Can Executives Really Change Their Behaviour?

Can Executives Really Change Their BehaviourMy mission is to help successful leaders achieve positive, long-term, measurable change in behaviour. The following process, developed by Marshall Goldsmith, is being used by coaches around the world for this same purpose. When these steps are followed, leaders almost always achieve positive, measurable results in changed behaviour — not as judged by themselves, but as judged by pre-selected, key co-workers. This process has been used with great success by both external coaches and internal coaches.

If the coach will follow these basic steps, clients almost always get better.

  1. Involve the leaders being coached in determining the desired behaviour in their leadership roles. Leaders cannot be expected to change behaviour if they don’t have a clear understanding of what desired behaviour looks like. The people that I coach (in agreement with their managers) work with me to determine desired leadership behaviour.
  2. Involve the leaders being coached in determining key stakeholders. Not only do clients need to be clear on desired behaviours, they need to be clear (again in agreement with their managers) on key stakeholders. There are two major reasons why people deny the validity of feedback – wrong items or wrong raters. Having clients and their managers agree on the desired behaviours and key stakeholders in advance helps ensure their “buy in” to the process.
  3. Collect feedback. In my coaching practice, I personally interview all key stakeholders. The people I coach are executives or aspiring executives, and the company is making a real investment in their development. However, at lower levels in the organization, traditional 360° feedback can work very well. In either case, feedback is critical. It is impossible to get evaluated on changed behaviour if there is not agreement on what behaviour to change.
  4. Reach agreement on key behaviours for change. My approach is simple and focused. I generally recommend picking only one to two key areas for behavioural change with each client. This helps ensure maximum attention to the most important behaviour. My clients and their managers (unless my client is the CEO) agree upon the desired behaviour for change. This ensures that I won’t spend a year working with my clients and have their managers determine that we have worked on the wrong thing!
  5. Have the coaching clients respond to key stakeholders.The person being reviewed should talk with each key stakeholder and collect additional “feedforward” suggestions on how to improve the key areas targeted for improvement. In responding, the person being coached should keep the conversation positive, simple, and focused. When mistakes have been made in the past, it is generally a good idea to apologize and ask for help in changing the future. I suggest that my clients listen to stakeholder suggestions and not judge the suggestions.
  6. Review what has been learned with clients and help them develop an action plan. As was stated earlier, my clients have to agree to the basic steps in our process. On the other hand, outside of the basic steps, all of the other ideas that I share with my clients are I just ask them to listen to my ideas in the same way they are listening to the ideas from their key stakeholders. I then ask them to come back with a plan of what they want to do. These plans need to come from them, not me. After reviewing their plans, I almost always encourage them to live up to their own commitments. I am much more of a facilitator than a judge. I usually just help my clients do what they know is the right thing to do.
  7. Develop an ongoing follow-up process.Ongoing follow-up should be very efficient and focused. Questions like, “Based upon my behaviour last month, what ideas do you have for me for next month?” can keep a focus on the future. Within six months conduct a two- to six-item mini survey with key stakeholders. They should be asked whether the person has become more or less effective in the areas targeted for improvement.
  8. Review results and start again.If the person being coached has taken the process seriously, stakeholders almost invariably report improvement. Build on that success by repeating the process for the next 12 to 18 months. This type of follow-up will assure continued progress on initial goals and uncover additional areas for improvement. Stakeholders will appreciate the follow-up. No one minds filling out a focused, two- to six-item questionnaire if they see positive results. The person being coached will benefit from ongoing, targeted steps to improve performance.

While behavioural coaching is only one branch in the coaching field, it is the most widely used type of coaching. Most requests for coaching involve behavioural change. While this process can be very meaningful and valuable for top executives, it can be even more useful for high-potential future leaders. These are the people who have great careers in front of them. Increasing effectiveness in leading people can have an even greater impact if it is a 20-year process, instead of a one-year program.

People often ask, “Can executives really change their behaviour?” The answer is definitely yes. At the top of major organizations even a small positive change in behaviour can have a big impact. From an organizational perspective, the fact that the executive is trying to change anything (and is being a role model for personal development) may be even more important than what the executive is trying to change. One key message that I have given every CEO that I coach is “To help others develop – start with yourself!”

To find out more and discuss this and other ways to improve leadership effectiveness and organizational performance further contact Andrew Cooke (MGSCC), call Andrew Cooke on +61 (0)401 842 673 or

You can also find further insights and a wealth of material on business and leadership on Andrew’s other blog – Growth & Profit Solution Blog. There are also a large number of resources at his Blue Sky GPS Website, and these can be found Blue Sky GPS Resources.

About Andrew Cooke & Blue Sky GPS (Growth & Profit Solutions)


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