Rock, Paper, Scissors

by | Oct 24, 2012 | Boards, Leadership | 0 comments

As an executive you have had a career of making decisions based on your experience and available knowledge. At times, you considered the opinion of others; at other times you had to go it alone. You probably never relied on the childhood game of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to help you make a decision. So as a time-tested executive that has won his share of business battles and hopefully learned from those that you did not win, what benefit would an executive coach be to you at this point in your career?

From coaching over 300 senior executives we have found three reasons why you might consider the idea that executive coaching is not just for your junior subordinates.

  • in a corporation does an executive feel more alone more exercised than
    at the senior level. Do you wonder if people are responding to you because of their own motivations and think first about how you would respond to their comments before they state them? An executive coach who is not part of the corporation can give you unbiased feedback where you don’t have to worry that the motivation is nothing more than to teach you something and improve your work performance.
  • a negative experience of someone sharing confidential information about him at some point in his career. The unique relationship that you have your coach ensures confidentiality of your discussion.
  • executive himself or herself can compare and contrast your thoughts and behaviors against other senior executives without fear of it affecting your job.


The specific content for coaching derives from many sources. But, the predominant themes have to do with dealing with peers, communicating more effectively with younger subordinates with diverse backgrounds and working with boards.

Senior executives have been finding that different skills are required for success than a generation ago. The demands of a changing work force and more active boards are two major changes we have noticed in the past ten years. It used to be enough to just do the job, to get results. Are you used to telling people what to do, but find that people don’t listen to you as they did before? Increased focus on teams to solve problems has required executives to be more participative in their management styles, rather than just be authority figures. Further, executives need to be more aware of what they say and whom they sit it to. For obvious reasons how the senior executive behaves and what he says has a ripple effect throughout an organization. The behavior may not represent a legal problem, but it could be an effectiveness issue for dealing with a diverse work force.

Sarbanes-Oxley has caused boards to be more active and this has required new skills for the senior executive. Are you spending more individual time with board members to get to know them better and for them to learn about you? Many executives are less successful managing up than down and recent changes in corporate governance have caused executives to rethink how they are dealing with boards. We have spoken with more than one executive who has lost his job, not because he didn’t produce results, but because he did not manage the board problem. In a nutshell, he did not spend the time to communicate individually with board members. Executive coaching can help the executive learn effective ways of dealing with these complex and significant board relationships.

“Rock, Paper, Scissors” is a decision making game of wits, speed, dexterity and strategy between players who are unable to reach a decision using other means. While this childhood game is a way of simplifying the decision making process, there is only one winner. We have found that successful senior executives are extremely good at managing multiple demands and resolving conflict so that there is not just one winner. However, we have also found that senior executives by the very nature of their position are often alone in making decisions. Further, the demands on them are greater than ever before as they have to deal with an increasingly diverse work-force with competing interests. Whether it is dealing with subordinates, peers or board relationships, the confidential relationship with an executive coach can help you rely on sound judgment based on unbiased, comparative information where more people than one wins and there is an enhanced desire to work together tomorrow.