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Monthly Reflections Blog: CEO and Board Directors: the shame involved in learning.

Monthly Reflections Blog: CEO and Board Directors: the shame involved in learning.

Our expertise is in supporting CEOs, Board Directors and senior leadership teams to learn. In order to learn, we often need to unlearn. Being open to the possibility of learning when you are already successful is both essential and really tough at the same time. As a CEO said to me recently: “if I am honest, I think I know. Generally I think I am right”. And the truth is that he probably is right, whatever that means, a lot of the time. Otherwise he would not have become a CEO. But the very statement sends a shiver down my leadership development coaching spine!

To move from this position to one of openness to other possibilities requires letting go of the certainty that you “know” and that makes you feel vulnerable. Feeling vulnerable when you are used to being “sure” is a very uncomfortable feeling, but it is the starting point for a learning journey. Many CEO and Board Directors feel shame when they finally allow themselves to learn: shame that they haven’t done so before and shame that it has taken so long to realise that learning is essential and to consider other ways of behaving, thinking and feeling.

As an aside, this is partly why many team coaching initiatives finish up as a bit of a car crash because there is a collective shame that the team feels as they face up to the fact they are not performing as well as they might. Actually, if the team can work through this with a skilled coach, it strengthens its work going forwards, but these feelings cannot be left unspoken or unacknowledged because they get in the way of how the team connects amongst itself, with the business and with the outside world.

Working at a senior level is sensitive work. At the same time the coach needs to be encouraging and supportive yet challenging. When leaders show they are open to this kind of personal development, they set the tone for the whole organisation. By giving themselves permission to learn with all the challenges it involves they give everyone else permission to admit they don’t always “know” and they are not always “right”. This is the starting point for learning and that can only be a good thing for organisations.

For more information, please contact Judith Nicol.

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Judith Nicol

Judith Nicol

Director, Leadership Services

Judith joined Warren Partners recently and heads up the leadership coaching practice, which works exclusively with boards, board directors and senior leaders.

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