A CEO coach can’t give you the answers.
The chief executive officer (CEO) role is notoriously lonely. If you’re like most CEOs, you often feel you have no one to turn to for support, no one you can vent to, or fully unburden yourself on. This leads many CEOs to turn to support figures outside of their organization.
This support can be critical to the CEO’s sanity and future success. However, there are a few different types of assistance available to the chief executive, and as I talk with board members, investors, and CEOs themselves, I have seen a lot of confusion around what these support figures do—and do not—offer.
Here are three types of support figures that are often conflated:
• A CEO coach is an accountability system and sounding board for the chief executive. You tell them what you want to work on, and they’ll help you do it. As a neutral observer, the CEO coach reflects back what they see and hear from you in an effort to help you grow as a leader. But they don’t come to an engagement with answers to your business dilemmas—they help you come to the answer on your own. They are a little like a therapist or a mentor in that they start by understanding your background, your current situation, and your aspirations, then work from there.
• A consultant, on the other hand, does give you answers. They come in and assess your business model, the market, internal processes, and more, then make concrete suggestions for improvement. These might not be the right answers, but they’ll give them to you. Consultants are usually less focused on how you are doing in the CEO role and more focused on the business overall.
• A CEO trainer is the rarest breed. It’s what I personally have a passion for doing and what I primarily offer through my CEO training firm, American CEO. The CEO trainer offers a framework for doing the job of the CEO. They show you specific strategies and tools, how to do the things your organization needs and requires from its CEO. Where the CEO coach is the cheerleader and accountability partner, the CEO trainer is the educator and guide.
“Where the CEO coach is the cheerleader and accountability partner, the CEO trainer is the educator and guide.”
Peer groups are another potential support for CEOs. These can be an invaluable source of reinforcement and guidance for leaders at any stage of their career. The simple fact of sitting with people who understand what you are dealing with as head of the organization is huge for a lot of people. It’s also a great way to glean insights from leaders in other industries, learn from the successes and failures of people who have been there, and seek input on specific dilemmas you may be facing.
Whatever support system you choose, be sure you understand your own goals and what you want out of the engagement. You can then opt for the partner or partners that make the most sense for you.