Challenges and Rewards of Executive Advising

Leland Sandler Executive Advising

Leland Sandler helps teams surpass challenges and improve their leadership, team building, and communication skills.

With over 30 years of experience in education and executive advising, I have gained many rewarding experiences working with a wide range of clients. Working with a diverse group of individuals, however, means that every situation is unique, which can lead to certain obstacles and challenges the executive advisor must overcome.

Some of the major challenges an executive advisor may face while working with a client include:

  • Having a client who sees advising simply as a “nice to have” luxury rather than a necessity
  • Having a client who is not willing to confront their blind spots; or having a client who has identified their blind spots, but is not willing to engage in changes that will lead to successful growth
  • Working with a client who is not open to feedback on their performance or how they “show up”
  • Getting clients to make the necessary investment in themselves or in their teams (even with ROI data to support an investment)

To sum up these challenges, it can be difficult to work with a client who is not fully committed to making the necessary changes to improve themselves, their employee and team relationships, as well as their entire business. The first step to making a positive permanent change is to recognize the need for change and to prepare oneself to do whatever it takes to make that change a reality.

Once a client is committed to creating positive change, there are still a number of challenges they must work through with their executive advisor to excel in their position and bring their business to a higher level of success. Today’s business world is an uncertain, complex, and ever changing environment which has a large impact on the executive advising strategy. Some of the most challenging and significant advising strategies include:

  • Helping a client understand that every person is unique; having the ability to tolerate complexity and ambiguity is one of the most important aspects that make up a strong leader.
  • A leader has to be assessed in relation to the level of complexity their job or company is demanding of them. An executive advisor must look at how a leader copes and reacts to things like complexity, different perspectives, and abstractions and determine what the demands of the position are calling for.
  • Dealing with uncertainty calls for courage and openness; an advisor looks to help a client recognize the value of points of view that are different from their own. The advisor must help the client understand the value of being truly curious as to how others see a certain situation and what they propose to do about it.

However, once all is said and done, the final results of a successful advising experience far outweigh the challenges and difficulties faced along the way. Seeing an individual gain the courage to confront themselves and the strength to push forward through setbacks is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had as a professional. Executive advising is all about making real change happen; helping business leaders and teams discover different ways of communicating, making difficult decisions, and dealing with conflict.

The Role of an Executive Advisor

Leland Sandler Executive Advisor

Leland Sandler speaking at an HR conference in Zurich

An executive advisor plays a key role in establishing powerful and enduring change in businesses and organizations through a unique set of strategies and techniques. An executive advisor creates the conditions for individuals and teams to overcome their own internal barriers to change, to take stock of and transcend their own blind spots, and to see errors and weaknesses as prime opportunities for personal growth. Once the strategy for execution is established, the advisor helps the client instill the process, through practices, tools, techniques, and structure, that leads them to permanently change themselves for the better.

A professional may seek the service of an executive advisor for a number of reasons. Listed below are some of the most common roles an executive advisor takes on throughout his career:

  • Expand the ability of leaders and CEOs to deal with the increasing complexity of the world in which they operate in
  • Help professionals deal more effectively with a number of possible constituents including board members, direct reports, customers/clients, as well as business development relationships
  • Assist first time CEOs in need of a safe sounding board to help guide them and challenge them in areas where they do not yet have experience
  • Provide direct, honest feedback to professionals and someone to hold them accountable as they deal with important and challenging issues
  • Identify differences and issues between individual team members (work styles, communication, decision making, etc) and make concrete suggestions on how to better optimize execution and meeting their goals.

While it is important for the executive advisor to be experienced and knowledgeable to provide efficient advising service to the client, it is equally important for the client to be a good advising candidate. A good advising candidate is someone who is open to the possibility of personal change, no matter how successful he or she has been in the past. An executive advisor will work best with someone who is willing to stay the course even when they finally confront a key issue about themselves and/or their team.

A good advisor-client relationship is highly confidential and personal. It requires a great deal of trust on the part of both parties. Advising involvement can vary from meeting with a client every couple of weeks to attending key meetings as well as individual advising meetings each week.

The key to being a successful executive advisor is to be able to effectively identify the focal issue or opportunity that the client most wants to go after. The advisor then must spend a fitting amount of time with the client to provide the initial scaffolding and structure necessary to bring about permanent change.