Seven Ways to Sharpen Your Executive Leadership Sword

Posted by Everett Hill on Mon, Apr 07, 2014

“Senior managers are looking for someone to give you the courage to act,” explained Duncan, my prospective executive coach. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Over the years I had turned around successively larger regional operations for Coca-Cola Enterprises, then applied that experience at North American headquarters to take tens of millions of dollars in cost out of the corporate P&L. In my current role I was having fun slaying dragons on a daily basis as one of the key actors in a much-needed transformation of a $16B business. Yet the feedback in no uncertain terms was that I could accomplish more, that my leadership effectiveness was falling short in the politically charged thickets at headquarters. Sharpen your executive leadership sword

Duncan continued, “I can help you get there, if you want to. Are you willing to commit to the effort?” Of course I was, and I attacked the challenge just like I had every process improvement goal, sales quota and EBITDA budget throughout my career. The six-month journey with Duncan gave me clarity: the skills and behaviors that had served me well in regional operating units were getting in the way of making a greater contribution at headquarters, on the multi-billion dollar stage. In a nutshell, I had to relearn how to operate in order to get to the next level.

I’m often reminded of that pivotal moment of my Coke career as I work with senior leaders and their direct reports in the course of my sales transformation consulting. As I did, many of these executives have the opportunity to unlock new levels of personal effectiveness by changing their mindset from “functional stewardship” to “executive leadership.” Duncan started by defining the difference seven ways:

Executive leadership mindset

Using this comparison as his coaching framework, Duncan and I engaged in a series of discussions about my real-world issues. My executive leadership sword became  sharper over time as he challenged me to move from the left side to the right side of this graphic on issues large and small. A typical exchange:

Everett: “I’m excited—I’ve been invited to the monthly c-level operating meeting and have the opportunity to update everyone on progress with my initiatives.”

Duncan: “How are you planning to push back, to shape their [personal] agendas?”

[long pause]

Everett: “You’re right. Demonstrating progress with initiatives doesn’t frame the discussion and position me as a peer. I’ll get my sponsor’s take on each attendee’s personal agenda, and reach out in advance to those who might be particularly troublesome. Next, I’ll bring a point of view to the meeting about the relative importance of each initiative.”

It was painful, but Duncan’s coaching made a real difference. A year later I was promoted to a North America Vice President role that included sales operations responsibility for 1,200 field reps in addition to P&L responsibility for CCE’s foodservice business.

Still following Duncan’s playbook, I now include executive coaching of senior leaders as an optional upgrade to my consulting engagements. Coupled with a sales transformation, executive coaching is a win-win: honing my clients’ leadership skills helps me deliver ROI faster and more reliably than focusing on nuts and bolts alone.

If you’re a successful functional leader, don’t make the assumption that your past dragon-slaying achievements are enough to catapult you to the next level. Sharpen your sword by adopting this seven-point framework and challenging the way you think and act. You’ll achieve a more powerful leadership presence in the process.

Everett Hill helps clients grow. He partners with CEOs and sales leaders to take all-star B2B sales organizations to world class. Prior to founding Catalytic Advisors, he built a career as a sales leader and General Manager with significant P&L responsibility. He holds degrees from Princeton University and Harvard Business School, and is a distribution partner of Miller Heiman, Inc., the proven, global leader in delivering performance-enhancing sales solutions.


Image credit: iStock

Tags: executive presence, executive leadership, Coca-Cola Enterprises, executive coaching, business transformation