Business Coaching for C-LEVEL Executives – Interview from Business Coach Cristina Nava

“Undertaking a Coaching path is a wonderful opportunity at all levels of the organization… even more so if you move up the ranks, for people in top positions,” says Cristina Nava, Executive Business Coach, and Managing Partner. As she shares her professional experiences with us, we can sense a solid firmness in her words, together with the great energy that infects us and the ability to challenge even the most certain beliefs. These are all characteristics that she brings to her coaching sessions, which turn out, to be even more fundamental in Executive courses, aimed at people at the top of the company. She told us what it means to coach C-levels, what are the main challenges for the Coach, and what are the problems most often faced by these roles.

What are the peculiarities of a Coaching path addressed to C – levels and the main differences within paths with Coachees in roles, at different levels of the organization?

The first thing that comes to mind is that often C-levels have already done Coaching courses before. What can happen is that they bring with them the “waste” of these previous experiences, which took place with professionals who do not only do Business Coaching, and therefore have other methods and a different impact. This could make them ” mistrustful “: it is the Coach who has to conquer the Coachee, and his/her trust, with professionalism and firmness, to engage him/her. It is not always easy to get in tune with people who are skeptical at first, or who travel on different tracks, but it is a moment of great growth for the Coach as well. Another challenge is that in the initial, final, and aligning moments in the midpoint of the journey, the CEO or General Manager is also involved… it’s not easy as it is a delicate job. In general, however, in the pathway of an executive, there is a change in the level of complexity of what resources are involved. In both the dynamics and activities of the organization, the C-level people are in charge of strategies and decisions that are not present at lower levels.

Why would or might a person in a top role at a company need coaching?

I start from the assumption that having the possibility to undertake a Coaching program, whatever the role or level, is a luxury. It means taking the time to better and know yourself. It is a moment to reflect on your operational processes, to get to the bottom of them, to have more awareness, and to come to terms with even the most uncomfortable parts of yourself. Time is often a very short resource at work: having time to dedicate to improving one’s professional behavior and becoming more effective in one’s role is a wonderful opportunity.  All the more so at top levels, when the pace is higher, the pressure is constant and the responsibilities more so demanding. Taking time to think and imagine different scenarios is a special and rare moment to dedicate.

What are the skills you most often work on within Executive Pathways?

A skill that I very often take on is Visioning: it has to do with the ability to generate different scenarios, to try to do things in an unusual, alternative way. Especially in senior positions, there is a strong need to “stop, raise your head and see beyond”. For about two years now, and still ongoing, there has been a theme of emergency. We work in a hurry and in a rush to deal with current and contingent problems, and so the opportunities to reflect on the future diminish. It’s quite a challenge because time is always short and so you tend to approach things the same way because you already know the process; you know how it works, what the consequences will be, therefore guaranteeing an outcome. Another skill that I’m encountering more and more often in the sessions with the C-levels is Self-Management. These are people who are extremely well trained in numerous skills, including the management of very difficult and complex situations, however, Self-Management also has to do with a strong emotional dimension. In particular, this part is of enormous value to me in the way I interpret my private and professional life, and for this reason, I always bring it into the session. I give a lot of space to the emotional part, I ask questions that aim precisely at stimulating emotions, leading the Coachee to explore the emotional impact that the situation has on him or her, or the impact that their actions have on the people who work with them, for example on the Leadership Team. In this regard, we also often work on Interpersonal Relationships, through some exercises to map and visualize not only the interpersonal patterns that occur between the various members but also the mutual influence and emotional connections that are there.

In the common scenario, it is perhaps more immediate to associate an executive figure, with great responsibilities and a long career behind them, more to the dimension of rationality, calculated projecting, even to an almost uncompromising firmness… How do they react in front of emotionality?

For some people it is a bit of a difficult subject at first, they are not used to dealing with it, especially at work. Also because of the position they hold, they are tough people, used to carrying heavy situations on their shoulders… but our role is precisely to challenge them. Another block that sometimes emerges has to do with the theme of excellence, we could call it the driver of perfection: at first glance, they stop in front of certain exercises, if they don’t feel fully competent or if that activity is not understandable. They have years of training on the rational and analytical side, which is also the one that is rewarded. With Coaching you push them to take another approach, to jump in and pay attention to other aspects than the customary ones. So, with the continuous training of different behaviors these advanced ones, become more natural and common. It’s great to see how, even so, when you open a little to the emotional side, it triggers a process of exploration that leads to surprising results. They become more aware and look differently at both the context and the people next to them; integrating the observation of the emotional part. It is always a very fruitful area, very interesting reflections emerge for the Coachee. Recently a client of mine said to me “I shifted the focus from the numbers to the emotional part…so I engaged with my team and we achieved our numbers differently.” She made this shift: the organization is asking for more and more challenging numbers, but numbers aren’t just numbers, they have a broader meaning… she started asking herself how to help her team reach those numbers, going through emotional listening and asking, how people felt about running certain projects, handling particular clients, and supporting them during the most stressful times.

What are the issues and discomforts that people at the top of a company experience and bring into the session?

First of all, there is widespread burnout. People are working a lot more and at the same time, there is a developing strand of human centricity, which brings to the surface the significant inconsistency that there is between what is told and what is practiced in organizations. In addition, people, especially young people, are becoming more aware, knowing what their priorities are, and not willing to sacrifice them at work. Before the role of those at the top was almost idealized, it was certainly not questioned…now it is. If you’re not consistent, you don’t go unnoticed. In general, being in a top role is very different from even just 4 years ago. The pandemic has overturned all the logic that was previously in place. There is a theme of complex organizations, constantly changing, where the management of the unexpected is the order of the day and you don’t have a track record to take inspiration from, a known and established applicable model.

And in fact – we know – in the last two years, in particular, the world has radically changed, bringing some very significant transformations to the workplace. Remote work, digitalization, and hyper-connectivity, greater flexibility, the work-life balance to be rebuilt according to new rules and habits. This scenario has offered and continues to offer many new opportunities, but also new deep reflections on what is valuable and on what peoples’ priorities are. Making decisions, especially for those at the top, means immersing oneself and juggling this complexity. Receiving support for change and the development of totally new behaviors seems, if not necessary, at least essential to remain in balance, to innovate but at the same time not to become corrupted.

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