You’re never too young to lead and never too old to learn

Leaders cannot do it alone.

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For business leaders, the challenges that come with the job are becoming more and more difficult.

The pressure to make big decisions every day, the constant change and uncertainty, and the expectation to always be in control can be overwhelming.

It’s no wonder that the average length of service for chief executives is decreasing, with less than seven years in the USA and less than five years in the UK.

But being a CEO is not just the best and toughest job; it’s also the loneliest job in the world. Recently I was approached by Oliver Balch at the FT to discuss the role of the executive coach in being the critical friend to the CEO. It made me stop and really think about how much has changed since I began coaching 22 years ago. It has become so much tougher since the start of the pandemic; the scope and scale of the changes that come through also make it so much more stressful. CEOs have to make big decisions with limited time and information, and they have to do it while keeping everyone around them confident in the decision, despite being the only ones who know the full extent of the risks.

‘I want to highlight the importance of seeking help as a leader’

As a football fan, I can’t help but draw parallels between the pressures of business leadership and the role of Premier League Football Managers. I’ve had the privilege to interview a number of them; when doing some work with the League Manager’s Association, I spoke with Sam Allardyce. He clearly explained the difference between his job and the job of the CEO:

“Your CEO probably gets an annual performance appraisal done in private with evidence gathered over the previous year. It probably take views from peers, subordinates and superiors, and spends as much time looking for positives as they do limitations. I, on the other hand, get a public performance appraisal every week in the back pages of the newspapers, all over social media, on the TV and radio, by people who fundamentally believe they can do my job better than I can.”

They face a goldfish bowl of publicity and attention, with a public performance appraisal every week. Imagine having to face criticism from the media, fans, and shared with your family every time your team loses a match. Yet, they still have to motivate their players and maintain their confidence, week in and week out. It is no surprise the average tenure is just over 2 years.

That’s why I want to highlight the importance of seeking help as a leader, whether it’s through executive coaching, mentorship, or simply taking time for yourself to recharge.

The CEO and Football Manager roles may be tough and lonely, but they are also rewarding and inspiring. And with the right support, you can overcome any challenge.

Just look at Carlo Ancelotti, who had declared when I interviewed him a few years ago that he would never win the Champions League again, he shared that he had just become too guarded and cautious as he got older. The risk taking and fearlessness that had inspired his first Champions League win had diminished. He thought he would never win again. My view? Despite his instructive and sound self-deprecation, he was in danger of talking himself down.

He had also gained extraordinary experience and the ability to remain calm under pressure. It’s something that all leaders can learn from.

By the way, he won the Champions League for the fifth time last season.

So, let’s not forget the human side of leadership, and let’s encourage each other to seek help and support when we need it. As leaders, we have the power to inspire and lead our teams to success, but we can’t do it alone.

Tips for becoming an A player:

  • Be prepared to feel uncomfortable.
  • Have the ability to ask for support.
  • Expand your capacity for compassion.
  • Be willing to take full ownership.
  • Go beyond the rational to spark innovation.


Thought for the week:

I used to coach if you’re not sure, treat people the way you would like to be treated. Nowadays it’s much better to ask people how they would like to be treated.

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