Coaching directors: 5 recurring themes your business can address

Coaching Senior Executives provides me with many valuable insights into the wonderful world of business leadership.

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This arm of my coaching most commonly focuses on some combination of:

  • enhancing leadership skills
  • adapting to strategic or operational change 
  • supporting the transition into a new, often bigger, role
  • managing board dynamics and conflict resolution
  • managing stress and preventing burnout
  • establishing or re-discovering life balance
  • confidence in leadership

Along the way, we work through the various worries, frustrations and concerns that are part and parcel of any senior leadership role in any sector. Leading a business or team is always challenging, often overwhelming, and sometimes lonely. I have all the T-shirts! I’ve held senior positions with various organisations and these coaching sessions serve as a regular reminder of the difficulties I wrestled with on an all too regular basis. I was lucky to be surrounded by fantastic board teams with great HR support but nonetheless, it was still a real struggle at times. 

Over the last three years, I’ve been working with several ‘new in role’ directors. From coaching these clients I’ve identified five themes that they regularly highlighted as significant inhibitors to their performance and to their confidence. I’m not sure these issues are unique to new directors. In fact, I suspect that newcomers to the board room are perhaps just a little more willing to ‘admit’ that they are struggling to find the best way to navigate a way through these challenges and are consequently more open to support from their coach.  

Inevitably each of these challenges will be adversely impacting the wider performance of their respective organisations. I’m sharing them here as most businesses could be doing more to support their new directors in these areas. 


The top five challenges

1. I’m happy I’ve been promoted, but I don’t feel like a director

It’s important to remember that anyone stepping into their first director role has probably spent their career to date looking up to the board, so it’s not unreasonable for a newcomer to the top table to feel out of their depth at first, particularly if they’ve been promoted internally.

It can feel like a giant leap for even the highest of flyers. Furthermore, the skills and qualities that earned them the step up aren’t necessarily the same attributes that will serve them well now. A new director will need time to work out how they add value to the business in their new role, and until they do, they can feel exposed. 

2. I worry that my team won’t see me as a leader

I remember when I was first made a director. I already knew the leadership team and I knew that they’d been involved in my selection as Finance Director, so I felt relatively comfortable in the board room within a few short weeks. However, I didn’t know how the colleagues in my own team would respond.

Whilst the new job title helped, I didn’t suddenly feel like a director overnight. And this is exactly what I hear from my coaching clients. They want strategies on how to command respect and authority when they don’t necessarily believe that they’ve earned it yet. 

3. All other directors are super confident, so why aren’t I?

All directors know this to be a myth, but, for each new director I’ve coached, confidence is the attribute they cite as most lacking when they benchmark themselves against other directors. And this is a self-fulfilling belief. I’m not keen on the ‘imposter syndrome’ tag but these clients are!

It’s a real concern for new directors as they recognise the need to make an early impact by asserting their authority, adding value in meetings, representing their business function and everything else that comes with the title. But all of this takes a fair measure of self-confidence.  

4. How should I deal with Colin?

For most of my Executive clients, somewhere along the coaching journey, we talk about Colin. Colin is typically a colleague that my client finds difficult to manage in their new role as a director. Colin may be an outgoing director that is working on projects until he retires. He may be an expert member of the client’s team who, for some reason, seems hell-bent on sabotaging my client’s success. He may have wanted my client’s new directorship. Whatever, Colin commands a disproportionate amount of the new director’s time and energy. 

5. Is this the end of my personal development plan?

For most ambitious professionals, a director role is the obvious ‘end goal’ of the personal development plan. Appraisals and other development conversations would often focus on progress towards this aspiration, and training and development would focus on the skills and qualities that would support progress towards it. Many of my clients describe how this focus on their development seems to evaporate once they reach director level, just when they feel their needs are greatest.


So how well does your organisation do in each of these areas? 

Here are a few ideas you might consider when you think about the development support you can provide for newly appointed directors:

  1. How would they benefit from having a mentor, either within the organisation or outside? 
  2. How can you make their transition into a new director role easier?
  3. How often will you check in on them in the first days and weeks? Who will do this?
  4. Where are the difficult relationships they will need to tackle? How can you support them?
  5. What’s on their personal development plan? Who will champion their continuing development?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Eastleigh SO53 & London W1J
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Written by Alan Evans, Life Coach, Executive Coach, Business Coach
Eastleigh SO53 & London W1J

Alan is an experienced and qualified coach and mentor to key individuals in organisations across a number of different sectors. Following 25+ years working in major UK retailers, Alan now combines his real-world executive experience with a thoughtful and supportive coaching style to help talented individuals and teams reach their full potential.

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