Paul Gorrell on his building authentic executive leaders via executive coaching and consulting
By Charlene Oldham
When Executive Coach and Consultant Paul Gorrell helps clients with their career paths, he knows that the road is not always straight ahead. He can look back on the winding road of his own work life to help them navigate detours and unexpected destinations.
With a master’s degree in Divinity from Christ the King Seminary and a doctorate in Ethics from Drew University, Gorrell spent five years as a Catholic priest. After leaving the priesthood, he was a Consultant and Executive at human resources (HR) firms and eventually rose to take the post of Chief Talent Officer for North America at the global marketing and technology agency Digitas. Three years ago, he founded his own firm, Progressive Talent Partners (PTP).
“Leaving the priesthood was the hardest decision of my life. You’re even called something different. You’re called Father, right? So leaving the priesthood meant that I had to redefine my identity at 32,” he recalled. “That was scary.”
It was the first time Gorrell had the sense that finding success and happiness can take immense courage. It’s a lesson he tries to pass on to clients who may be struggling with modifying their management or communication style while staying true to themselves.
“It’s worthwhile to be courageous if it’s about being happy,” Gorrell said. “Life is too short to do something you don’t love.”
Don’t Fake It to Make It
Time is also too precious to try being something you are not in order to fit someone else’s expectations in the work world. That’s why Gorrell focuses on helping his clients meet goals while, at the same time, maintaining authenticity. After all, it’s unlikely a true introvert will ever be comfortable as the loquacious leader of every team meeting.
“I don’t want my coaching clients to try to fake it to make it,” Gorrell said. “Meaning, I don’t want them try to go against their core self in a way that feels unnatural or incongruent with their core values. Since a coaching assignment often involves helping the leader to adjust behaviors in order to be more effective, I work with them on changes that feels more natural and consistent with who they are because those are much easier to repeat and sustain.”
Striving to be authentic can lead to a certain vulnerability and transparency that is uncomfortable for some leaders, but often inspires respect, loyalty and a higher level of performance from those who work for them. Communicating a company’s overarching goals openly and honestly with employees is essential when it comes to motivating them to do their best work.
“A great manager helps people know what they should do,” Gorrell said. “A leader helps people understand why the work needs to be done and how the work ties back to a larger vision and strategy.”
Even when managers are able to get people to do what they want and need them to do, they miss an opportunity to inspire and engage their employees by not explicitly explaining why they need it done. This leads them to continue to be a hands-on manager rather than an empowering and inspiring leader who excites employees about a company’s big goals.
“When [managers] forget that, ” Gorrell said, “they miss a chance to develop people to think and solve problems at a higher level.”
The What & the Why
Communicating both the “what” and the “why” can be as simple as outlining the purpose of a meeting at its outset and reiterating key points at its close. Or it can mean giving people the reasons behind a restructuring or unpopular move to cut costs. Rather than making leaders more vulnerable, open communication lets them maintain control of the message and often translates into respect from employees who, although they might not like what they are hearing, appreciate honesty.
“You want to own the ‘why’ because if you don’t, people start filling it in for you,” Gorrell said. “So, as much as you can, you want to control the ‘why’ and control the message.”
Serve Both Clients
As Founding Principal of PTP, which counts 15 other consultants as partners, Gorrell relishes his role in shaping the core messages behind executive coaching, which he explains is still a young discipline. To help better define that discipline and inspire new ideas within it, Gorrell has penned articles for publications including The Huffington Post and Talent Management magazine and co-authored a book, “The Coaching Connection.”
In the book, Gorrell emphasizes that executive coaches have two clients: the leader being coached and the organization where he or she works. That philosophy differs from the point of view shared by many coaches. When Gorrell was at at Digitas, executive coaching firms looking to with work Digitas executives would often fail to comprehend the idea that there were two clients, with more focus on the desires of the individual being coached. But, with his own assess-align-accelerate coaching model, Gorrell involves both the individual and employer at every phase.
“I want the organization in the room with us, maybe not literally, but symbolically, in the room with us,” he said. “There is an individual and an organization in every engagement, and your goal as a coach is to make both satisfied with the outcomes.”
One of Gorrell’s favorite aspects of coaching is getting an inside view of organizations ranging from top investment banks to tech startups and learning from his clients and the people around them. That curiosity drives him to look for opportunities to impact not just individual clients, but their organizations as a whole. There are times when he hears that coaching clients have implemented some of the same advice he’s given to their new employees or shared effective strategies with their whole team back at the office.
“That’s when I know I’ve done my job,” he said, “because I’m not simply focused on one individual doing a better job, although that’s a wonderful thing. I’m actually having an impact with the organization writ large through my work with one individual. And I think that’s how you can stand out as an executive coach.”
Share Point of View
Another way Gorrell distinguishes himself as an executive coach is by sometimes overtly sharing his opinions with coaching clients. It puts him in contrast with other coaches who believe the process should be driven totally by the client’s answers to questions. Having some answers himself has proven to be an effective method for Gorrell, who values authenticity for himself as well as his clients. So, while coaching always involves a lot of self-discovery, it also sometimes involves direct teaching and training, just as coaching does on a football field.
“My point of view is that I have a point of view,” Gorrell said. “So my approach is also to help clients understand my perspective if I think it’s going to be beneficial to their growth.”
Charlene Oldham is a freelance writer based in St. Louis, Missouri.
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