I got a call from a salesman looking for my help to close a business owner. The salesman was frustrated because the owner so needed the product but was not making a decision, though he was willing to keep talking.

The business owner was tired and frantically busy as his company grew past 100 employees. He was traveling more and more, continually meeting prospective clients, reviewing active projects, and checking on employees. He was proudly a stickler for quality and involved with every detail. His company’s reputation for excellent work was a foundation of their success and growth.

My immediate response was, “Wow! He must have a terrible time retaining key employees.”

“How did you know that?” the salesman exclaimed, “He says that’s his #1 problem.”

“Of course it is. The best people don’t want to be micro-managed. The creative, responsible, and growth-oriented employees are going to run from him like fleeing a fire. He’s going to be left with the people who need to be monitored.”

The CEO of $5B SunGard learned this the hard way:

[I had] a huge disagreement with somebody who worked for me directly, and he ended up quitting shortly thereafter. And it wasn’t that the decision that we disagreed on was so big. It was more that, to him, it just wasn’t as much fun anymore. He felt he could do more, and I was in his way. I was chasing away somebody extremely valuable, and that is when I realized I never would have put up with that myself. If you start micromanaging people, then the very best ones leave.

SunGard CEO practices what I preach.

The catch is: his passion for control seems to be what made the company successful. Why would he stop doing what he is certain got him to the top?

Before I suggest an answer let me share another personal experience.

Soon after I began coaching CEOs I had a startling moment of satisfaction and terror followed by a crucial insight. I was thrilled to be coaching chief executives and business owners. At the same instant, I was aware that my coaching clients were the most successful and effective people I knew. How could I presume to help them?

The crucial insight was that each of them had taken their particular strength as far as it could go. They couldn’t do it any better, harder, or for longer hours. That skill was used completely; it could take them no further. That horse had been ridden into the ground but the trip wasn’t over. This proved to be true not only of my first coaching clients but of virtually every business person I have coached.

Many players depend too heavily on a talent for one area or another, which limits their growth and their success. … You must work to discover and eliminate the weaker parts of your game. For me, this has always meant controlling my desire for action and stopping to consider when it might be counterproductive.

—Garry Kasparov
World Chess Champion

How Life Imitates Chess:
Making The Right Moves,
From The Board To The Boardroom p. 143

Almost no one is capable of seeing for themselves that their most effective strength has become their limiting behavior. A good coach will not only make this clear but help the client exercise new, more appropriate strengths.

One client developed his skill at delegation to supplement the charisma that had built his organization. Another saw that his skill at assimilating and analyzing massive amounts of information kept him overly involved in operations although his new role required his unique vision and global insight. Recovering control freaks came to see that their passion for quality was what really mattered and that mentoring, leading, and inspiring the team were the only “scalable” means of ensuring high quality.

It is not easy to show highly successful people the wisdom of resting their most reliable tool but it may be the most powerful service an executive coach provides.

Plus, it’s just science.

See also: Is ease of access destroying your management?

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