Most global leaders experience coaching through a structured short-term leadership programme; however, an increasing number are benefitting from long-term personalised coaching to maximise their performance. Tailored interventions at critical times in a leader’s career from a coach who knows their personal strengths and weakness and their business context can have a powerful and lasting impact.
I spoke to Lee Kirk, who leads the Metals Supply Chain Business at Cargill. Lee has been coached by Dr. James Eyring, Chief Operating Office of Organisation Solutions, at different points in his career over the past ten years.
Asli: Lee, you originally were part of Organisation Solutions LEPT Programme when you first became a line leader. How did coaching help you early on?
Lee: As a new leader, one of the most impactful things my coach helped me with was developing a management system. I don’t naturally like to plan or go into details—my coach, James, helped me to identify that as a risk and then to put together a management process to address that risk.
For example, we developed routines that would help me systematically skip levels. That way I could drop down beneath my direct reports and ask open questions in areas where I had concerns. These pulse checks helped me check that what I was hearing from the team aligned with the information I got from direct reports. I use this system to give me early warning signs that something is wrong so I can address it early. As my roles grew I used this pulse check system more and more as a complement to meetings or reporting.
Another thing that James helped me with early on was how to get the most out of 1-on-1s with my direct reports. We looked how to run 1-on-1s at a cadence relative to the speed the business needed to grow, support the individuals needed, and the impact on the organisation. That way I could decide if a 1-on-1 needed to be a coaching session or more of an informing/directing type session for instance—making the sessions as effective as possible. LEPT provided tools in these areas to help me build a solid foundation of management.
Asli: How did having a personal coach help you when you transitioned from being a line leader to leading a global business?
Lee: Having a coach helped me prepare for taking on a larger role. Our coaching conversations focused on how to transition successfully. For instance, James and I talked through how the new role would be different to the old one, what new behaviours I would need, how I would have to change the way I operated to be successful in the new role. We looked at what things I would need to get done early on (first 90 days), what stakeholders I would need to engage, and how to do so. Having ongoing advice available throughout that transition period was invaluable. If I was feeling stressed or challenged, it helped to look at the causes and think about what I could do to manage it.
I have found that the key is that when you are making a big shift as a leader, you don’t just develop the skills and behaviours you need overnight. I believe leaders can develop them much faster with the right support—having a coach accelerated that for me. So, guided change rather than self-learnt change is always going to be faster and more impactful.
Working with the same coach over a long period of time was very powerful because when the transitions came up James could reference my strengths and weaknesses and he could help me leverage them and avoid blind spots.
For example, I am very focused on change in a growth and dynamic environment, but I need to be cognisant of an organisation’s capacity for change. Being reminded of that at the right times was very effective. He helped me think proactively about my strengths and weaknesses as we were going into a change.
Asli: How does coaching help you drive growth?
Lee: One of the challenges I faced in taking on a global role was to accelerate growth in a very complex market. This meant defining new growth strategies, building new capabilities in the team, and putting the supporting processes and systems in place to enable these changes.
Our coaching session supported this in different ways. Sometimes I just needed to bounce ideas off someone. At other times, I needed coaching on how to better align the team and manage performance to new standards. Most often, we focused on change management and how to push the organisation to change while building new processes that would make the change successful.
Part of my effort was to make the organisation much more customer focused and performance driven. Because of James’s knowledge of my business and how it operates, I asked him to run a workshop for my leadership team to help us define our values and the culture we wanted to create.
Asli: How does coaching impact the way you support your team on an ongoing basis?
Lee: On an ongoing basis, one of the great things about a long-term coaching relationship has been having someone you can turn to for leadership tools and processes. Over the years, I’ve built up an arsenal that I can self-serve but also share with my own team.
Based on my experience as a coachee, I’ve been able to identify when/where coaching would help my direct reports. Whether that’s developing self-awareness, giving more constructive feedback, or navigating an organisation.
Asli: How does having a long-term coach compare with leadership programmes for you?
Lee: Having somebody to guide you who knows your strengths and weaknesses, and who knows your business and how it operates has been a real accelerator for me in times of transition and change. For any organisation, the speed at which your leaders are developing is critical for business growth.
I’ve been part of some excellent short-term leadership programmes, and I find that they are great to get lots of information and tools in a short period of time, but they tend to be more generic and I don’t always remember everything I learnt long-term. For me, it has been powerful to combine those kinds of programmes with a long-term coach who has the context of me and my business.
There have been several long periods where James doesn’t hear from me at all. But then when I have changed role or started a new phase of change, it’s been helpful to be able to pick up the phone to a coach that knows me and how I operate at times. Overall, he has helped me gain new insights and learnings that have reinforced what I already know by practicing them on-the-job.
About Leader Excelerator Personal Training
Organisation Solutions offers Leader Excelerator Personal Training (LEPT) for enhanced long-term coaching support. These tailored coaching relationships are suited to leaders responsible for driving business growth or with transformational agendas. LEPT can be modified to different situations to ensure leaders get the value they need to address the challenges they have at hand.