Executive Confidants: the Companions Leaders Need to Weather Every Challenge in Business Life

February 21, 2022

Why external advice beyond coaching & consulting is so important

Managers who fear that they won’t be able to face up to the pressure caused by a crisis for much longer are usually well advised to turn to external advisors. In most cases, they choose between only two options: coaching or consulting. But to stay on top in today’s VUCADD* business world, leaders need more than that: for them, an executive confidant will be priceless.

Transformation manager Mae Leyrer, who has handled many a crisis, and Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, explain why leaders should no longer do without such a trustworthy companion when the going gets rough.

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In times of crisis, external leadership companions can provide valuable advice. Photo © shutterstock - beeboys

Business and labor worlds are changing at a hitherto unimaginable pace. Managers on all levels are facing ever more complex challenges. This particularly applies to C-level executives: “Eighty percent of their work is about making important decisions that directly impact the company and, thus, a large number of people,” says Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy.

Times of crises ask a lot of leaders: “Most managers are currently feeling an enormous amount of pressure. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have been pushing them to the limits of what they can take. Once they reach a certain point, exercise and meditation to counter stress and the permanent strain will only take them so far,” says Mae Leyrer, a Global Executive MBA alumna and President of the International Advisory Board at the WU Executive Academy.

Lonely at the Top

In addition to the special challenges of the oft discussed VUCADD* world of work, managers who climb the career ladder encounter a whole new set of problems:

“The higher up in the hierarchy, the lonelier it gets. At the very top, you’re on your own. Closely working with your team, discussing certain decisions with them, and asking them for their opinions will then no longer do. What such executives need is people with similar experiences who understand them and their situation,” Barbara Stöttinger explains.

Mae Leyrer knows only too well what she is talking about: “I have always longed for a person who could give me guidance: in personal questions but also in situations in which you need an advisor.”

When managers feel this way, they usually turn to a coach. “And there’s nothing wrong with that. But we have to keep in mind that coaches work on a personal level; their aim is to support the client’s individual development,” Leyrer points out. “While this is certainly important, it falls short when leaders are eager to discover new ways of approaching problems – for instance in order to make sound decisions in the midst of a crisis.” In such situations, consultants offer advice related to strategy and organizational development.

Mae Leyrer Portrait

Mae Leyrer

But often, continuity is an issue, particularly when consultants change after a few weeks or are only hired for certain phases. They can’t possibly understand a company’s business in such a short amount of time.

Executive Confidants: the Right Leadership Tool at the Right Time

As a manager, Mae Leyrer has worked with executive coaches, mentors, and life coaches. “There were different people at different stages of my life. But my ideal has always been to have a person with whom I could address several topics at once.” This experience encouraged Mae Leyrer to develop a concept for supporting managers and leaders through transformations, in times of crises, and beyond: the executive confidant. In this role, she acts as a coach, mentor, and consultant at the same time. Flexibly responding to what the client needs at any given moment, she selects the respective instrument from her leadership toolkit. “Depending on the client’s current situation and the problem at hand, I switch roles. Sometimes I coach a client applying various methods and tools, consult them on a specific entrepreneurial issue, and share my experiences as a managing director with them assuming a mentoring role – all in a single session.”

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The executive confidant should be three things in one: coach, mentor and consultant. Photo © unsplash - krakenimages

Continuous Companionship Drives Success

“Time and again, managers complain that their old patterns reemerge after several weeks of coaching. It takes two or three months to build a good relationship with a new client that enables an effective collaboration. So the process must be designed in a sustainable way,” the transformation expert says. This is why Mae Leyrer works with her clients in a one-on-one setting for a minimum of six to nine months. Real transformation simply takes time – and that goes for managers’ capabilities as well.

New Mentoring4U Offer Based on This Principle

“We apply this executive confidant role Mae Leyrer is offering to managers and companies in our newly developed Mentoring4U concept: experienced managers, experts, and career specialists act as mentors for our students and alumni, accompanying them over a significant stretch of time,” Barbara Stöttinger shares.
Depending on their individual situations, students and alumni can choose a field in which they want to receive support: there are New Perspectives4U, Entrepreneurship4U, Female Leaders4U, Companies4U, and Austria4U.

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Barbara Stöttinger

  • Dean of the WU Executive Academy

With our Mentoring4U concept, we have once again extended the wide array of career services and offers that give students and alumni a head start in the challenges they encounter in their everyday work life – with the help of an executive confidant, they become confident executives.

Mae Leyrer shares more insights on transformation and how to turn change into opportunity in an episode of our WU Executive Academy podcast.

*VUCADD = Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity, Dynamics & Diversity

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