“Vision without execution is hallucination.” Thomas Edison
Do not be deterred by the fact that this book was first published in 1996. Long before that, one of Albert Einstein’s faculty colleagues at Princeton pointed out that he always asked the same questions each year on his final examination. “That’s quite true. Every year the answers are different.” Steven Stowell and Matt Starcevich are not — nor make any claim to be — Einstein’s intellectual peers but they have formulated a model for synergistic coaching that remains relevant almost two decades after they introduced in this book. Stowell and Starcevich help their reader to formulate the questions that need to be asked regularly because, as in quantum physics, the answers will change as dynamics and interelationships change.
Healthy organizations have effective communication, cooperation, and (especially) collaboration at all levels and in all areas of operation. In fact, in today’s global marketplace, the healthiest organizations have effective communication, cooperation, and collaboration between and among everyone involved. For individuals as well as for organizations, Stowell and Starcevich correctly suggest, effective partnerships – whose raison d’etre is collaboration — involve mutual respect and trust as well as shared responsibility, integrity, openness, and synergy.
We also know that the best coaches tend to be the best teachers and the best students. That was true of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle as well as of, more recently, John Wooden, Vince Lombardi, and Pat Summitt. In the business world, every day, there are supervisors — although known only to their associates — who are also great coaches. They establish and then nourish mutually beneficial (win-win) relationships with others. I agree with Stowell and Starcevich that C-level executives can learn at least as much from their direct reports as those direct reports learn from them. In healthy organizations, it is common practice for leaders to become followers, and vice versa, based on knowledge and competence. That is perhaps the best example of what Stowell and Starcevich characterize as “synergistic coaching.”
Its defining characteristics are best understood in terms of the values of mutual respect and trust, exemplified in three types of synergistic coaches’ relationships: with themselves, with each of those entrusted to their care, and with the relationship shared with them. Moreover, mutually beneficial relationships must be nourished constantly. In her brilliant book, Growing Great Employees, Erika Andersen suggests – and I agree – that the most effective leaders have a “green thumb” for “growing” people in the “gardens” of free enterprise. It is worth noting that, GE’s senior-level executives – including CEOs such as Reggie Jones, Jack Welch, and Jeff Immelt — have devoted at least 20% of their time to coaching GE’s high-potential middle managers.
Stowell and Starcevich recommend an eight-step process and devote a chapter to explaining each, then conclude with eight “Wrap Up Points” to keep in mind when establishing and then building a learning relationship. They also insert dozens of insights throughout their narrative that are both thoughtful and thought-provoking. Yes, this book was published 17 years ago but, as I indicated earlier, the issues it addresses and the values it affirms are – if anything – more relevant now than they were in 1996.
All organizations need effective leadership at all levels and in all areas. Therefore, one of their most important strategic objectives must be to establish and then nourish a leadership development program such as the one that Steven Stowell and Matt Starcevich envision. In my view, it will require rock-solid and (key word) generous support from those in the C-suite but it must also offer a compelling vision that energizes, hopefully inspires wide and deep buy-in with both passion and a sense of urgency. Finally, it requires a LOT of sustained, collaborative, often boring, seldom easy work. I agree with Thomas Edison: “Vision without execution is hallucination.”