Flying Blind: Problems at the Top
Updated: Mar 12
As I've progressed in my career as a coach and worked with increasing numbers of people, I've noticed a bit of a theme. Those in their mid-career tend to approach me for personal coaching - to achieve life goals, to turn something around in their personal life, perhaps to help them re-frame some work situations or to approach things differently where things haven't been going to plan. However, there is another group - those who are at the top of the tree - in management and executive positions, who approach me for executive coaching. This group tend to have less of an interest in touching on personal life issues, but need a sounding board and a coach to help them with work.
That almost sounds counter-intuitive; why would someone who is evidently successful in their career, need a coach to help with work, over anything else? It's actually that perspective that's the issue - the view that once someone has achieved that final 'tick' - they're on the board, they're a partner, they're a consultant, they're the CEO, whatever - that they're done with a requirement for feedback, for positive strokes, for personal growth. Generally, people who've done well in the system such that they've risen to these positions have done so with the benefit of great feedback, good training, and good mentorship. Then, suddenly, they're elevated to a level that leaves them to fend for themselves. Suddenly, they're expected to know all the answers, to have complete confidence in their plan or vision, to be secure in the knowledge that their performance is acceptable. Of course, some people are fine with this. For others though, this position can be quite difficult to deal with. Not only in a professional sense, but in a personal sense too. The security of having others to turn to, of having that 'top cover' of a more senior person to make the final decision, is taken away and that can be quite daunting, however competent you are and know yourself to be.
If you're that person, who is at the top of your profession, but still struggling with 'How did I get here? They're going to find me out any day soon', or 'How do I know if I'm doing the right thing?', there are ways to tackle this. Get a wingman, a navigator, a few crew members - in the form of a mentor, a group of non-competing peers, or a coach. Whoever it is must be able to give you unbiased, honest feedback. Feedback, and a space that is held for sounding off, for bouncing ideas around, for being challenged by someone outside of your business, is your opportunity to grow, and it can also be the little reassurance you need that things are going well, or at least OK.
Leading can be lonely, but it doesn't have to be. Building a team of people you can turn to - trusted advisors, mentors - objective eyes and ears - will help you to learn and continue to grow. I'm a little biased, admittedly, but getting a coach can be a really valuable part of this. Executive and leadership coaching is an investment in you, and having someone 'there' is just as important when you're at the top of the tree as it is when you're climbing up it. The challenges may be different (no tyrannical boss to contend with...), but there are and will be challenges, nonetheless. From those I've worked with, I and they have found that this time can be truly illuminating, shedding light on hidden insecurities, unconscious biases, and on limiting beliefs, amongst many other revelations. While our sessions will often focus on and explore work issues as the starting point, they often end in something more personal. Our leadership is a reflection of who we are, after all.
Does this resonate with you? If you're looking for corporate coaching to support you in your role at the top, I can help. See my coaching services page to find out more.