Article posted on 12 December 2017

What I learned from working with executives every day for more than 10 years

As an executive coach, I spend my every work day talking and listening to company leaders. Although one could argue that I am the person that accompanies and supports them in pursuing their objectives, more often than not, I find myself in the position where I learn a lot of things together with my clients. Looking at the past 10 years of my profession, I realise the executives I worked with have taught me some valuable lessons which I believe to be important for every person out there; for every man or woman who sometimes has doubts, who questions their dreams, who strives to be better and succeed.

From my experience, executives are usually burdened with a lot of responsibilities; their time is precious because they have a lot on their plate, constantly navigating complex challenges. They also need to make quick decisions, step into the unknown and take risks. A combination of being stable and also knowing when to jump for the future’s sake is what makes them unique. They are what I like to call “big” people, so they are very resourceful when it comes to life lessons.

These are 5 of the things I learned from working with them over time.


  • Leading can sometimes be very lonely


Maybe we would expect leaders to always be surrounded by big crowds, cheering for their success. The truth is much closer to the title of a book I know: “The winner stands alone”. Actually, being at the top of the hierarchical pyramid comes with a certain burden. You don’t have too many people to talk to, to explore alternate choices with or to take advice from. As a leader, you also have to take big and important decisions, which often means you simply cannot share what you know, because the stakes are incredibly high. Leading can sometimes be very lonely and executives need to have someone to listen to them, at least from time to time.


  • Being a leader is a neverending work with yourself


We also have in mind this image of a leader that is (almost) omniscient – he knows it all, he is capable of always pointing the right direction and so on. There is much more to this than what meets the eye. Great leaders are aware of the fact that their knowledge is always unfinished business. What do I mean by that? Leaders are not afraid of working with themselves – from constantly trying to develop healthy habits to adopting spiritual practices they find suitable for them. Because they understand they need a powerful “engine” every day in their activity, they will stop for nothing in order to develop on many layers, using their emotions, as well as their physical body, intuition and spiritual connections in order to become better people and also better leaders.  


  • To be a team player is not a myth, it’s a necessity


You all know and hear this very often in job interviews or evaluations. Everyone seems to have adopted this phrase without even blinking: “I’m a team player”. The term has become so overused that its real meaning is also belittled, which is quite unfair. Leaders understand the importance of a team and know that they cannot survive without it. So, not only that being a team player is not bullshit, but also teams can quickly detect and “call bullshit” if they see it at their leader. Be true to yourself and your team: people know if you fake it and use everyone for a personal gain or really have a vision and genuinely drive them to a bigger purpose. Sometimes this means not even knowing, being honest about it and placing your trust in your team.  


  • Fast learning is the key word nowadays


We’re living such challenging and different times. True leaders understand that, in order to keep up, there is one essential thing you have to do: be a fast and constant learner. We all have to juggle between many equally important projects every day. It is almost impossible to keep the pace if you work with outdated tools. So be in a constant state of learning, try to be exposed to many different things and use those lessons in how you lead. Executives understand that surviving means adjusting to society and its complex changes.


  • Keeping an open-mind is a practice you need to adopt


Last but not least, a leader is not a leader without an open mind. Easy to say, harder to do. If you’re constantly looking only for the rational part of life, you might not be really keeping an open mind. In our times, one needs to also pay attention to the intuitive side of life, because we cannot be sure what will happen tomorrow, as reality is too complex right now. Using all the technology we use now, moving as fast as we do now, it’s impossible to always think in pure rational terms all the time. Now, more than ever, successful executives understand they build their own reality and are not afraid to do so. It’s ok to not always know the exact steps on how you do it; instead, go step by step while being straightforward with your vulnerabilities, accepting the unkown and doing your best. Keep an open mind no matter what.

I would add the most valuable lesson of all. We need to dare for everything we dream of. The executives I work with are exactly the type of people who want to practice what they preach so they take things into their hands and make it happen. I wish this for all of you out there.