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Roger Federer is considered bymany to be the greatest tennis player in the history of thesport.  Winner of 17 Grand Slam events, including a recordeight Wimbledon titles, the Swiss native is renowned not only forhis unsurpassed technique but for his grace under pressure. Nomatter the circumstances, Federer is the master of cool andimpossible to rattle. Yet it wasn’t always that way.

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Early in his career, Roger Federer was a temperamentalnightmare. Confronted by either a blown point or what he consideredto be a bad call by the line judge, Federer would consistently losehis poise, glare, curse, even throw his racket.  Theresult was a string of lost matches and rising frustration.

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Asked about his youthful antics, the tennis star said: “It wasbad. My parents told me to stop it or they wouldn’t come along withme to my tournaments anymore. I had to calm down but that was anextremely long process. I believe I was looking for perfection tooearly. Back then I wanted to show everybody what I was capable of,the difficult strokes I had mastered.”

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Searching for a solution to his problem, Roger Federer looked toPeter Carter.  The Australian-born Carter was a formerplayer who had turned to coaching.  Like all good coaches,Carter immediately recognized that Federer’s difficulties were notin his stroke but in his head.  For all his bravado, theyoung star was at heart insecure, more focused on showing thetennis world that he belonged than on winning the next point.

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Carter’s first step was to get Federer to understand that amen’s tennis match is a grueling, five-set event won not by fancyshots but by patience and control.  He also exposed hisprotégé to a mindset that psychologists today refer to as impostersyndrome:  a belief that you don’t really deserve yourprestige and success and that you will ultimately be foundout.  Early on, Peter Carter realized that it wasFederer’s fear of being embarrassed in front of his friends andfamily that was causing him to tense up at critical moments in amatch. Together, the two men worked at replacing this fear with aconfidence earned by hard work and the determination to win.

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Today, when asked about his former coach (Carter died in a carcrash in 2002) Federer lauds Peter Carter for instilling in him thework ethic for which he has become well-known. “Having a strongwork ethic is very important for Australians, so I think I profiteda lot from that and early on for me Peter Carter was a veryimportant man just overall for my character.”

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Stories like Roger Federer’s are common in the world ofsports.  Think of great athletes and, more often than not,you associate them with the coach who helped them attain their fullpotential:  Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. LawrenceTaylor and Bill Parcells.   Joe Torre and DerekJeter.  What’s surprising is that stories of greatcoaching are far less common in the world of business even thoughan executive coach is equally, if not more, critical to the successof a CEO or company.

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The view from the C-Suite

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One of the prevailing myths in business is that of the soloentrepreneur; the masterful individual who possesses not only aunique and singular vision, but also the temperament, insight andpeople skills to make that vision a reality.  Rather thanthe norm, such individuals are outliers.

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The truth is that the majority of Presidents and CEOs come upthrough the ranks.  Some gain their acumen throughbusiness school, others via frontline experience. While many arewell-rounded, few possess all of the attributes necessary to run acompany.   Like every successful athlete,CEOs need to both refine and enhance their skills as they grow intothe role.  Which is why, like every successful athlete,every CEO needs an executive coach.

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Related: Meeting with the C-Suite: Don’t mentionhealth insurance

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What exactly is an executive coach?  One way to definesuch an individual is a professional who helps you move from whereyou are to where you want to be, and does so by focusing on yourgoals.  The problem with such a definition is that manyCEOs are uncertain as to what their goals should be.  Notbecause they lack confidence, but because the skills that pavedtheir way into the C-Suite aren’t the same skills necessary to runthe business.

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Consider the employee benefits industry.  Chiefexecutives come up through the ranks, usually throughsales.  Yet success in sales is rarely the sole barometerfor success at the corporate level.  Running a companyrequires multiple perspectives, many of which are outside eitherthe experience or education of the CEO.  An executivecoach enables you to expand you views, thereby gaining theperspective you need to succeed.  An executive also helpsthe CEO look inward.  Only by understanding who you are —your beliefs and principles — can you hope to understand andinspire all of your company stakeholders.

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Moving beyond the mission statement

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Some think that executive coach’s primary role is to help theCEO craft the company’s mission statement.  While this maybe one of the tasks to be accomplished, it’s important to note thata mission statement is just words.  And words mean nothingwithout the beliefs that put them into action.  Not simply the beliefs of the CEO, but the shared beliefs of thecompany’s managers and employees. Otherwise the words, no matterhow elegant or uplifting, will ring hollow to even the mostreceptive ears.

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How does an executive coach help the CEO not only create acompany culture of shared beliefs, but also put those beliefs intoaction?   By enabling the CEO to gain focus.

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Understanding what matters

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For most of us, focus is a challenge.  For a CEO, itcan be near to impossible.  Pulled from every side, fartoo many CEOs spend their days down in the trenches, either inendless meetings or putting out fires. One of the roles of anexecutive coach is to get the CEO to recognize that such activitiesare of secondary importance and better tasked to others.

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The position of CEO is like no other job in theorganization.  The challenge faced by an executive coachis to get the CEO to embrace the unique nature of the job byfocusing on the CEO’s three most important responsibilities:Setting the company’s overall vision and strategy and communicatingit to all stakeholders; recruiting, hiring, and retaining the very best talent; and making surethat the company’s key performance indicators (KPIs) aretransparent, understood and accepted by all managers andemployees.

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Each of these three areas is represented by a single word:Culture. People. Numbers.   Every day, every taskundertaken by the CEO should be directly related to improving oneof the pillars of this trinity. A properly focused CEO does thesethree things and nothing else. Anything that distracts the CEO fromthese areas is delegated to someone else.

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Think back to Roger Federer.  From the moment he stepsonto the court, he’s confronted by a cacophony of mental andphysical distractions — from the thousands of fans cheering in thesurrounding stadium to the countless expectations of his friends,family, business managers and sponsors.  Only by embracingthe true nature of his role, is he able to find the inner calm thatenables him to block out the distractions and focus on what reallymatters — winning.

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The same holds true for the CEO, who is confronted each day by asimilar array of distractions. By working closely with an executivecoach, a CEO is able to develop strategies for delegating thedozens of secondary activities that vie for his attention and focuson the three things that matters most:  Culture, peopleand the numbers.

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Trey is the Chief Executive Officer of Taylor InsuranceServices, Managing Director of trinity | blue, an executivecoaching consultancy, and the Founding Partner of Ascend Partners,an equity investment vehicle focused on the Employee Benefitsspace. 

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