Executive leadership

David Brendel is the founder and director of Leading Minds Executive Coaching, LLC. We recently spoke with David about how corporate leaders handle change and career transitions.

Tell us a bit about your background. Why did you choose to leverage your expertise in psychiatry to focus on executive coaching?

Executive coaches leverage many of the same skills as psychiatrists. Both need to foster engaging dialogues that empower clients to deepen their self-awareness and implement action plans for success. Executive coaching allows me to put this skill set to good use in my work with a wide range of clients who are striving to develop leadership skills such as strategic thinking, effective communication, self-confidence, stress management, and work/life balance.

Finish this sentence: “Based on my experience, one of the biggest myths that people have about executives and corporate leaders is…”

…that they feel as self-confident as they appear.

When you’re coaching executives who are going through a major career transition, what are some of the biggest challenges that they usually need help with?

Whether the career transition is positive (such as a promotion) or negative (such as a layoff), executives may feel overwhelmed, fearful, and generally stressed. They often struggle to tolerate change and uncertainty about the future. Under these conditions, they may lose focus on the mindset shifts and behavioral strategies that will be required as they transition into a new job role. Executive coaching can help them to navigate these daunting challenges effectively.

What are some of the most common stressors for executives that they may not necessarily be aware of?

Common stressors of this kind are novel situations in which executives need to stretch beyond their comfort zone. Individuals transitioning from operational roles to management roles may not realize immediately that they now must prioritize their interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, and strategic thinking. If they only rely upon (or overuse) their technical know-how, they can experience frustration and irritability with people on their teams. Executives can overcome this stress when they recognize the new priorities, improve their interpersonal communication, and attend to high-level strategic tasks.

How can a leader become more relatable to his/her subordinates without compromising his/her authority?

It can be challenging for a leader to balance emotional connectedness and appropriate professional boundaries. This can be especially difficult if the leader’s subordinates are of a similar age and/or if they previously worked together at the same level in the organization.

The leader should focus primarily on developing warm, supportive, and encouraging relationships within the bounds of the work role. The leader may frequently need to pause and reflect on what the role requires, rather than what would feel good in the moment. He or she then must work hard to conform his or her behaviors accordingly. Eventually, these behavioral changes will solidify as habits and set the tone for healthy professional interactions.

From a psychology standpoint, what are some of the benefits of an adventure-style team building event?

When run well, these kinds of events can enhance interpersonal bonding, trust, and emotional connectedness. They can stimulate the brain’s limbic system, which mediates these powerful social processes. Relating to colleagues outside the usual workplace has an equalizing effect and allows them to see each other’s common humanity. It may provide a context in which people can safely express vulnerability and compassion. When people see these human traits in others within a structured “adventure” venue outside the office, they are more likely to transfer these positive feelings back to the workplace, thereby enhancing trustful collaboration.

When a leader is planning and/or overseeing a team building exercise, what are some important things that he or she must keep in mind?

The most essential thing to consider is the team’s psychological safety. Before designing the event, the leader can ensure “buy-in” from team members by discussing the goals of the exercise and the nature of the activities it will include. The team is more likely to invest in (and benefit from) the exercise if they’ve had the opportunity to shape it. Individuals should be allowed to opt out of participating without negative judgment or recrimination. If one or more team members decline to participate, however, it is incumbent upon the leader to inquire discreetly as to why people are making this choice. This information might reveal problematic team dynamics that are worth addressing, both for the sake of the team building exercise itself and the healthy functioning of the team more generally.

In the future, what will be some of the most important traits and qualities that companies will look for in their executives?

Companies increasingly will look beyond “quantitative” technical skills and ensure that their executives also have “qualitative” skills including social intelligence, empathy, resilience, curiosity, and creativity. They will seek leaders who proactively manage stress, respect members of their teams, inspire others, and lead with vision and values. People innately have these human traits and qualities to varying extents and can enhance them through training, coaching, and other approaches that foster insight and self-awareness. The resulting behavioral changes can promote meaningful personal development and remarkable business growth.

Want to learn more about utilizing adventure to improve the cohesiveness of your team and company? Contact Matt Walker Adventure today!