When your first gig as a CEO is with a manufacturing company that has a balance sheet looks like a crime scene, in an endangered U.S. market that is failing fast—there’s not a lot of time for OTJ training or mistakes.  As an executive coach hired to help this young first-time CEO, he looked at me wearily and said, “I’m dong the most important thing I can do for this company right now:  I’m cleaning up the books, I’m finding every penny of waste and I’m wringing every bit of efficiency out of our process. That’s where my attention and energy have to be directed right now.”

“What you’re doing is important—don’t get me wrong,” I said.  “But it’s not the most important thing you need to do for this company right now.   The most important thing you’ve got to do is lead.  Every day these people see you come into the plant, walk silently to your office, shut the door and crunch numbers.  You know what you’re doing.  But they probably think you’re shopping your resume.  Which, by the way, is what most of them are doing.”

Such began the transformation of a man–through executive coaching– from glorified Comptroller to a CEO and powerful leader such that within a year most employees said they would follow him anywhere.  As one poignantly put it to me, “As long as he’s here, I know we’ll be OK.”  And, they were more than OK:  profitable within the year and aggressive in acquisition and industry consolidation the next year.

Take the case of another CEO who took the helm of an organization with a complex set of interlocking boards and a demoralized employee population following the highly litigious and bloody exit of a popular CEO.   Through executive coaching, this CEO was transformed from a highly competent, even brilliant, technocrat to a leader able to connect with employees and customers, instill confidence in all, manage the boards superbly, play a public role that was uncomfortable to him—and build one of the strongest organizations and best balance sheets in the industry.

For all of us, every new level of success produces another set of challenges.  Each problem we solve results in another, higher level set of issues to address.  That’s why ongoing coaching is considered the professional development activity that delivers without question the highest ROI for organizations.  A recent Fortune magazine poll asked executives who had received coaching to give a “conservative estimate of the monetary payoff from the coaching.” Their conservative estimate put the value of coaching at six times the cost to the organization for the coaching services, based on their increased effectiveness in addressing organizational issues, seizing opportunities, and minimizing damage control.

An organization’s success depends on the effectiveness of its leadership.  Executive coaching can transform average leaders to good ones and good leaders to great ones.  And it can help the great leaders step up to even bigger achievements.