The 12 Steps of Executive Coaching: Part II

This month, we continue our discussion of applying the 12 Step model of recovery to leadership development. For the first half of this discussion, click here. Now, without further ado:

Traditional Step 7: We humbly asked our higher power to remove our shortcomings.

  • Executive Coaching Step 7: Asking others for accountability to recognize and address those shortcomings

As we mentioned in the last installment, accountability fosters an attitude of curiosity, growth, and continuous improvement. As a 21st Century Leader, your main goal is to create an environment in which your team wants to achieve the same outcomes you do. As such, we invite our coachees to regularly inquire of their subordinates and peers, “Are we moving in the direction we said we wanted to go?  Am I moving us in the direction we said we wanted to go?  People follow people, not goals, companies, or orders. True leaders strive to connect with their subordinates in real and authentic ways, so that everyone knows, ‘we’re in this together.’


Traditional Step 8: We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

  • Executive Coaching Step 8: Making a list of wrongs done to others and being willing to make amends for those wrongs

Accountability is meaningless without redress, so 21st Century Leaders also strive to make wrong things right. The 360-Degree Assessment is the best way we’ve found to build the list of what has gone wrong, so that the coachee can begin to understand their actions as they are received by others, as well as develop new ways of interacting with colleagues.


Traditional Step 9: We made direct amends to persons we harmed whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

  • Executive Coaching Step 9: Following up with those who anonymously participated in our 360 assessment

Following the 360-Degree Assessment, we ask coachees to meet individually with each person who participated, thank them sincerely for their anonymous feedback, and to share with them key things the coachee heard in the aggregated assessment results as well as discuss the actions they plan to take to strengthen or eliminate certain behaviors.


Traditional Step 10: We continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, we promptly admitted it.

  • Executive Coaching Step 10: Continuing to take professional inventory and admitting when one is wrong

In our opinion, the practice of vulnerability is one of the most difficult skills to master at the corporate executive level, but it is so critical to connecting with those we would lead and those we want to collaborate with. For over a century, American management was primarily predicated on the paramilitary ‘command and control’ model, which really didn’t allow for someone in leadership to openly admit their mistakes, to own up to not having a ready solution, or to having thrown someone under the bus.

However, ‘command and control’ is no longer an effective approach to leadership in the 21st Century. If we are to convince those we would lead of the wisdom and benefit of following us, it’s far easier when they can identify with our humanity—that is, when we’re willing to say:
I don’t know.
I really screwed that last decision up.
I went to the boss behind your back; I regret it and I apologize.
This is a pretty big mess I’ve gotten us into, but with your help, I’m going to get us out of it.

As our experience has shown us time and again, the effective 21st Century Leader knows the benefit of and demonstrates a willingness to be situationally vulnerable. Candidly, the organizational culture should support this behavior. If it does not, the culture should be changed or exited.


Traditional Step 11: We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with our higher power.

  • Executive Coaching Step 11: Seeking connection with colleagues via mindfulness and emotional intelligence

Among the tools for leadership development we’ve collected over the past ten years, the two most helpful have surely been mindfulness and emotional intelligence. These two skills, when used in concert, help us to notice our own and others’ emotional states, and to skillfully react to and/or manage them to the best outcomes for all involved. Coachees who work with us learn to resist the lizard brain’s hijacking of behaviors, to suspend initial emotional reactions, and to take time for a thoughtful response to unexpected or disappointing information. Over time, coachees build a reputation for measured, reliable, and approachable dispositions, which encourage stronger teams, better assignments, and career advancement.


Traditional Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others who are struggling and in need, and to practice these principles throughout life.

  • Executive Coaching Step 12: Carrying the message of the 12 Steps to others in need

Like all behavioral change programs, we encourage coachees to model and teach their newfound skills to others. Showing others that there is a better way can help make healthy workplaces and successful careers a reality for everyone.

For this week: What step are you on? What steps do you need to go back and revisit? What steps do you struggle to see how to even approach? Navigating change and growth can be hard—that’s why most traditional 12-step programs include having a sponsor as a requirement. In the world of leadership development, that sponsor is often a coach or mentor. If executive coaching and leadership development sounds like a journey with your (or one of your team member’s…) name on it, let’s talk!