Empower, inspire and strengthen the executive

by 20 Nov 2012

What's the latest in behavioural psychology, leadership, executive health and well-being? Karen Barker provides three best practice ideas.

The Institute of Coaching’s 2012 Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare Conference, recently hosted by Harvard Medical School, McLean Hospital and the Institute of Coaching, provided many insights for HR professionals.

700 people from around the world, including myself, attended the two-day conference that covered areas of interest such as behavioural psychology, leadership, executive health and well-being. Speakers included world-leading authorities like Dr Daniel Goleman, who gave an insightful lecture on emotional intelligence, and Dr Dan Siegel who focused on understanding the mind, and other eminent PhDs.

It is important that HR managers stay up-to-date with the latest findings that focus on assisting executives in their high-pressure roles. Outlined are three lessons from the conference that will benefit HR professionals.


  1. Emotional intelligence needs to be cultivated in executives

Executives and senior leaders are expected to support their teams, but who is there to support executives? The oft-overlooked fact that executives also need support was one of the issues that came up at the Conference.

Dr Daniel Goleman was at the forefront of this discussion, dubbing the term ‘secure based leadership’, in which executives need to be secure in their leadership and afforded opportunities to be proactive in their teams’ development.

Dr Goleman’s lecture inspired me to again contemplate the inadequate support that is often offered to senior executives, particularly in relation to leadership and team development.

Executive leaders need to be tuned into the emotional ecology of their team in order to be accessible to them and to offer empathy and acceptance. Many executives struggle with this because of time constraints, pressure to perform and meet targets and deadlines, and sometimes because of ignorance. Without the time and space to reflect on what they need to do to develop their emotional intelligence, executives will continue to fall short of being in tune emotionally with their team.

So, what’s the answer?

HR professionals need to develop good relationships with their executives in order to better understand where they sit with their Emotional Quotient (EQ). They need to provide executives with tools to help them to become more self-aware, like 360 Degree Feedback, which can provide great insights into how executives are perceived by their colleagues and direct reports. Provided it is used correctly and as a positive support mechanism, feedback tools and subsequent tailored executive coaching programs and team development sessions can provide real growth opportunities and make a huge difference to the results of executives - and to their career happiness.


  1. Only executives that are self-aware can experience growth and achieve their goals

The Conference also touched on issues surrounding the levels of self-awareness that executives must have. It is becoming increasingly evident to me that the difference between a self-aware executive and an unaware executive is that the self-aware executive is willing to grow, learn and take their team on a journey of discovery while simultaneously setting and achieving their goals. The self-aware executive does this by building their capacity to lead through self-learning, curiosity and openness. In today’s results-driven workplace, which is placing more and more emphasis on employee engagement, executives who are not self-aware will eventually get left behind.

It’s up to HR professionals to provide additional support to executives by way of feedback tools, tailored coaching and regular opportunities to learn new skills. Team building activities and team development sessions, organised on at least a bi-annual basis, are also a great way for executives to become more self-aware and cultivate trust and openness within teams and effectively turn them from working groups into ‘true’ teams.

If HR professionals are serious about building a secure leadership base, it’s imperative that they are alert to executives who lack self-awareness.

It is true that how organisations support their executives will determine how well the executives’ teams respond. If they do nothing or simply rollout the same old approach then it is highly likely that results, turnover and productivity will remain unchanged and not improve.


  1. In order to unleash their potential, executives must be ‘receptive’, not ‘reactive’


In Dr Dan Siegel’s lecture, ‘To See Inside the Sea Inside’ he put forward the view that there is a vastness that lies beneath the surface of each individual. This is where the executive must go if they are to unleash potential both in themselves and in their teams. In doing so, it is important that the executive is ‘receptive’ as opposed to ‘reactive’, and that they are open to the realms of possibilities that represent themselves in markets, industries, situations and people.

HR professionals need to find a way to allow creativity to flow through information channels, and to also ensure that the divide between chaos and rigidity is bridged with a clear sense of direction.

The 2012 Coaching in Leadership and Healthcare Conference certainly gave me and other Executive Couches and professionals a lot to think about, but it also served to reiterate the fact that it has never been more important for executive teams to be sufficiently equipped so that they can build a secure base leadership culture, now and for the future of the organisations for which they work.


About the author 

Karen Barker is Director and Principal Consultant at Transitional Executive (http://transitionalexecutive.com.au/), and is an International Coach Federation credentialed coach.


  • by Andrew Tindal 4/12/2012 9:56:45 PM

    Agree absolutely Karen. As usual you have succinctly outlined some key challenges facing executives and their team leadership.