Why We Need Kind and Compassionate Leaders

Posted August 31st, 2012 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Leaders in business schools, organizations and in politics are taught to lead with their heads and not with their hearts. Leaders are expected to be strategic, rational, tough, bottom-line business people who focus on results. Yet, recent research on successful leaders and the current turbulent economic and social times calls out for a different style of leader—one that exhibits kindness, compassion and empathy.

Driving, directive, coercive styles of leadership may move people and get results in the short-term, but the dissonance it creates is associated with toxic relationships and emotions such as anger, anxiety, and fear.

In my work as an executive coach and leadership trainer, I am seeing increasing prevalence of leaders who engage in trash-talking, or “smack-talking,” about their opponents or competitors and under the stress for results, revert back to an authoritarian, directive style of leadership. Further these kinds of leaders often see their job as a form of warfare, or athletic competition complete with appropriate jargon to go with it. We need only look at political leaders engaged in election cycles to see the descent into character assassination and bottom-of-the barrel personal attacks.

Brad Stone and Aaron Ricadela, writing in Bloomsberg Business Week, commented on smack-talking Oracle co-founder and CEO Larry Ellison calling the HP board “idiots” for firing Mark Hurd, and ridiculing SAP co-founder Hass Plattner’s “wild Einstein hair” in an email to the Wall Street Journal or even dissing Bill Gates as not being so smart.

In my article in Psychology Today, “Why Steve Jobs Was Not A Leader,” I said, “Jobs’ leadership style could be characterized as the old school ‘carrot and stick’ approach, using praise and flattery, but mostly the stick of fear and criticism. When Fortune magazine profiled America’s toughest bosses, it said of Jobs, his ‘inhuman drive for perfection can burn out even the most motivated worker.’ Fortune writer, Leander Kahney claimed Jobs’ verbal assaults on staff, replete with anger and foul language, were terrifying to staff. Fortune dubbed Jobs as ‘one of Silicon Valley’s leading egomaniacs.’”

Ronald Riggio, writing in Psychology Today argues that although Jobs was a visionary leader, a master marketer and presenter, he “could also be a tyrant. He was obsessively controlling, and given to fits of rage, throwing tantrums…took credit for others’ ideas…and fell short of the qualities possessed by the very best leaders.” Walter Isaacson’s best-selling biography of Jobs is a very revealing picture of both sides of Jobs’ character—the brilliant, charismatic visionary, and the impulsive, crude, and mean-spirited man. He thought nothing of parking in handicapped parking spaces, and denied the paternity of his first daughter so that she and her mother had to live on welfare. Jobs, like Bill Gates, was a very wealthy man, yet according to public records, made no substantial commitments to charities or worthy causes.

Robert Sutton, a management professor at Stanford University, examined the behavior of abusive bosses, published in his book, The No-Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. In his research he ran across many examples of Silicon Valley and high-tech leaders who extolled the virtues of Jobs abusive behavior as being necessary to build a successful company. Sutton contended, “it is troubling that there’s this notion in our culture that if you’re a winner, it’s okay to be an asshole.”

Sutton argues that despite Jobs’ and Apple’s success, his research shows that abusive bosses are bad for the bottom line, and there are far more successful companies—such as Google, Virgin Atlantic, Procter & Gamble and Southwest Airlines, for example—that are not led by abusive bosses.

According to Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, bad boss behavior seems to be pandemic and now, a new survey reveals that self-oriented bosses are more prevalent than ever. In a survey Taylor commissioned of 1,002 adults, 86% of Americans felt that too often, bad boss behaviors fly under the radar until it’s too late, affecting too many people. According to an earlier study, 70% of workers said they believed employees must be careful when managing up with bosses, or they could lose their jobs. A five-year, national study compared bad, childish traits, including stubbornness, self-oriented, overly demanding, impulsiveness, interrupting and tantrum-throwing in bosses between 2004 to 2009, and found “self-oriented” spiked by 50% to the top spot in that period. In the same study conducted by a global research firm, seven in 10 Americans said “bosses and toddlers with too much power act alike.”

Swedish researchers, led by Anna Nyberg at the Stress Institute in Stockholm, have published a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine on the issue of leaders’ behavior and employee health. They studied more than 3,100 men over a 10-year period in typical work settings. They found that employees who had managers who were incompetent, inconsiderate, secretive and uncommunicative, were 60% more likely to suffered a heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac condition. By contrast, employees who worked with “good” leaders were 40% less likely to suffer heart problems.  Nyberg said, “for all those who work under managers who they perceive behave strangely, or in any way they don’t understand, and they feel stressed, the study confirms this develops into a health risk.”

A study of 6,000 British office workers found employees who felt that their supervisors treated them fairly had a 30% lower risk of heart disease. A 2008 meta-analysis of the connection between health and leadership by Jana Kuoppala and associates concluded that good leadership was associated with a 27% reduction in sick leave and a 46% reduction in disability pensions. The same study concluded that employees with good leaders were 40% more likely to report the highest levels of psychological well-being including lower levels of anxiety and depression.

In an article by Richard Williams, Wallace Higgins and Harvey Greenberg, published in the Boston Globe, they cited numerous research studies regarding leadership style and the health of employees. They concluded “your boss can cause you stress, induce depression and anxiety or even trigger the onset of serious illnesses. It is not just bad managers who can negatively affect employee health, but it is also the lackadaisical and mediocre who put employees on the sick list.And the cost is huge in terms of lost productivity, healthcare costs and employee turnover. The authors argue that a whole new field of litigation in the U.S. is developing-“lawsuits against ‘bad bosses’ and the organizations that negligently allow them to supervise.”

The workplace is increasingly characterized by incidents of incivility and bullying and this may be part of a general societal trend, exacerbated by tough economic times.

A startling 37% of American workers—roughly 54 million people—have been bullied at work according to a 2007 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute. The consequences of such bullying have spread to families, and other institutions and cost organizations reduced creativity, low morale and increased turnover. According to the Institute, 40% of the targets of bulling never told their employers, and of those that did, 62% reported that they were ignored. According to a 2007 survey by Zogby International, almost 50% of the U.S. workers report they have experience or witnessed some kind of bullying—verbal abuse, insults, threats, screaming, sarcasm or ostracism. One study by John Medina showed that workers stressed by bullying performed 50% worse on cognitive tests. Other studies estimate the financial costs of bullying at more than $200 billion per year.

The recent economic downturn, with layoffs and financial pressures on managers to perform may have exacerbated the bullying problem. Research conducted by Wayne Hochwarter and Samantha Englehardt at Florida State University concluded that “employer-employee relations are at one of the lowest points in history,” with a significant decline in basic civility.

Pier M. Forni, author of The Civility Solution: What To Do When People Are Rude and director of The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University says, “In today’s American, incivility is on prominent display: in the schools, where bullying is pervasive; in the workplace, where an increasing number are more stressed out by coworkers than their jobs; on the roads, where road rage mains and kills; in politics where strident intolerance takes the place of earnest dialogue; and on the web, where man check their inhibitions at the digital door.” Gary Namie, a psychologist and co-founder of The Workplace Bullying Institute contends, “how in the world can we stop bullying in schools, in the workplace, in politics, when it is so close to our national character right now?”

While it’s difficult to argue with the necessity of leaders who produce results, it’s how those results are achieved that matter. And essential qualities of character and positive relationships are a fundamental component.

The touching story of Brandon Cook of New Hampshire and his cancer-stricken grandmother has gone viral on the Internet. When she was unable to eat the hospital soup, Cook tired to get her favorite clam chowder from Panera Bread on the day the store didn’t make it. As a result of a plea from Cook, Panera made the soup especially for Cook’s grandmother including a box of cookies as a gift from the staff.

Why did this and other stories like it strike such a chord with people?


Bill Taylor, writing in the Harvard Business Review blog network believes it is because of “the hunger among customers, employees and all of us to engage with companies on more than just dollars-and-cents terms. In a world that is being shaped by the relentless advance of technology what stand out are acts of compassion and connection that reminds us what it means to be human.” It reminded Taylor of a story that Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos told at a Princeton University convocation in which his grandmother chastised him by reminding him, “it’s harder to be kind than clever.”  Our business world focuses so much on being clever.

Annie McKee, and Richard Boyatzis, in their book, Resonant Leadership, argue “Research shows that positive emotions such as compassion have a decidedly constructive effect on neurological functioning, psychological well-being, physical health and personal relationships.”

In his book, It Worked For Me, Colin Powell, the former U.S. Joint Military Chief of Staff and Secretary of State, writes about an experience he had as a child in which his church welcomed an elderly priest in distress to become part of the community, and the experience of kindness that stayed with him. He says that kindness is not just about being nice, it is about recognizing another human being who deserves care and respect. Powell once told a senior staff meeting, “You can never err by treating everyone in the building with respect, thoughtfulness and a kind word.”  Powell says that being kind doesn’t mean being soft or a pushover.

As Peter Frost writes in this book, Toxic Emotions at Work, “all leaders create pain. It goes with the territory…leadership is about pushing the limits…Really good leaders take steps to mitigate, minimize or mop up the pain they create.”

In my article “Why Kindness Should Be A Required Leadership Characteristic,” in the National Post, I said, “so-called “soft-skills” or traits, such as kindness and compassion in leaders have often been seen as weaknesses.” In reality they are strengths.

Kindness is not the same as likeability. Rather, kindness implies an interpersonal closeness that comes with responsibility, vulnerability and an absence of self-interest. There is more than adequate evidence now that leaders who practice kindness, and where kindness is valued at work, create workplaces that people want to work in and are also very productive.

Daniel Goleman, in is book Destructive Emotions: A Dialogue With The Dalai Lama, writes that we are influenced by the Western view that we are essentially self, but rationally have to be nice to others to get what we want and that under stress, threat or scarcity we drop compassion. This contrasts to the Buddhist view, which says we are essentially compassionate by nature.

Christina Boedker of the Australian School of Business conducted a research study on the link between leadership and organizational performance and collected data from more than 5600 people in 77 organizations. She concluded that the ability of leaders to spend more time and effort developing and recognizing people, welcoming feedback, and fostering co-operation among staff were critical to success. Moreover, out of all the various elements in a business, the ability of a leader to be compassionate, “to understand people’s motivators, hopes and difficulties and to create the right support mechanism to allow people to be as good as they can be,” had the greatest correlation with profitability and productivity, Boedker concluded. A surprising finding in Boedker’s research is the finding that out of the four levels of leadership from the CEO through middle management to frontline managers, it’s the lowest level of leaders that drives a company’s profitability. Boards may want to consider that when pegging the CEOs compensation level.

Boedker’s research was consistent with that of Geoff Aigner, Director of Social Leadership Australia and on the faculty of the Australian School of Business. In his book, Leadership Beyond Good Intentions: What It Takes To Really Make a Difference, he contends that good management is ultimately an act of compassion

William Baker and Michael O’Malley, authors of Leading With Kindness argue that the practice of kindness in corporations has a positive impact on bottom line business results. They argue that a management style, which could be called transformational, that has these traits—compassion, integrity, gratitude, authenticity, humility and humor—improves employee performance and employee retention.

Stimulated by a series of meetings between the Dalai Lama and western neuroscientists and psychologists such as Dr. Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin, deep brain scans were conducted on the brains of Buddhist meditators using fMRIs and EEG machines. The results showed that a “loving-kindness” meditation that focused on empathetic and compassionate feelings about oneself and others “lights up” the left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with feelings of joy happiness, enthusiasm and resilience. Davidson’s research suggests that regular meditation with a focus on empathy and compassion can actually “rewire” the brain.

I came across a great post by Bill Taylor in the Harvard Business Review, in which he argues that the best recipe for our current negative times is to do something beautiful. Boston’s legendary Dan-Farber Cancer Institute, where sick kids get some of the best care in the world, is building a big new facility. The Boston Globe reported that every morning, in bitter temperatures during the winter, ironworkers showed up for work to complete the building. This amidst doom and gloom reports of the economy and layoffs and unemployment. It has become a beloved ritual at Dana-Farber: Every day, children who came to the clinic wrote their names on sheets of paper and taped them to the windows of the walkway for iron workers to see. And, every day, the iron workers painted the names onto I-beams and hoisted them into place as they added floors to the new 14-story Yawkey Center for Cancer Care. The building’s steel skeleton is now a brightly colored, seven-story monument to scores of children receiving treatment at the clinic. For the young cancer patients, who press their noses to the glass to watch new names added every day, the steel and spray-paint tribute has given them a few moments of joy and a towering symbol of hope.

Bill Taylor asks “why can’t each of us, in our daily work lives, take a small cue from those big-hearted iron workers?” They didn’t need a tax cut strategy or spending plan to give those children some hope, some optimism about the future. Taylor cites the example of Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, and the fast-growing, billion-dollar Internet retailer, who with his colleagues pride themselves on customer service. One of Zappos’ customers had tried to locate shoes for her hard to fit husband; ordered them, but before they arrived, he died. Zappos’ customer service personnel, aware of situation, sent flowers to the widow on behalf of the company A small gesture, yes, but meaningful to the widow? You bet.

Dachel Keltner, a University of California psychologist and author of Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, and a number of his fellow colleagues are building the case that humans are the successful dominant species because of our compassionate, kind, altruistic and nurturing traits. One of these studies has shown that many people are genetically predisposed to be empathetic.

“The new science of altruism and the physiological underpinnings of compassion is finally catching up with Darwin’s observations nearly 130 years ago that compassion is our strongest instinct,” argues Keltner. Jonathan Haidt, author of Righteous Mind, reflects the view of Edward O. Wilson, David Sloan Wilson and others who argue that when groups of animals compete, it’s the cohesive, cooperative, internally altruistic groups that win and pass on their genes.

Frans de Waal author of The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons For A Kinder Society. De Waal is a biologist, professor of psychology and director of the Living Link Center at Emory University. In 2007, Time magazine selected him as one of the world’s most influential people. The distinguished scientist says it is long overdue that we jettisoned our beliefs about human nature—proposed by economists and politicians—that human society is modeled on the perpetual struggle for survival that exists in nature. De Waal says this is mere projection on our part. Nature is replete with examples of cooperation and empathy.

Empathy, de Waal explains, is the social glue that holds human society together. He argues that modern psychology and neuroscience research supports the concept that “empathy is an automated response over which we have limited control.” He points to the fact that many animals survive not by eliminating each other, or by keeping everything for themselves, but by cooperating and sharing.

Given all we know about empathy in other animal species, why do we persist in seeing human existence, particularly in business, as a fight for survival, with winners and losers? De Waal calls this the “macho origin myth” which insists that the human species has been waging war on itself as millennia as a reflection of our true nature. What has been ignored is the fact that empathy has been evident during that entire time. De Waal points to a mass of examples of sacrifice, empathy, co-operation and fairness in humans and other animals’ species.

What does it take to be a kind, compassionate leader? Compassion and kindness comes from a place deep within us, and yet it seems there are too few opportunities to express it in the workplace and even fewer opportunities for leaders to demonstrate kindness and compassion.

Kind and compassionate leaders:

  1. Communicate openly and transparently with their employees and customers;
  2. Are flexible and adaptable, willing to set aside rules, regulations and traditions for the greater good;
  3. Express their emotions freely and openly;
  4. Lead by example, rather than by direction;
  5. Remove or decrease judgment and criticism of others as a motivational strategy.
  6. Manage their emotions productively and positively;
  7. Are mindful to the effect their words and actions have on others.


What does the practice of kindness and compassion do for organizations? It:

  • Increases people’s capacity for empathy and compassion;
  • Promotes positive relationships;
  • Decreases the prevalence of toxic viral negative emotions and behavior;
  • Increases optimism and hope;
  • Builds resilience and energy levels;
  • Counteracts the negative effects of judgment and bias.


Given all we know about the need for kind, compassionate and empathetic leaders, and the apparently increasing toxic workplace, isn’t it time to value and recruit leaders that embrace and exhibit kindness and compassion?






I’m Successful Because I’m Beautiful: New Evidence That Makes the Link Between Physical Attractiveness and Success

Posted August 19th, 2012 in Articles, Blogs by admin

We can’t all be  Brad Pitt or Angelie Jolie, or sculpted like a 6 foot 5 Olympic athelete, but what we may lack in looks, we can make up in intelligence. Or so the common argument goes, which may be more myth than fact.

The British National Child Development study conducted by Daniel Nettle of the Open University shows that the taller men are, the less likely they were to be single or childless, concluding that taller men are deemed more sexually attractive and more likely to find a mate. “In choosing a husband, size matters,” Dr. Nettle argues, echoing a well-known phrase. A study by researchers at the University of Florida, the University of North Carolina and the University of Pittsburgh found tall people earned considerably more money throughout their careers than shorter workers. Not that all men who are successful are necessarily tall or attractive. For example, Bill Gates is 5 foot 9 inches; Jack Welch at 5 feet 8 inches and billionaire Jim Pattison at barely 5 feet 7 inches. Most male movie stars such as Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson are well below the average male height.

Researchers at the London School of Economics studied 52,000 people in the U.K. and U.S., and their results were conclusive: Attractive men have IQs 13.6 points above average, while attractive women score 11.4 points higher. “Physical attractiveness is significantly positively associated with general intelligence,” said the lead researcher, Satoshi Kanazawa. The research was published in the professional journal Intelligence. In what many would regard as a controversial perspective, Kanazawa says, “our contention that beautiful people are more intelligent is purely scientific,” adding, “it is not a prescription for how to great or judge others.”

According to Dr. Gordon Patzer, who has concluded 3 decades of research on physical attractiveness, human beings are hard-wired to respond more favorably to attractive people: “Good-looking men and women are generally regarded to be more talented, kind, honest and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts.” Patzer contends, “controlled studies show people go out of their way to help attractive people—of the same sex and opposite sex—because they want to be liked and accepted by good-looking people.”  Even studies of babies show they will look more intently and longer at attractive faces, Patzer argues.

Other studies, such as those by K.K. Dion and colleagues and A.G. Miller have found that people tend to think that more attractive people are also happier, outgoing, successful, kinder and have more positive traits. This is often reflected in myths and fairy tales throughout our history.

Have you ever noticed that in movies and TV shows, people in leadership positions are more attractive? Rice University professor Mikki Hebi’s research shows that “how your face looks can significantly influence the success of an interview.” Further, he found that “good-looking bosses were found to be more competent, collaborative and better delegators than their less attractive counterparts.”

Charles Feng of Stanford University, writing in the Journal of Young Investigators, contends as far back as Plato in ancient Greece, he wrote about the ideal proportions of a woman’s face. Today, science has demonstrated that symmetry has been proven to be inherently attractive to the human eye, in terms of the similarity between  the left and right sides of the face. Victor Johnson of New Mexico State University used a program called FacePrints, which shows viewers facial images of variable attractiveness in which viewers rate the images as a perfect 10 out of 10 in attractiveness were those images of almost perfect symmetry.

A University of Louisville study gave viewers a similar test, which included photos of Asians, Latinos and other ethic groups from 13 different countries. The results were the same, with respect to symmetry. Other research has pointed to men’s preference for women with a low waist-to-hip ration (WHRs).

Duke University researchers John Graham and his colleagues found CEOs are more likely than non-CEOs to be rated as competent looking. The team found that CEOs rated competent just by their appearance tended to higher incomes. A Tufts University study by psychologists Nicholas Rule and Nalini Ambady found a random sample of people could rate the competence, dominance, likeability , maturity and trustworthiness just by examining the facial photographs of CEOs.

Elaine Wong and her team at the University of Wisconsin analyzed photos of 55 male CEOs of large companies and the companies’ return on assets. The study found that companies with CEOs who have a higher facial width relative to facial height perform better financially. The group included former CEOs Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines and Bob Allen of AT&T. Similarly, researchers at the University of Toronto and University of California found that female faces were deemed most attractive if the vertical distance between the eyes and the mouth was 36% of the face’s length and the horizontal distance between the eyes was 46% of the facial width.

A University of British Columbia study found that people identify the personality traits of people who re physically attractive more accurately than others during short encounters. The study showed a positive bias toward attractive people. “If people think Jane is beautiful and she is very organized and somewhat generous, people will see her as more organized and generous than she really is, says lead researcher Jeremy Biesanz. The researchers argue that people are motivated to pay closer attention to beautiful people.

Daniel Hamermesh, author of Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, argues the belief that attractiveness is subjective is a myth: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Hamermesh writes, “but most beholders view beauty similarly.” Hamermesh also argues that unattractive individuals are “disadvantage,” in the same way those might be physically disabled or lacking intelligence, and therefore are vulnerable to discrimination. So during a recession such as we have been experiencing, attractive people will have a better chance of keeping of finding a job, and securing credit than less attractive people, he contends. This creates legal issues, he says, for less attractive people to sue for compensation for potential loss of earnings.

Hamermesh contends his research shows that attractive people charm interviewers, get hired and promoted faster, are more likely to make more sales and get paid better. You would think that the importance of attractiveness depends on the type of occupation—for example, being an actor, entertainer or broadcaster. But Hamermesh says it applies to all occupations, but more in some than others.

Some would argue that making judgments based on physical attractiveness is not a bad thing, particularly for women. Catherine Hakim, a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, and author of the book, Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom, advances a controversial perspective, suggesting professional women should use their “erotic capital”—beauty, sex appeal, charm, dress sense, liveliness, and fitness—to get ahead at work. Hakim is an expert on women’s employment and theories of female status in society. According to her, the “beauty premium” is an important economic factor in our careers, citing a U.S. survey that fond good-looking lawyers earn between 10-12% more than less attractive colleagues. “Meritocracies are supposed to champion intelligence, qualifications and experience. But physical and social attractive deliver substantial benefits in all social interaction—making a person more persuasive, able to secure the co-operation of colleagues, attract customers and sell products,” she writes in a column for a London newspaper.

Dario Maestripieri, a professor of comparative human development, evolutionary biology and neurobiology at the University of Chicago, writing in Psychology Today.com, argues that the reason we favor attractive people is “good looking people are more appealing as potential sex partners, and other people choose to interact with them…so as to increase the chances to have sex with them” This ends up in subtle biases in man forms from buying to hiring.

Feng argues that “attractive people tend to be more intelligent, better adjusted, and more popular. This is described as the halo effect…attractive people are indeed more successful.” On the other hand, Feng says, another explanation is that “we automatically categorize others before having an opportunity to evaluate their personalities, based on cultural stereotypes, which say attractive people must be intrinsically good, and less attractive people must be inherently bad.” He cites the work of Elliot Anderson, a social psychologist at Stanford University who believes self-fulfilling prophesy—in which a person’s confident self-perception, further perpetuated by healthy feedback from others—plays a role in success.

There are detractors and critics of the cited research, however. There is no evidence that these results are actually favored in evolutionary terms, argues Adam Eyre-Walker from the Center for the Study of Evolution at the University of Sussex, contending that it may be instead the influence of culture: “We are taught to look upon tall men and small women as desirable, he says. So our preference for attractive people has been culturally created is not hard-wired in the human species?

The question for many is “Is it fair?”  Hamermesh believes it is a form of discrimination, not unlike other forms of discrimination.

Whether we like it or not, and whether it’s less a case of cause and effect than correlation, in Western culture, which is highly influenced by media and advertising, research shows beauty matters; it pervades our society and how we choose our leaders, our loved ones and friends, bosses and co-workers. On the other hand, making judgments and decisions about people in terms of relationships, hiring, promotion and compensation solely based upon physical attractiveness—or even being influenced by it—is clearly discriminatory and ultimately harmful. The question remains, what is to be done about it?




Why every CEO needs a coach

Posted August 14th, 2012 in Articles, Blogs by admin

The job of a CEO has never been more challenging and rewarding. However, the job can be a lonely one despite the generous compensation, perks and attention. Boards, and CEOs are increasingly turning to engaging professional executive coaches to assist CEOs in their performance and growth and reduce attrition.

Why should CEOs have coaches now? Previous generations managed without them. Today’s president or CEO faces more pressures than ever. Business leaders are dealing with rapidly changing markets, technologies and workforces, increased financial and legal scrutiny . . . and more. Top executives who feel that they can handle it all by themselves are more likely to burn out, make poor decisions or make no decisions – potentially resulting in significant loss of opportunities, human resources and financial resources. The job of CEO is unique from several perspectives: No one else needs to hear the truth more, and gets it less from employees; no one else is the focus of criticism when things go wrong; no one else is the final decision maker on difficult and often lose-lose decisions; and finally, no one else enjoys the almost hero-celebrity status and rewards.

The success rate and longevity of top executives is vast different than a generation ago. In the past two decades, 30% of Fortune 500 CEOs have lasted less than 3 years. Top executive failure rates as high as 75% and rarely less than 30%. Chief executives now are lasting 7.6 years on a global average down from 9.5 years in 1995. According to the Harvard Business Review, 2 out of 5 new CEOs fail in their first 18 months on the job. It appears that the major reason for the failure has nothing to do with competence, or knowledge, or experience, but rather with hubris and ego and a leadership style out of touch with modern times. Research shows when someone assumes a new or different leadership role they have a 40% change of demonstrating disappointing performance. Furthermore, 82% of newly appointed leaders derail because they fail to build partnerships with subordinates and peers.

Sydney Finkelstein, author of Why Smart Executives Fail, researched several spectacular failures during a six-year period. He concluded that these CEOs had similar deadly habits of which most were related to unchecked egos. David Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo, in their book, Why CEOs Fail: The 11 Behaviors That Can Derail Your Climb To The Top And How To Manage Them, present 11 cogent reasons why CEOs fail, most of which have to do with hubris, ego and a lack of emotional intelligence. Call it overconfidence or ego, but powerful and successful leaders often distrust or feel they don’t need advice from anyone.

A study by Kelly See, Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison, and Naomi Rothman, published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision, concluded one characteristic of powerful and successful leaders is high levels of self-confidence. Unfortunately, the researchers say, the higher the self-confidence, the less likely these leaders are open to advice and feedback. They also make the point that powerful leaders seldom get useful feedback in their organizations. Subordinates are loath to give bad news or critical feedback, and many boards are not diligent in seeing feedback for performance improvement, particularly relationships, as important as other things, such as financial results. See and her colleagues also contend that today’s leaders are under enormous stresses. These stresses often produce anxiety, fear and physical illness, which strong leaders are hesitant to divulge over concern about judgments that may be made about their capacities or longevity.

Why is this leadership crisis happening? One reason may be the gaps between how leaders see themselves and how others see them. Call it self-awareness. These blind spots can be career limiting. The wider the gap, the more resistance there is to change. It also makes it difficult to create a positive organizational culture where openness and honesty are not encouraged.

Good leaders make people around them successful. They are passionate and committed, authentic, courageous, honest and reliable. But in today’s high-pressure environment, leaders need a confidante, a mentor, or someone they can trust to tell the truth about their behavior. They rarely get that from employees and infrequently from board members.

Paul Michelman, writing in the Harvard Business Review Working Knowledge, cites the fact that most major companies now make coaching a core part of their executive development programs. The belief is that one-on-one personal interaction with an objective third party can provide a focus that other forms of organizational support cannot. A 2004 study by Right Management Consultants found 86% of companies used coaches in their leadership development program.

Marshall Goldsmith, a high profile coach of leaders in Fortune 500 companies and author of The Leader of the Future, argues leaders need coaches when “they feel that a change in behavior—either for themselves or their team members—can make a significant difference in the long-term success of the organization.”

Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Google, who said that his best advice to new CEOs was “have a coach.” Schmidt goes on to say “once I realized I could trust him [the coach] and that he could help me with perspective, I decided this was a great idea…” Mike Myatt says in his article, The Benefits of a Top CEO CoachExecutives who rise to the C-suite do so largely based upon their ability to consistently make sound decisions. However while it may take years of solid decision making to reach the boardroom it often times only takes one bad decision to fall from the ivory tower. The reality is that in today’s competitive business world an executive is only as good as his/her last decision, or their ability to stay ahead of contemporaries and competitors.”

Douglas McKenna, writing in Forbes magazine, argues that the top athletes in the world, and even Barack Obama, have coaches. In his study of executive coaching, McKenna, who is CEO and Executive Director for the Center for Organizational Leadership at The Oceanside Institute, argues that executive coaches should be reserved for everyone at C-level, heads of major business units or functions, technical or functional wizards and high-potential young leaders.

Despite its popularity, many CEOs and senior executives are reluctant to report that they have a coach, says Jonathan Schwartz, one-time President and CEO of Sun Microsystems, who had an executive coach himself. Steve Bennett, former CEO of Intuit says, “At the end of the day, people who are high achievers—who want to continue to learn and grow and be effective—need coaching.”

John Kador, writing in CEO Magazine, argues that while board members can be helpful, most CEOs shy away from talking to the board about their deepest uncertainties. Other CEOs can lend a helping ear, but there are barriers to complete honesty and trust. Kador writes, “No one in the organization needs an honest, close and long term relationship with a trusted advisor more than a CEO.” Kador reports conversations with several high profile CEOs: “Great CEOs, like great athletes, benefit from coaches that bring a perspective that comes from years of knowing [you], the company and what [you] need to do as a CEO to successfully drive the company forward,” argues William R. Johnson, CEO of the H.J. Heinz Co., “every CEO can benefit from strong, assertive and honest coaching.” The cost of executive coaches, particularly a good one, is not cheap,” but “compared to the decisions CEOs make, money is not the issue,” says Schwartz, “if you have a new perspective, if you feel better with your team, the board and the marketplace, then you have received real value.”

The much asked question about coaching is its ROI. The majority of studies including a major one by Joy McGovern and her colleagues at the research firm, Manchester, indicated that the executives who received coaching valued the service between $100,000 to $1 million ROI. Joyce Russell, the Dean of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland contends that once considered a concern of an employee or executive was assigned a coach, now it is viewed as a privilege and a sign that the organization values the executive’s contributions and is willing to invest money in their future growth and development.

Robert Lee former President and CEO of the Center for Creative Leadership provided a research study for the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology regarding the use of executive coaches in organizations. He identified the most common areas of focus which included: dealing with paradox and ambiguity; shared power; personal visibility vs. private persona; interpersonal distance vs. personal closeness; narcissism and pride vs. humility; approachability vs. tough mindedness; emotional openness vs. rationality and logic; empowering and enabling vs. directive and forcefulness; extroversion vs. introversion; leading from the heart vs. leading from the head; ethics and morality vs. pragmatism and the ends justifies the means.

In my Financial Post articles, Top Dogs are Lonely,The Second Fastest Growing Profession and The Seven Deadly Habits of CEOs, I outlined what is now common practice for CEOs–hiring a personal executive coach–and how that helps them perform better.Professional executive coaches can help leaders grow and improve performance, reduce or eliminate their blind spots and be open to constructive feedback, not only reducing the likelihood of failure, and premature burnout but also provide an atmosphere in which the executive can express fears, failures and dreams. Smart CEOs and progressive organizations now realize the value of a good CEO coach.