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Better self-awareness, better leadership

The most frequently asked question I receive is "Why does a leader need a coach?"

The biggest benefit from having an executive coach, I reply, is that it helps an executive to achieve better self-awareness. Better self-awareness means better leadership. Better leadership means better business performance.

When we talk about leadership, though, it begs a question: what does a leader really do? In my view, a leader has four key roles:

  • Dreaming: What are the vision, mission, core values and strategy of the company?
  • Translating: How do I translate the above into plans that are as easy as possible for people to follow?
  • Navigating: How do I navigate and execute the plan, turning it into action successfully?
  • Managing change: How do I manage changes during the execution effectively?
  • In each of the above roles, a leader has to be able to effectively use the following skills:
  • Dreaming requires thinking and analysing.
  • Translating requires writing, listening and speaking.
  • Navigating requires writing, influencing, inspiring, motivating and negotiating.
  • Managing change requires asking, observing, listening, speaking, writing, influencing, motivating, negotiating and problem-solving.

What is the link between leadership and self-awareness? Eighty to ninety percent of the time, most effective leaders have good self-awareness. The problem is the 10-20% of the time when leaders might not realise how negatively their behaviour is being perceived by followers.

Most of the time, the leader has good intentions behind what he does or says, or how he behaves toward others. But the impact that followers perceive might not always align with those good intentions. I call this the mismatch of intent vs impact.

Let's look at an example. In one company, the CEO leads an executive committee meeting (excom) once a month. The participants are the 10 department heads who report directly to him.

Last month, the chief financial officer introduced a new credit policy that could potentially increase the company's profit by 5 million baht a month even after the projected loss of some customers was taken into account.

However, the head of sales disagreed because he was afraid the company would lose more business than the CFO had projected. The two executives had a heated debate in the excom.

The CEO doesn't like conflict, and he felt that open disagreement in a high-level meeting would hurt team harmony and morale and would jeopardise team performance. He told the two feuding executives to meet in private to resolve their differences.

In this case, the CEO's intention was good -- he wanted to preserve team spirit in order to achieve optimum team performance. But it turned out that after the meeting, the two executives didn't arrange any meeting.

Before the management committee meeting the following month, the CEO asked about the progress toward ending the disagreement. He expected to hear that it had been resolved. However, both executives told him they hadn't had found time in their busy schedules to meet.

In this case, the "impact" was poor team performance. The company lost 5 million baht in potential revenue because the new credit policy was not put into place. And this was because the CEO, however well-intentioned, was trying to avoid conflict in a meeting.

The CEO raised this case in a discussion with his coach. Here is how it went:

CEO: "I don't understand why Sales and Finance haven't resolved the new credit line policy."

Coach: "What do you think?"

"They lack time management skills."

"What else could it be?"

"They may not be comfortable talking to each other. Ah! Maybe that's it."

"What would be a solution?"

"I need to ask them to meet me."

"That's good. If you could go back in time, how would you do it differently?"

"I would arrange an appointment for the three of us to meet immediately after the excom."

As you can see, a brief coaching dialogue helped the CEO to achieve better self-awareness that his dislike of conflict had negative consequences for his company. The coach also helped him to improve his leadership by making him reflect on a hypothetical question: "If you could go back in time…"

Having mastered the hypothetical scenario, the CEO is now highly likely to take more effective leadership action in similar situations in the future.

Here are some other examples of the Intent vs Impact mismatch:

  • A CEO wants to ensure good morale during tough times. He tells everyone: "No layoff policy". Some employees are grateful and work harder. But the majority feel more secure and don't plan to change anything.
  • A CEO wants people to have more time to work. He delegates a complex task within five minutes. Most employees don't get it. Hence, the work has to be redone and this time it takes hours.
  • A CEO helps save the face of a staff member who made a mistake. He didn't give any feedback to that person. That person has continued making same mistake for years.

My advice based on the above? Remind yourself before you interact with others: "How do I ensure my intent matches the impact?"

Kriengsak Niratpattanasai provides executive coaching in leadership and diversity management under the brand TheCoach. He can be reached at Daily inspirational quotations can be found on his Facebook fan page: Previous articles are archived at