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Stephen Walker

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Working with the board – part one


Over a two-part series, Stephen Walker looks at what it takes to work with the board, how to position yourself with a relevant brand and get noticed by the relevant clients.

Board level clients have a particular set of qualities and needs and they must be addressed in the design of the coaching.

It isn’t a matter of selling to these clients but rather a matter of being found. Your specialism has to be widely broadcast and what you broadcast has to be of value or your brand withers and dies!

Internet-based technology makes this very easy to do but producing enough of your own specialist content is a challenge.


There is research evidence to show that inadequate skills in the boardroom are reducing the value of those organisations. When you consider the range of skills needed in a thriving organisation to develop, innovate and generally reinvent them every few years, this development need is not surprising.

You may see this as a lucrative market. Simply polish up your brand and put your prices up and deliver the same old stuff at a higher price! If that was once possible I hope it isn’t anymore. The clients are more savvy thanks to social media and personal networks outflanking promotional activity. I received an email series from someone selling his ‘how to be a millionaire’ process. I expect you had it too?

It was a simple tale. He had bought a white label training package, videos, books, webinars, CDs, the whole works, and had branded it and sold it as bespoke custom training. He made a million. And lost it quite quickly too.

You and I want to deliver training that has real value that actually makes a difference to our clients.

One other problem in this market is that every MD and executive on gardening leave suddenly becomes a coach. No doubt that their background opens doors for them and I am sure some had a coaching style in their job. Generally though, people bring their tried and trusted solutions to market instead of developing their clients’ ability to create their own solutions. It all leaves a cloud over the industry.

The clients

You don’t get to be in an executive position in a significant organisation unless you are good at something. Most of us start with a 'technical' skill, be it accountancy, law, engineering for example. That skill takes us into a technical role in which we rise to a senior position. We know about the issues of taking a brilliant salesman and promoting him or her to be a terrible sales manager. The skills needed to manage salesmen are different from those a salesman needs.

You can see how as the executives climb the corporate pyramid their technical skills become less helpful, still valid for sure, but the job demands are different.

The new manager needs management skills and the new executive needs leadership skills. Admittedly most jobs are a mix of the two but clearly the more senior roles are about inspiration, direction and vision.

These successful people face a series of challenges.

Organisation growth

In a 1972 article in the Harvard Business Review, Larry Greiner wrote about the different management requirements as an organisation grew. In fact he went further and said the different skills needed at each stage, carried the seeds of their own destruction. As the organisation succeeded and grew, the skills that made that possible poisoned the body corporate. My blog, management skills for the growing organisation, is a brief introduction.

Most obviously as an organisation grows there is a crisis of delegation. The founder has recruited managers and directors but still continues running the show him or herself. Clearly the founder’s passion and drive made them successful, now the same behaviour undermines the organisation and poisons further growth.

At each stage there are different needs to meet the new demands of co-ordinating the activity of more people and providing the leadership, direction and vision to keep everyone together.

There are definite skills needed to do this that tend not to come with the technical qualification.

The persona

Board directors and executives are competent, successful and confident. A lack of those characteristics will stop the career progression eventually.

The key to continuing career progression is to recognise that existing bundle of abilities and to believe improvement is always possible.

Another characteristic of successful people is being time poor. They already fill every minute with valuable activity, business or personal, and so finding the time to develop themselves is a major decision.

As coaches, we need to be aware of our clients’ needs and provide our services in a format that best suits them.

Another characteristic which serves them well in their career is a healthy degree of scepticism. Put simply it means they ask why they should believe you.

These characteristics demand three attributes in the coach’s delivery, which we will examine in more detail in part two.

Stephen is a co-founder of Motivation Matters, set up in 2004 to develop organisation behaviour to drive greater performance. He has worked for notable organisations such as Corning, De La Rue and Buhler and has been hired to help Philips, Lloyds TSB and a raft of others. A published author of articles and Conference speaker, Stephen delivers workshops across the country. It is all about “making people more effective by appropriate managerial behaviour” he says. You can follow Stephen on LinkedInTwitterYouTube and Blog.


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