I’m often asked why someone needs an executive coach. In my experience, it’s often a gravity event that leads someone to benefit from a coaching relationship. It could be a big presentation to the board, or having to terminate a long-term employee, or a problem with a peer, or even a big promotion with additional responsibilities. A coaching arrangement typically follows two parallel tracks:

  1. Having a thought partner or sounding board to help you think through your career and
  2. Skill building to help you grow as a leader

An executive coach provides you with someone who doesn’t have any political skin in the game and doesn’t benefit from the decisions made at the office. By having a coach who is outside of your environment, you have a neutral third-party to discuss highly confidential matters. This helps you navigate those sticky events throughout your career and helps put a strategy in place to think through the outcomes to success. After the event, it’s helpful to do a postmortem. We like to think through what landed well and what didn’t. It’s invaluable to have someone along the way to help navigate these major career events.

Executive coaching is also there to help you realize or become the best leader possible. To identify your leadership style, and prioritize where you’re strong and where you need to get better. This part of the process involves skill building. This could involve working on delegation, or time management, or team building, or presentation skills or planning/strategy. As coaches, we meet each client where they are. Every assignment is unique and each is different.

I often see the textbook situation where a technically gifted individual has been promoted to leading a function or department. Technical skills have little to do with leading a team. The best accountant isn’t always the best leader of accountants. The other example includes an individual who performs at a high level, but is wrecking ball in the department or within the team. They are often difficult to work with, hurt the feelings of their fellow team members and need to smooth out some of their rough edges. By having an executive coach, we are able to help these individuals navigate their careers and grow as leader.

Learn more about our in-person and virtual coaching services.

Posted by Aaron Fulkerson, Partner and Chief Development Officer 

I am passionate about leadership.  About being a leader and helping others be the best leader they can be.  The Harvard Business Review recently posted an article entitled Three Leadership Traits that Never Go Out of Style.  What most intrigued me about this article is that the author reflected on leadership traits he learned as a child.

I connect with this in so many ways—my family helped shape who I am today.  My wife sees the good in everyone around her and genuinely wants to help people become better. She always has the energy to offer her support and empathy. My mom is a rare blend of being compassionate and strong-willed while maintaining a great sense of humor. My step dad focused his entire professional life on helping and mentoring young people who were in trouble; his commitment to service is quietly heroic.  My sister has taught me to enjoy the moment, to avoid dreaming to such an extent that I miss out on what’s happening in front of me.  My two adult children have shown me how to love and sacrifice and put others first while my infant son has shown me how big love can truly be.  And my dad is a visionary; he teaches me to dream and to look at things from a different angle, always imagining possibilities and ways to innovate and having the courage to follow these unconventional paths no matter where they lead and no matter how silly they may seem to others.

I say this because the best leaders learn from the people they are surrounded by, whether it’s their family, coworkers, friends or mentors.  Leadership is something that is always evolving and we can never stop learning how to be a better leader.

The HBR article pinpointed three leadership traits: trust, empathy and mentorship.

  1. Does your team trust you? Trust makes people feel empowered.
  2. Are you emotionally intelligent—did you notice the look of anxiety in your teammate’s eyes this morning?
  3. Would you be where you are today if you weren’t mentored? “There was no great player who didn’t want to be coached.” – Pat Riley, NBA Coach

These are all traits I see in my family and every leader should grasp onto them. Be trustworthy, know how your team is feeling and mentor others.

There is one item I learned from my family and mentors that is not on the list – responsibility. Great leaders should take responsibility for their actions and take ownership of their mistakes.  A leader isn’t supposed to know it all, we’re human and we need to be vulnerable.

No matter what situation you’re in, whether you’re the CEO of a fortune 500 company or the intern at a small non-profit, keep these traits in mind and always remember to be real.

Posted by Aaron Fulkerson, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer 

Every week I read another article in Forbes, Harvard Business Review or Inc. about the importance of succession planning. Most discuss how vital succession planning is for organizations. Although I couldn’t agree more, we often see clients struggle in one particular area, following through with development. It is fairly easy to outline the ideal structure of an organization—who the top leaders should be, what their profile and competencies will look like, and then identifying potential successors.

The hard part, however, is the development plan for those high-potential leaders. Development can be broken down into three areas and following through on each of these is where we usually see organizations fall short.

1. Technical Skills
If a particular person is being considered for an executive level position, it is important to know they possess the necessary technical skills. Does the potential CFO really have the strategic, financial and decision-making knowledge needed for that role? What about the successor of the CEO—do they fully understand all of the operations and business models in the organization? These are all very important questions to consider.

2. Soft Skills
If your organization is looking to put someone in an externally-facing role, such as the CEO mentioned above, and they’ve always been in an internally-facing role, do they have the soft skills they need to influence, inspire and motivate people? Can they work well and form relationships with the board? When a person is in an executive position, they need to not only have the technical skills, but be likeable and a good cultural fit.

3. Key Relationships
Relationship building is a necessary part of the business, and the successor must be positioned well with not only the rest of the executive team and the board or directors, but also with current peers, clients and key community leaders.

Often times we’ll see organizations focus primarily on only technical skills and neglect soft skills, or only look at the politics of key relationships. Not following through on each of these when formulating the development plan will make the learning curve a lot steeper for the successor and there will be a much higher likelihood of failure.

If you have any thoughts or questions on succession planning and following through, feel free to comment below.

Aaron Fulkerson is the EVP and CAO of STF and an expert in management consulting practices.  He has executed succession plans for a variety of clients nationally, including corporations, universities, nonprofits and faith-based organizations.

An executive search may be one of the most rewarding processes an organization can go through. Although the process can be tedious when the search is done right the return on investment is immensely valuable.

When conducting executive searches for clients, we generally see them looking to fill an externally facing role. The organization is looking for a new face and image, and someone who can represent their organization well. A person with an externally facing role will make impressions on people in 15 seconds or less—when it comes to the success of your organization, first impressions absolutely matter.

With that in mind, here are three things to keep in mind for when looking for the right candidate, all stemming from first impressions:

1. Overall Courtesy
When filling an executive role, having someone who is courteous is a must. We consider how the candidate treated our administrative assistants and people waiting in the lobby. Were they outgoing and friendly or did they burrow down and look at their phone? Did they say thank you and engage in a conversation?  This is something we look for as it gives a glimpse into how they will treat others when representing an organization.

2. Follow Up
Follow up is an important factor to consider. Not only does it show us they are serious about the position, but it also keeps them on our radar due to the high volume of applicants during an executive search.  We look for follow-up emails and hand written notes thanking us for our time. These things constantly remind us of their presence.

3. Research
Research seems like a given when a person is in a job search, but that’s not always the case. The most successful applicants we’ve seen thoroughly do their research. During an executive search decisions are generally made by a committee and the research a candidate does in advance not only shows their knowledge of the organization, but makes the committee feel warm and cared about. This is important because if the candidate does this for the committee they will likely do the same in their position when they are building relationships on the organizations behalf.

Aaron Fulkerson is the EVP and CFO of STF and an expert in management consulting practices.  He has completed executive searches for a variety of clients nationally including corporations, universities and nonprofits.