Two thousand years ago, a writer by the name of Juvenal posed a famous philosophical question: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? In plain English: Who watches the watchmen?

He probably wasn’t thinking about 21st century Executive Coaching, but that’s perennial wisdom for you.

The truth is, today’s executive has more responsibility than ever. The speed of business is ever increasing. Networks are infinitely more complex. Snap decisions can make the difference between profit and loss. Meanwhile, the fate of employees—sometimes a whole lot of employees—hangs in the balance while executive decisions are made.

It’s no wonder that the majority of today’s key players, far from soaring above all guidance and coaching, actively want some form of it. A joint study conducted by Stanford University and The Miles Group recently found that only a third of all executives are coached, while nearly all of them want to be.


The short, obvious answer is that executives are human—and most of them know it. Their leadership skills may be sharp, but they can’t see everything. Like professional athletes, they have individual strengths and weaknesses. When these are assessed and developed, businesses benefit. Balance sheets benefit. Employees benefit.

But how do you know if a key player in your organisation will benefit? What kind of improvement can businesses expect by hiring coaches? Running a diagnostic is fairly easy when you understand a few important concepts.

Think Key Players, Not Just Executives

Executives and CEOs are the focus of executive coaching, but they’re not the only ones who stand to gain. What about key technology players? They may not be executives, but their function becomes more vital with each passing day, if not each passing minute. Their ability to lead, analyse and innovate is crucial to the health of the organisation.

Other key players—the head of an important unit, or a young talent with executive potential—are likewise worthy of consideration. Finding the best candidates for executive coaching is about finding pivotal team members, whatever their title may be.

Weak Spots Are Sweet Spots

Modern-day leadership is quite a bit more than making high-level decisions behind closed doors. The best executives are skilled, flexible communicators. They empathise with others, appreciate different points of view, and strive to understand their own limitations. Call it a Darwinian response to the fluid nature of business today. Rigid, close-minded leadership is simply not an option for any organisation that wants to survive and flourish.

Teasing out an organisation’s weak spots is not as difficult as one might think. A young executive might be having trouble leading managers older than her. A key technology player might be overly dismissive of good ideas from other team members. A CEO might be struggling to assimilate the viewpoints of fellow executives. Paying attention to what goes on between people—and how personality traits consistently shape decisions—will quickly reveal sweet spots where executive coaching will pay off.

Executive Coaching Is Not a Luxury

The last thing you want is for an executive to see their coach as a high-level perk, like a personal assistant or golf instructor. The potential for narcissism in executives is real enough to inspire scientific study, and it’s something that executive coaching should address rather than add to.

In other words, everyone involved in the coaching process should see it as a serious investment with clear aims. It’s not about kicking back and shooting the breeze; on the contrary, leaving one’s comfort zone is par for the course. Executive coaching is a result-oriented practice, and participants must be willing to work for those results.

Embracing Change

Executives want coaching, yes—but many of them don’t know exactly why. Their ideas of what executive coaching is—and where it will actually lead them—can be a source of friction when it comes time to sit down with a coach. And as good coaching won’t come cheap (think high-level consultant rates), you want to make sure that your key player is open to exploring new territory.

Let’s be clear—executive coaches are not shrinks or therapists. But the truth is, executive coaching deals with behavioural science and the ability to examine one’s own personality. This is, after all, precisely where gaps in leadership ability are found. The answer to Juvenal’s question—who watches the watchmen? —is quite simple in this case. It’s someone who sees what makes the watchmen tick.

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