CHRO's Coaching Role with the CEO

12/7/12

In my last blog I discussed the strengths and weaknesses CHROs had identified in their CEO's leadership of the executive leadership team (ELT). CHROs also reported what they do to help the CEO be more effective as a leader. Their aid falls into two categories: Professional Support and Personal Support.

Professional Support. As a leader of the organization and a leader of the ELT, CEOs require a number of support activities in order to maximize their job effectiveness. First, CEOs are surrounded by an ELT where most of the members want the CEO's job at some point in the future. This leads them to be afraid to be completely honest in their feedback or opinions. So, the first important role that CHROs play in helping CEOs is through being completely honest in their feedback and opinions. CEOs need to hear when they might be wrong, and CHROs need to play that role. Second, and related, is that when they have a relationship of trust, the CHRO can help to push or challenge the CEO's thinking. Third, CHROs report playing a significant role in identifying and surfacing areas of conflict that might exist within the ELT or issues facing the ELT or its members. Fourth, CHROs must both give and deliver hard messages. In terms of giving those messages, CEOs often seem to use the CHRO to deliver bad news to members of the ELT, or at the least to communicate uncomfortable messages. On the other hand, again for fear of offending the CEO, many times CHROs are asked, on behalf of the ELT, to deliver confidential hard messages to the CEO. This relates to the sixth area where CHROs smooth the ELT communications through ensuring that the CEOs messages are getting through and/or helping the CEO to better understand the message communicated by ELT members. One important role CHROs play is that CEOs often feel satisfied with the talent on their team, and CHROs must push "talent talks" to get CEOs to realize where the team talent can be upgraded. Finally, CEOs often require coaching on their leadership and/or communication styles (in a very task-related context) and that responsibility falls to CHROs.

Personal Support. The CEO's job has been referred to as the loneliest job on the planet. There is no hierarchical mentor above them nor peer to them with whom they can find support. Thus, CHROs often step in to provide personal support to the CEOs in five ways. First, they often have to provide feedback on inappropriate behavior that is of a more personal nature. In fact, a number of CHROs mentioned having to "hold up the mirror" to the CEO in order to help the individual see who s/he is becoming and how s/he is being perceived. Second, once the mirror is held up, CHROs may have to engage in more personal coaching regarding how to balance work/family, etc. Third, CHROs must seek out to identify the CEOs "blind spots" and then help the CEO to either recognize them, or to find people to surround the CEO who complements those spots. Finally, because of the loneliness of the position, CEOs need a sounding board to try out ideas on, and more importantly a place to vent about the frustrating aspects of the job. For instance, when CEOs have trouble with board members, they have few people to turn to in order to vent their anger or frustration, and CHROs report that this is one of the areas that they can provide significant personal support.

CEOs are undoubtedly bright, ambitious, and possess great business acumen yet some may not possess the natural emotional intelligence necessary to effectively lead others or may become so time constrained that they often find it difficult to engage in more personal leadership behaviors. CHROs play a critical role in helping CEOs in these areas by helping the CEO to identify blind spots, consistently providing the candid feedback CEOs need, and providing the safe space for CEOs to vent their frustrations. While people often refer to HR as the "conscience" of the organization, it appears that CHROs play a broad and deep role as the "conscience" of the CEO.

See the final survey results here