06 Aug 2013 Back

Exec Ed - CEOs Aren’t Getting Enough

RESEARCH: Nearly two thirds of US CEOs say they are not receiving leadership development support, according to new research at Stanford Graduate School of Business. But the majority of those surveyed also said they wanted it. 

Despite the millions companies spend each year on executive education, the majority of CEOs in this poll said they did not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches, and almost half of their senior executives are not receiving any either, the research reveals.

Whether or not this lack of training accounts for some of the leadership debacles of recent times would require further investigation; however these results certainly suggest there is a huge opportunity for executive education providers to meet an acknowledged need.

“What’s interesting is that nearly 100% of CEOs in the survey responded that they actually enjoy the process of receiving coaching and leadership advice, so there is real opportunity for companies to fill in that gap,” says David F. Larcker, who led the research team and is James Irvin Miller Professor of Accounting and Morgan Stanley Director of  the Center for Leadership Development and Research (CLDR) at Stanford, which undertook the study with Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance, and The Miles Group.

“Given how vitally important it is for the CEO to be getting the best possible counsel, independent of their board, in order to maintain the health of the corporation, it’s concerning that so many of them are ‘going it alone,’” says Stephen Miles, CEO of The Miles Group. “Even the best-of-the-best CEOs have their blind spots and can dramatically improve their performance with an outside perspective weighing in.”


More than 200 CEOs, board directors, and senior executives of North American public and private companies were polled in the 2013 Executive Coaching Survey. The research looked at what type of leadership support and advice CEOs and their top executives are — or aren’t — receiving, and sought to identify the skills that are being targeted for improvement. There were five key findings:

Shortage of Advice Exists at the Top - “If CEOs are willing to be coached and make changes based on coaching, it stands to reason that companies and boards should make this happen,” says Professor Larcker.

CEOs are Looking to be Coached
- “We are moving away from coaching being perceived as ‘remedial’ to where it should be: something that improves performance, similar to how elite athletes use a coach.”

Coaching ‘Progress’ is Largely Kept Private - “Although much of the coaching discussion should be treated confidentially,” Professor Larcker adds, “keeping the board informed of progress can improve CEO/board relations.”

How to Handle Conflict Ranks as Highest Area of Concern for CEOs - “When you are in the CEO role, most things that come to your desk only get there because there is a difficult decision to be made — which often has some level of conflict associated with it. Stakeholder overload is a real burden for today’s CEO, who must deftly learn how to negotiate often conflicting agendas.”

Boards are Eager for CEOs to Improve Talent Development - “Boards are placing a keener focus on succession planning and development, and are challenging their CEOs to keep this front and center. However, there is still a long way to go in the area of succession planning for most companies, especially as you get further down the reporting structure.”

 The four top leadership capabilities the participants identified as being in need of development were:

  • Sharing leadership/delegation
  • Conflict management
  • Team building
  • Mentoring

 Three areas that were considered in less need of improvement were:

  • Motivational skills
  • Compassion/empathy
  • Persuasion skills

Illustration: "Happy worker makes a happy home!" - government encouragement for physical training. A poster issued by the Bureau of Postal Insurance, Japan, 1932.

Further Information

2013 Executive Coaching Survey – Full Results

About Professor David F. Larcker


About Stephen Miles


Executive Education at Stanford Graduate School of Business

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