A major role for top executives is to be a strategic thinker. In order for a coach to properly add value to these executives, he or she must understand various levels of strategy, including how to identify and leverage personal and organizational assets, and create and sustain a competitive advantage. In other words, the coach needs to be a competent strategic thinker, paralleling what is expected from the executive being coached.
It is important for a coach to understand both the strategic side of business and the tactical, management side of business because any strategy is useless without the ability to execute it. While it is important for the coach to consider the coachee’s organization from both a high level and the ground level, it is also the coach’s responsibility to ensure that the executive remains focused on strategy while delegating specific activities to the appropriate parties who will be able to execute them. The case below illustrates how coaching can help a coachee to think strategically in growing his or her company.
Case Study: Coaching Strategic Thinking
Peter is the consummate entrepreneurial executive. Trained as an accountant, he began his early career at a top national accounting firm working in the health care industry. After a few years, he was recruited by a hospital as its CEO, where he established a reputation as a very capable executive. In his next position, he navigated a regional hospital through a highly political and turbulent environment. During this time, he earned an MBA. In all of his work experiences, Peter developed skills in networking, negotiating, and strategic thinking. He saw the big picture in health care, and he knew where market niches existed and how to access them. His networking ability allowed him to identify persons who could help him enter into relationships to support niche opportunities. These were Peter’s assets, but he also had liabilities.
One liability was his lack of attention to detail. So, when he took a position in a private for-profit health care company, he hired his former number-two person as COO of this company. The COO was strong on detail and in running the operations of the company. By managing this liability, Peter was then able to focus on a strategy to guide and grow his company. His coach helped Peter to understand and leverage his assets. He had some initial success in leveraging his relationships to obtain new customers. He also developed new products with existing customers who were looking for ways to differentiate themselves from competitors. But Peter struggled to get traction with larger national customers who questioned his company’s size and ability. This frustrated Peter. He presented this challenge to his coach, and they discussed how to gain visibility and credibility with larger companies. Again, the power of asking probing questions led to a strategy that leveraged Peter’s assets. He had already formed a relationship with the CEO of a company that did business with larger customers. He approached this company with a proposal that they form a strategic alliance, with Peter’s company offering them products and services they did not currently have. A deal was struck and, over the next several months, Peter’s company was able to sign contracts with several larger companies.
Peter had another asset. He had a deep understanding of his industry and its players. His coach encouraged Peter to identify niche opportunities for his company. One of these opportunities had the potential of creating a major breakthrough in patient care. He was able put a strategic plan together, raising the capital needed to launch the service on a national scale. His company had grown from a small, regional player to a much larger company with national customers.
The primary role of Peter’s coach was to keep him focused on his strategic objectives and how to achieve them. Understanding Peter’s balance sheet, his coach continually probed about opportunities, questioned how they fit his growth plans, and helped Peter become aware of how to leverage his assets in the pursuit of strategic opportunities. This enabled his company to grow its markets and absorb this growth under the very capable executive in charge of operations. The coach’s knowledge about strategy played an important role in helping Peter grow his company.