“I don't want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their jobs.” This remark is attributed to the legendary Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn. It highlights the fundamental paradox of organizational advancement: as you advance, feedback on your performance grows more important to the organization. At the same time, that feedback grows less reliable.
At the very top of the organization, the CEO is typically surrounded by people who believe their jobs depend on telling the CEO what he wants to hear. It doesn’t matter whether it’s true; if they believe it, it must reduce the real value of their advice. We understand this better today than they did in Samuel Goldwyn’s day, and we try to offset it with executive coaching.
At Communispond, we offer executive coaching as a kind of intervention. We believe effective executive leadership depends on excellent communication skills, and we can work with an executive one-to-one to help her gain those skills. An organization, or a career, can benefit when an expert in communication skills evaluates an executive’s ability and develops a program to fill in gaps and then delivers that program one-on-one over a defined number of sessions.
If we’d had the chance to coach Samuel Goldwyn, we — as outsiders — would have been in a position to tell him the truth that he claimed to crave. Then we would have shown him how to surround himself with the kind of people who would tell him the truth. The key is listening skills. These are skills that I suspect Samuel Goldwyn lacked. (He is also reputed to have said, “I'm willing to admit that I may not always be right, but I am never wrong.”)
Most people cannot resist talking to a good listener, and the harder you listen, the more they talk — and the more truthful they become. In addition to being a useful way to gather information, listening creates influence, because people tend to trust people who listen to them. It is probably the behavior we would have focused on with Samuel Goldwyn. But if you came to us for executive coaching, we might focus on something else. We would study you carefully and determine the portfolio of behaviors you most need to master in order to exercise influence. I have written in this blog many times about those behaviors — here, most recently.
We have taught these behaviors to thousands of executives all over the world, and we find it particularly rewarding to do it for a single motivated individual, when we can diagnose the individual’s needs and design precise exercises to meet them — executive coaching, in other words. While we can help any executive acquire the behaviors that create influence, the situation we like best is the one that’s most challenging: preparing the executive for a high-stakes communication event, whether it’s an analyst briefing, a speech introducing a new product, or the need to deliver bad news to a constituency.
At the bottom of this page, there’s a tile labeled “Let’s Talk.” If you have a high-stakes communication event approaching — whether it’s a single critical conversation or a presentation to thousands — click that tile to get in touch with us. Or call one of our offices in the country nearest you. We will help you assess your chances of success in your forthcoming event, and we will then prepare you to conduct that event with all the skill it deserves.