How Senior Leaders Can Maintain Peak Leadership Performance

Post written by

Jonathan Creaghan

Founder and President of J.D.Creaghan Group Inc., specializing in implementing business growth programs for owners and their executive teams

As a coach, I often begin company projects by working with the most senior leader of an organization to help them resolve issues of time, purpose and passion. But sometimes, when the owners have run their company for decades, I've seen they can feel as if they hit a ceiling.

In my experience, these established leaders can often feel that they haven't completely fulfilled their purpose or achieved their ultimate goals for the company. They might feel bogged down, unfocused or just plain tired. This can lead to wanting to sell the business, retire or cut back on work — often prematurely. But this doesn't have to be the case.

Arthur Brooks, retired president of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote an article for the Atlantic on his own work and life productivity peaks. He discussed the work of Raymond Cattell, a psychologist who believed that as we age, we lose "fluid intelligence," a term that Cattell uses to describe our raw brainpower, novel problem solving, reasoning and analytic skills.

This fluid intelligence, according to Cattell, is highest in early adulthood. Brooks reasoned that this is why innovators in the tech world find success early on. I've seen this myself; many of my clients started their companies in their early to late 20s, when their fluid intelligence would have been high. This kind of intelligence begins to slow down in your 30s and 40s, which is then replaced by what Cattell calls "crystallized intelligence," or your ability to use what you've learned throughout your life. This form of intelligence can thrive well into old age. It is what I call the "flourishing of wisdom."

I believe these concepts of fluid and crystallized intelligence can help established leaders reignite their passion if they feel they've lost their purpose in their business. From a coaching perspective, the evolution from fluid intelligence to crystallized intelligence is helped along when we talk with clients about the importance of transitioning from being a leader who measures their impact based on their own accomplishments, to being a leader who strives to make things better for everyone.

In my practice, this is what we call the evolution from being a "good leader" to a "coach, mentor and facilitator." Leadership behavior is focused on teaching and passing on wisdom and letting others look after the tasks of the daily operation. I've seen many clients who do this set the course for their company and use their time and energy in more productive ways. A meeting might be less about him or her chairing the meeting and more about sitting back, listening and commenting when appropriate. It might be about coaching the next generation of leadership or putting a team together to implement new programs related to solidifying the culture.

Below are a few of my tips for becoming a coach, mentor and facilitator:

1. Improve your listening skills. To practice listening, focus on what the person is saying, how they are saying it and confirm with the person what you are hearing by asking follow-up questions. If there is a question between what you are hearing, seeing and feeling, then get it cleared up.

2. Be present to the person. Don't be thinking about your next meeting or the email that just popped up on your smartphone. Put your smartphone away and concentrate on observing and listening without judgment. This is the art of coaching. You need to hear what is being said and how it is being said to get the most out of the message.

3. Be curious about the person you are coaching. This is about meeting people where they are at. Ask about them as a person, what they like, their goals and what is important to them.

4. Ask questions to clarify and confirm what you hear. These are clarifying and confirming questions, such as, "So what I think I heard you say is XYZ. Is that right?" These types of questions usually give the speaker the chance to hear their thoughts and concerns and help them get closer to the issue or truth. Asking these questions also gives you the opportunity to more clearly understand them.

5. Use your intuition. Coaching and intuition go hand in hand. Your gut feeling will give you critical information that, when well-developed, helps with uncovering barriers the person is putting up to prevent themselves from moving forward. You can develop your intuition by being more aware of incongruencies among the message you are hearing, what you are seeing in the other person and what you are feeling about the other person. If there is alignment, your gut will feel relaxed. If not, questions or decisions will come up within you that need to be addressed.

6. Use additional resources. Consider finding a coach, investing in training or reading a book on how to coach others. Coaching is both a skill and an art, so it's important to find resources that can teach you how to do it effectively.

I'm seeing the results of implementing these six steps firsthand. One of our current projects is to help a 50-year-old company, at which the second-generation owner made all of the decisions, transition to being an open company where the management team drives the company toward the future.

Now, the owner's role is to trust the process and take on the role of coach and mentor to his general manager. Previously, he and his team were "just getting through the day." Now, he is re-energized by the real transformation of his company occurring before his eyes. He is free to look at growth through a variety of means, and he is seeing his vision come to life again.

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?
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As a coach, I often begin company projects by working with the most senior leader of an organization to help them resolve issues of time, purpose and passion. But sometimes, when the owners have run their company for decades, I've seen they can feel as if they hit a ceiling.

In my experience, these established leaders can often feel that they haven't completely fulfilled their purpose or achieved their ultimate goals for the company. They might feel bogged down, unfocused or just plain tired. This can lead to wanting to sell the business, retire or cut back on work — often prematurely. But this doesn't have to be the case.

Arthur Brooks, retired president of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote an article for the Atlantic on his own work and life productivity peaks. He discussed the work of Raymond Cattell, a psychologist who believed that as we age, we lose "fluid intelligence," a term that Cattell uses to describe our raw brainpower, novel problem solving, reasoning and analytic skills.

This fluid intelligence, according to Cattell, is highest in early adulthood. Brooks reasoned that this is why innovators in the tech world find success early on. I've seen this myself; many of my clients started their companies in their early to late 20s, when their fluid intelligence would have been high. This kind of intelligence begins to slow down in your 30s and 40s, which is then replaced by what Cattell calls "crystallized intelligence," or your ability to use what you've learned throughout your life. This form of intelligence can thrive well into old age. It is what I call the "flourishing of wisdom."

I believe these concepts of fluid and crystallized intelligence can help established leaders reignite their passion if they feel they've lost their purpose in their business. From a coaching perspective, the evolution from fluid intelligence to crystallized intelligence is helped along when we talk with clients about the importance of transitioning from being a leader who measures their impact based on their own accomplishments, to being a leader who strives to make things better for everyone.

In my practice, this is what we call the evolution from being a "good leader" to a "coach, mentor and facilitator." Leadership behavior is focused on teaching and passing on wisdom and letting others look after the tasks of the daily operation. I've seen many clients who do this set the course for their company and use their time and energy in more productive ways. A meeting might be less about him or her chairing the meeting and more about sitting back, listening and commenting when appropriate. It might be about coaching the next generation of leadership or putting a team together to implement new programs related to solidifying the culture.

Below are a few of my tips for becoming a coach, mentor and facilitator:

1. Improve your listening skills. To practice listening, focus on what the person is saying, how they are saying it and confirm with the person what you are hearing by asking follow-up questions. If there is a question between what you are hearing, seeing and feeling, then get it cleared up.

2. Be present to the person. Don't be thinking about your next meeting or the email that just popped up on your smartphone. Put your smartphone away and concentrate on observing and listening without judgment. This is the art of coaching. You need to hear what is being said and how it is being said to get the most out of the message.

3. Be curious about the person you are coaching. This is about meeting people where they are at. Ask about them as a person, what they like, their goals and what is important to them.

4. Ask questions to clarify and confirm what you hear. These are clarifying and confirming questions, such as, "So what I think I heard you say is XYZ. Is that right?" These types of questions usually give the speaker the chance to hear their thoughts and concerns and help them get closer to the issue or truth. Asking these questions also gives you the opportunity to more clearly understand them.

5. Use your intuition. Coaching and intuition go hand in hand. Your gut feeling will give you critical information that, when well-developed, helps with uncovering barriers the person is putting up to prevent themselves from moving forward. You can develop your intuition by being more aware of incongruencies among the message you are hearing, what you are seeing in the other person and what you are feeling about the other person. If there is alignment, your gut will feel relaxed. If not, questions or decisions will come up within you that need to be addressed.

6. Use additional resources. Consider finding a coach, investing in training or reading a book on how to coach others. Coaching is both a skill and an art, so it's important to find resources that can teach you how to do it effectively.

I'm seeing the results of implementing these six steps firsthand. One of our current projects is to help a 50-year-old company, at which the second-generation owner made all of the decisions, transition to being an open company where the management team drives the company toward the future.

Now, the owner's role is to trust the process and take on the role of coach and mentor to his general manager. Previously, he and his team were "just getting through the day." Now, he is re-energized by the real transformation of his company occurring before his eyes. He is free to look at growth through a variety of means, and he is seeing his vision come to life again.

Forbes Coaches Council is an invitation-only community for leading business and career coaches. Do I qualify?

Founder and President of J.D.Creaghan Group Inc., specializing in implementing business growth programs for owners and their executive teams...