. He was in the process of building his team while also reducing the number of direct reports. He had a strong desire to work with an executive coach to learn “how to be a better conductor of the business so it can really grow.”
We started the engagement with a Leadership Circle 360 Assessment. This allowed the client to see how he was being perceived as a leader. He received valuable feedback on his leadership strengths, as well as key opportunities for development. His training as an engineer made him comfortable with accomplishing tasks. Yet as CEO, he needed to increase his capability to collaborate with others. This included learning how to ask more questions and to involve others in key decisions. He created a one-page leadership development plan that served as the blueprint for behavioral coaching. A few months into the engagement he noted: “this is making a significant difference in the way I communicate, articulate and behave. I’m expanding my capacity in a structured way. I’m thinking differently. This is awesome stuff.”
The next step was for him to complete a Leader Dashboard for his role. This in-depth process served as a blueprint for the business. While developing the company vision, he learned the importance of adding adequate detail and specificity, along with inspiration so that teams would become excited. After a number of months refining the Dashboard, he was ready to share his draft with direct reports at the company’s first Leadership Retreat.
The retreat agenda was Strategic Planning and Goal Setting, as well as Building a High-Performing Team. The client wanted a roadmap for execution and to increase the cohesiveness and effectiveness of his team. Preparation for the retreat included pre-retreat interviews of the entire team to discover what was important for each of them. The team engaged in a series of breakouts to discover the most leverageable actions to grow the business, crafting a company culture, and engaged in an intensive team effectiveness exercise. The client reported that the retreat was extremely useful. They immediately experienced improved communication and more trust, along with having clear direction. The client reported that he “had learned a lot more about each one of my team; we have gone from dysfunctional to functional.”
While working on strategy and team development, my client enhanced his regular meditation practice with learning about how his way of being and communication impacted others. As a result, he reports “a deeper connection with others; by my being relaxed and calm, I’m assertive and trust opens up.” He practiced this at the time of a major customer visit, and had great success. He reported you need to create space inside yourself where the customer can meet you.” He also shared that the ongoing support he receives on increasing his mindfulness at work has helped him “go from a peak state to a more relaxed, yet focused state and this has been very helpful.”
The client had a keen interest in learning more about how to communicate simply and powerfully. We offered him learning on a variety of communication styles, and assessed when each one would be helpful. He explored messaging, body language, and vocal tone, self-rating and looking at the gaps between where he was and where he wanted to be. He noted how” important it was for him to be an excellent and authentic communicator as the leader of the organization.” He practiced how to share the company vision with colleagues, and how each of them fit into the company’s growth. He reported “I am really able to focus on them now. I can feel it and it’s good. This has transformed me as a person.”
This client continues to participate in bi-weekly behavioral coaching. The engagement also consists of monthly Group Coaching calls with the leadership team to solidify the gains and provide accountability for results and an annual two-day leadership team retreat for planning and goal setting.
The client reports that the groundwork that was done last year “allowed us to come into 2020 with clarity.” The client reports that he is listening, leading and learning in ways he never had before. Evidently that has paid off. In the first month of the new year, revenue is up 40% vs. 2019.
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