Exclusive interview with executive coach, Jim Wetrich
Leadership and executive coaching insight
James G. Wetrich
Director – Professional Coaches Global Board
CEO Today recently had the great pleasure of, once more, speaking with James G. Wetrich, or “Big Red,” to those that know him well. Jim is a certified executive coach, a member of the ICF professional coaches’ board, and a WSJ Best Selling author. The last time we spoke with Jim about his coaching practice, this time around, we explore what’s changed since the end of the pandemic in terms of management and coaching and how Jim likes to work with his clients in the spirit of creativity, and how he fosters commitment.
In your previous interview, you spoke of the management and leadership playbooks being turned upside by the pandemic – now that things have settled down somewhat, do you feel that management styles are still in flux? If so, how does this manifest?
This is a fascinating question as I am seeing two opposing approaches, some leaders who are defaulting to what they know and how they used to manage and others who are working hard to be more agile and nimble and apply lessons learned from the pandemic.
Also, what advice do you give to management teams who now manage remotely?
They have to work even harder to create non-transactional, non-business-focused interactions among the team member and, most importantly, to create breaks in the day and hard separations from work and not let work and non-work become one. As you may have seen, our US Surgeon General recently released a report on loneliness and isolation…this 100% WFH may not be the best for many of us…we have to work even harder to create community and a sense of belonging to ensure our teams do not get isolated.
Holding up a mirror to influential people and asking tough questions is an intrinsic part of executive coaching. For example, how far do you go into non-business-related matters such as appearance, weight, or lifestyle choices, and how do you approach such sensitive issues? Has this ever backfired?
Well, this is most challenging today as most sessions are virtual and we often only see the proverbial tip of the iceberg on the screen. I prefer simply to focus on what little I can see and hear. I also ask the clients now to track a number of their personal parameters via a simple tool known as the body budget that was introduced to me in a recent course on neuroscience and coaching. The body budget I use asks clients to track mood, energy, focus, motivation, stress/ anxiety, diet, digestion, exercise, and sleep. That said, when you get to know a client, you can often see if they are stressed or more relaxed in how they sound and how they appear. I do very much focus on that.
You have previously spoken of the triple threat of arrogance, narcissism, and naivete regarding CEO behavior. When faced with such a challenging set of characteristics, what practical methods do you use to break this down and get behind the mask, as it were?
I use assessment-based coaching, and this is an area where a 360-degree assessment can be very helpful to the client and to me as the coach.
These areas also pop up during the sessions and I am very attentive to language and situations the client discusses that provide me the opportunity to dive into these areas. Self-confidence is terrific until it goes too far and becomes more like arrogance. Great leaders and managers focus outward on their team and reward and give credit to their teams and not to themselves. As a former associate justice of the US Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Conner is credited with saying, “We don’t accomplish anything in the world alone…and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something.”
How do you measure your client’s commitment to the coaching process? Do you have specific tests you employ?
I insist that my clients complete a prep form and email it to me a day before the session. My billing practice rewards those who are fully committed as they get the greatest value out of coaching. In addition, coaching is generally a long-term commitment, and I typically ask for an initial engagement of a long duration.
As an executive coach, you may encounter ethical dilemmas or challenging situations. How do you handle the complexities of ethical considerations in your coaching practice?
I send the latest version of the International Coaching Federation Code of Ethics to all my prospective clients (I am currently an elected member of the professional coaches’ board of the ICF). And I have an agreement that my clients must complete that discusses in detail their responsibilities and commitments and the ethical requirements of the engagement. The time to invest in this ethical orientation work is upfront and in detail to minimize any potential problems down the road.
Confidentiality is a critical aspect of executive coaching. How do you navigate the complexities of maintaining client confidentiality while ensuring organizational alignment and progress?
Again, this is a consideration very critical to define and spell out at the initiation of the coaching session with the sponsoring organization and the specific individual being coached. Coaching should be goal-oriented, and the sponsoring organization can clearly play a role in helping to identify areas where they would like to see change or growth, or development in the individual and, in doing so, can be a help in the feedback process to assess the progress against those goals.
Undesirable behaviors are often deep-rooted. Which questioning techniques do you employ to get underneath the drivers of sub-optimal behavior?
Changes in managerial and leadership approaches and styles are areas of deep expertise for me. If the challenge is truly deeply behavioral, I will refer the client to a licensed therapist. I also discuss this upfront at the beginning of the engagement with my clients as therapy is neither a specialty of mine nor do I hold a license in this area.
Can you share a simplified self-evaluation technique that the executives who read this interview can employ to help discover an undesirable behavior?
With the notion of change management in business (versus therapy), I think it is most useful to set small improvement goals. This is again where we can apply neuroscience to coaching. I recommend my clients use the notion behind the ‘progress loop’ by focusing on small wins.
What events or actions often prove to be the catalyst for a coaching intervention? Can you share real-world examples?
While this varies widely across the globe, most coaching in the US and the coaching that I am involved with is not corrective action where there is a need for an intervention. Rather, it is about partnering with clients in a deeply inspiring and creative process and setting goals to focus on maximizing their potential and growth.