For the past 10 years, I’ve been immersed helping leaders and leadership teams develop more robust skills to help guide and shape their organizations, the markets they compete in, and the communities they operate in. I often see short-termism crippling boards, executive teams, and seasoned managers.
Short-termism is the infatuation with short-term projects, objectives and outcomes that produces a neglect of long-range initiatives. As a result, short-termism inherently brings with it far-reaching and often unexamined risks and many unintended detrimental consequences.Such as:
- Leadership vision shrinks.
- Execution gets consumed by managing day-to-day contexts.
Just recently, I had a fairly typical conversation with one of the CEO’s I’m working with. His executive team needs to develop the skills that enable them to be more proactive. Currently they are too reactive. He wants them to think bigger. And he wants action from them that’s bold. But he can’t transform his company and revolutionize the industry he operates in as he envisions it if his leadership team is just putting out today’s fires without an eye on the horizons of his vision.
In my opinion, short-termism is one of the key challenges facing humanity. While we must be able to execute effectively in our current short-term contexts, we have to pay attention to how the short term can take over our attention. Even while we’re responding to urgency in the moment, we have to maintain our ability to influence the contexts with which we find ourselves in—not just react to them.
Similar to leadership, coaching all too frequently gets consumed by short-termism, in which the coach focuses on one session at a time, working with what’s in the “here and now” without broader strategic outcomes. Or perhaps a client purchases a dozen sessions where a coach limits their relationship to 12 calls and some e-mails. Or even a six- or nine-month program where the coach closely monitors progress over the coming months. While each of these move us into larger contexts (single sessions, session packages and then into programs) in my opinion they haven’t necessarily even begun to reach beyond the limits of short-termism.
Not even close!
I share the opinion of many strategy experts that if a company direction isn’t visioned for and managed over the course of at least a decade, it’s not really a viable business strategy. I tend to think similarly about people. If I am not tending to the next decade of my clients’ lives, then I’m probably not focusing on what deeply matters to this person beyond their more surface contexts and day-to-day challenges.
With my clients, the question that shifts my attention outside of the limits of short-termism is, can this relationship (me and my client) be of value to my client when they die?
In an instant I’m no longer a normal coach having an ordinary coaching conversation. I’m still able to tend to all of the particular details of my client’s lives, their current demands and real challenges. I’m present to these contexts, and yet something else inside of my heart is listening to more. Some other dimension of me is curious about what’s not being said, what’s not being grappled with, and ultimately what really matters to this person.
When I allow these curiosities into the conversations I have with my clients, short-term coaching outcomes disappear. While we may only be committed to working together for 6 or 12 months, the scope of our work and engagement reaches far beyond our economic exchanges. The intimate relationship that we create together has much more value. And it is to this value I’ll add two points that connect “short termism” to invisibly limiting structures in the economics of coaching.
First, people are willing to invest more into coaching contexts that both hold and generate greater value. This point has significant implications to your economic engine as a coach.
If we play the game of short-termism, we’re invariably looking for the next client. You’ll notice the characteristic feel of needing to put yourself out there to attract new clients.
My assertion suggests we’re not more effectively investing our engagement with the clients who are already working with us. One impact is that we begin to structure our businesses to keep our clients at a distance from us—protecting time for chasing down future coaching relationships.
Marketing may be an important part of growing the economic generativity of your coaching practice. Speaking at conferences, writing our books, networking at trainings and so forth are likely to be important parts. However, the heart of what grows coaching practices are what your clients say about you. My suggestion is that you engage more deeply with your current clients. Give them more of you. Invite them deeper into relationship with you. Challenge yourself to create a coaching relationship that’s more value for both of you. And, if you see yourself backing away from more robust and whole-hearted engagements with your clients because you’re more focused on who and what is next, stop.
To the coaches out there operating with more energy towards your outreach than you are your clients: Are you ready to stop? Are you ready to risk giving more with your clients today and in return build a more meaningful relationship that will nurture you in multifaceted ways?
Second, operating in short-term coaching arrangements implicitly enrolls smaller visions, goals and initiatives. Again, we’re playing with less value from the start.
I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t include a focus on short-term challenging goals that have more limited outcomes. We absolutely should! But, we are fools to limit ourselves to these contexts. And, as coaches we are stunting ourselves and our clients by tailoring a coaching relationship to this constrained aspirations.
The more mature dimensions of ourselves can grasp hold of, and operate in, the broader contexts of your entire life span and beyond. Expanding your own time frames from which you operate is a simple and accessible way to develop yourself. And, as it turns out, when we expand the time frame of our commitments to serve our clients, it is possible that clients may also benefit for many decades beyond our coaching calls too. It’s possible that our influence might even shift an entire generation of people being raised and mentored by our clients.
So next time you find yourself lost in the weeds with your clients, or bumping up against an unexamined assumption of what you’re willing to give, or where your coaching “ends,” consider what matters more deeply to you and your clients. Are you willing to allow your client to impact your life in ways that matter to you in the end? And, are you bold enough to risk relating to your clients in ways that may just impact them for decades to come?
If so, how?
I challenge you to discover something extraordinary together. Tend to something that requires real and hard sacrifices to come to fruition. Sacrifice more together so you can generate more value together.
This is the game I’d like to warmly welcome you into.
Welcome. Let’s play!
Rob McNamara is cofounder of the Leadership Development consultancy Delta Developmental, a Leadership Coach and author of The Elegant Self. A leading expert on adult development and human performance, his coaching services help individuals increase their scope of influence where it matters most personally and professionally.
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