When I became chair of a major health board in Scotland, I requested having a coach to support me in my role. At first, civil servants were surprised by my request, telling me I was “the finished article”.
Even though I had a lot of experience in public leadership, I understood I was going to be tested in ways I hadn’t been before. This was a leadership challenge of a different nature. The level of political sensitivity and the pressure of the position to deliver complex change quickly, meant I knew I needed to step up another level.
Having an executive coach to challenge and support me was essential so that my style of leadership could adapt and grow as needed.
At first, I struggled with carving out the time to meet with the coach. Looking back, I know I wanted the benefits, but for it to be easy and quick.
Then I found the accountability difficult. I wanted input, but at times resisted explaining or sharing my thought processes.
However, engaging with the experience of exploring my style and its impact helped me to deepen and broaden my leadership. I became more intentional about how I would contribute most effectively to the change process.
Questioning my thoughts, reflecting on my strategies and assessing my impact became part of how I worked. As I developed these skills more, I used coaching less, quoting time constraints and eventually finishing up completely.
Looking back, I wish I hadn’t ended the coaching relationship as early as I did.
Rather, that I had made the opposite choice and continued, and at times intensified.
I continued to seek advice from experienced board chairs from the sector, but as valuable as they were, the lack of an independent perspective was a loss to my leadership.
Although I reached that next level, managed well, delivered change and am proud of the achievements, I recognise how much more I could have benefited had I stuck with coaching at that time.
By setting a limit on my coaching sessions I sacrificed the personal and professional growth that I know is the key to outstanding leadership.
I understand now that continually refining our leadership and integrating learning is the key to effective change, and the more complex the situation, the more thinking and challenging a Leader needs.
I was not and am not the ‘finished article’. I knew that and sought support, but not for long enough during that challenging time.
I see many senior leaders accept the assessment of others that they are at a place where they know it or have done it, and they settle for thinking there isn’t anything else they need.
In doing so they miss the external perspective, sounding board and accountability that a coach can bring. They miss out on the challenge and growth – and you might not know you need until you experience it.