How Deep is Your Bench?

Walking through LaGuardia recently with my snazzy new BenchStrength Coaching jacket, I was asked by the TSA security guard if I was “really a Benchstrength Coach.” Of course, my answer was yes, and then I said, “but it probably isn’t what you are thinking.”

While waiting for my bag to exit the scanner, I told him I am a leadership coach, for executives, and he admitted he was trying to figure out how I became a weightlifting coach. I laughed and told him we focus on building leadership muscle.

Not everyone knows there are professional coaches for leaders. We were influenced by our background in athletics when we picked our company name. The best teams don’t rely on a few stars; they have a deep bench that they develop to compete effectively. Companies are also in business to win, yet something we see sorely lacking in many companies is leadership ‘bench strength’. Our goal is to change that.

My daughter is an opera singer and she employs a number of coaches. Actors, singers, athletes and professional speakers have coaches. They invest in themselves and work with coaches to help improve their craft. Unfortunately, all too often leadership coaching is limited to the upper echelons of corporations.

On one end of the spectrum, large companies that have extensive Leadership Development resources and programs focus on a select group, often called high potential employees. Alternatively, they wait until people are serving in higher level positions to afford them the benefit of a leadership development coach.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are smaller, leaner companies without the internal talent development resources. They often don’t think they have a ‘bench’ to develop. In both cases, there are opportunities for creating a stronger, more enduring team that may be overlooked.

One thing that keeps CEOs and HR leaders up at night is whether or not they have the talent to win in their market, and to sustain their business over the long haul.

“After executive compensation, succession planning is the most talked about topic between heads of HR and the board, according to CEB data, and there is increasing concern about the readiness of potential candidates in current succession plans.” 24 June 2016 | CEB HR

Yet, ironically, the investment for development is often seen as discretionary expense. Discussing succession is either done on an annual basis or in the moment it’s needed. In larger organizations, succession plans are generated with candidates identified as “ready now”, “within 1-2 years” or “within 3-5 years”. Assessing the gap that would help candidates progress is frequently skimmed over, and when that happens, the same names appear in the same columns, year after year.

Providing targeted development for those who have been identified as future potential leaders is a smart investment. It is certainly better than hoping they will be ready when you need them to fill your leadership positions, or to throw them into a bigger role, and see if they sink or swim.

Coaching provides leaders support as they develop skills to get them ready and as they take on new roles. The most vulnerable time for leaders is in the early transition phase of a new role. During this phase leaders fail for many reasons; loss of confidence, misaligned expectations, etc. At a time when it is essential to demonstrate strong character and leadership, the risk of not doing so is highest.

Coaching is a reliable and proven process for accelerating leadership development. If you want to explore how coaching can support your leadership development programs, contact us at BenchStrength Coaching helps companies build stronger pipelines of ‘ready’ candidates, creating better leaders who are poised to take on broader and more influential roles.

Article written by Dawn Rowley