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Serving the Business and Professional Community since 1983! 

N. Elizabeth Fried, Ph.D.

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The Executive Coaching Corner:  Now in Session

June 4, 2012: Expanding Executive Networks

Jim was appointed President of a privately held  international manufacturing firm about a year before he hired me as his executive coach.  This was a transition period.  He had not quite been given free reign to run the company because the business owner was not ready to let go.  This was to be a phased approach, and Jim was about a year away from the point of having all the responsibilities of President when we began.  

Jim had been with the company for over 10 years and helped it become a leader in its market segment.  He was proud of his contribution to the company's branding and continued growth and was getting used to his new role.  During our discussions it became apparent that his activities were fairly insular.  He remained close with his peers who he came up the ladder with him and really did not expand his professional network to executives outside the company.  His 360 feedback revealed that his closeness with his peers, natural friendliness and casual nature became somewhat of a hindrance in his leadership development when it came to being fully respected in his role as president .  This led to the following discussion.

Elizabeth Could you tell me about your community involvement or other connections to other peer executives outside your industry.
Jim I just haven't had time to get involved in much.  Most of my focus has been on growing this business and raising my children.  Right now two of my kids are in college, so as a single dad, I try to be home for dinner each night with my daughter who is still living at home.
Elizabeth How soon will she be out of the nest?
Jim She has one more year of high school.
Elizabeth From a social standpoint, who do you spend your time with?
Jim I don't have time to date and don't think it's a good idea to disrupt my children's lives with romance.  So I spend my free time with my family and a couple fellows from work.  We are all very close.
Elizabeth Have you thought about expanding your professional and personal horizons? 
Jim Well, I haven't had the time.  And I like hanging out with my friends from work. Although I will admit, in the office they sometimes don't fully recognize that I am president.
Elizabeth What do you mean?
Jim Well, I sense an undertone of resentment.
Elizabeth Can you clarify that for me?
Jim It is just in little comments or subtle body language when I make a directive.  A passive-aggressive type of thing.  I can't exactly put my finger on it.
Elizabeth This is not uncommon.  Sometimes there is a need to gradually distance yourself and expand your horizons.
Jim Distance myself?  I'm not giving up my friends!
Elizabeth I'm not suggesting that you give them up.. I'm suggesting adding some new friends to the mix.   In your new role, you may find comfort and connection with other Presidents and CEOs who are experiencing similar issues. 
Jim Well, it has been tough.  We all used to be able to talk about anything.  But, in this role, I can't really be as open because of the sensitive nature of some of the business issues.
Elizabeth Because you can no longer discuss everything you used to with your internal team,  who also happen to be your friends, you need a sounding board with other outside executive peers.
Jim I thought that is what you were for
Elizabeth To a certain extent.  But outside executive peers are able to share their personal experience with you and offer suggestions for you to consider from a different perspective. Multiple perspectives can expand your thinking.  We can often borrow from the successes of other industries and apply them to our own.  They also walk in your shoes and will be able to relate very well.  It can be lonely at the top and developing those collegial relationships can be invaluable. They can also develop into social relationships.
Jim You know, I was recently approached by a fellow putting a group of executives together.  I haven't really given it much thought.  They meet once a month for a day.
Elizabeth Can you work that into your schedule?
Jim I think it's doable with planning.
Elizabeth I'd like to request that you consider it and check out a meeting or two to decide if you think it will provide value.  It will also be important to be with a group that has members with companies where most are at your size and larger. 
Jim That makes sense.  If they are going to help me grow, I need someone to help me stretch.
Elizabeth Precisely. Also have you considered getting involved in any community boards?
Jim I don't know where to begin with that.
Elizabeth Think about what you are passionate about...what interests you so that your time spent energizes you.  Also think about who else may be on that board that can help you expand your horizons professionally.  Both should be criteria for you to consider since your time is at a premium.
Jim Okay.  I will check out the executive group and let you know and think about the community group.
Elizabeth Great, I'll be eager to hear how the executive peer group operates and more about the composition of the group next time we talk.  We can also discuss thoughts on serving on community boards.

Key Points: 

It can be lonely at the top.  Whenever one is promoted from within where several other team members were vying for the position, friction can occur, particularly if they are friends.  Many executives struggle with distancing and find it a challenging balance.  That is why it is helpful to find other other peer executive groups that can add value, such as Vistage.  They help provide perspective and support for dealing with these challenges.  Additionally, exposure to the community also helps the company from  a PR perspective.  It promotes the brand and general good will.

For additional one to two-minute sessions on other topics,  go to the Executive Coaching Corner Archive.