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The title “executive coach” can seem intimidating—even confusing. It conjures hard-bitten, tyrannical sports coaches with a “hit-the-deck-and-give-me-20” attitude.
Instead, Carole Cowperthwaite-O’Hagan sees her coaching role as more of a sherpa, distilling information and leading C-suite inhabitants to successful, lasting, team-oriented outcomes.
“When people hear what I do, they ask ‘What sport do you coach?’” she says. “I tell them that I help people reach their potential. Basketball legend Michael Jordan was self-driven, but he worked with people who helped him see his potential, and they nurtured that.”
O’Hagan, CEO/founder of Coaching Advisors for Executives, helps executives in firms ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies achieve continuous and measurable improvement. A sales consultant for years, she began coaching more than 20 years ago.
“If you’re willing and accountable, I can help you achieve your goals,” says O’Hagan, a registered corporate coach. “Instead of telling people what to do, I ask them what to do and empower them to self-discover and take action.”
O’Hagan wears a variety of hats, pointing organizations to challenges and helping them overcome obstacles and improve their executive skills. Some want an outsider to hold their feet to the fire on reaching certain milestones.
“Some individuals believe in creating a coaching culture. The organizations I’ve had true success with are when we start at the top and work down,” she says. “Sometimes they have a leadership gap and need a coach to come in, assess current leadership, come up with a plan to fill that gap.”
‘CEOs need to trust their teams and make them accountable.’
O’Hagan, who addressed the CUNA Coaching Leadership School, worked with one credit union during the pandemic to come up with fun ways to motivate and engage employees who weren’t always in the office during uncertain times.
“We strategized and came up with some solutions to retain that talent and keep employees engaged,” she says. “They had good years because employees enjoyed work and serving members.”
The pandemic continues to pose challenges for CEOs, O’Hagan adds.
“Delegating is a struggle for some CEOs,” she says. “Some need to be on every call and team meeting because that’s how they worked during the pandemic, and they go too far into the weeds. CEOs need to trust their teams and make them accountable.”
As executives experience tight margins and anxiety over the economy, some are tempted to react with layoffs. While some take that approach, others find alternatives.
“There are some whose goal is to figure out ways to be successful and smart about using their resources, and not to lose the people they’ve invested in,” O’Hagan says.
She urges CEOs to be effective communicators, conveying company priorities to everyone in the organization and knowing their names, whether they’re a senior vice president or the janitor.
Also critical are transparency and preparing internal staff for leadership roles at all levels.
“It’s costly to go outside and hire,” she says. “If you truly want a culture where you’re raising people up from the organization, you have to get them ready. Coaching is a great way to do that. CEOs have to trust and empower.”