Power Players

A 'CEO whisperer' who charges 5 figures a month shares the 2 most common problems he sees

Alan Weiss, PhD

Alan Weiss — who calls himself the "million dollar" coach for his expertise in helping people and businesses bring in big profits — says it takes a lot of "tough love" for him to fix a CEO's professional problems.

Weiss, CEO and founder of Summit Consulting Group, has coached more than 340 executives and CEOs from Fortune 500 corporations such as Merck, Hewlett-Packard, GE and the Federal Reserve over the last 30-plus years. He says he now typically charges companies and executives $35,000 to $40,000 a month for one-on-one coaching, as well as $15,000 to $25,000 per person to participate in his two- to three-day small group boot camps.

Weiss says while he has been called in to help with every workplace issue under the sun, the two most common problems he sees among CEOs are some of the same issues most workers deal with.

'They're not having fun anymore'

The 73-year-old consultant, who is currently coaching six executives from various industries including tech, pharma and media, says the first thing he does with executives is have them "metaphorically clean off their desktop" so they can focus on coaching and diagnose the problem at hand.

Then he asks what is usually his first coaching question: Are you having fun?

"They look at me like I'm a spaceship because they don't feel like they deserve to be having fun," he says. In fact, it's one of the most common problems he needs to fix among executives and CEOs: They no longer like their job.

The solution, says Weiss, is to find and focus on what still "jazzes" someone about their work.

For example, one leader at a large company thrived off innovation and creativity, but his team wasn't delivering in that area. So Weiss helped him create an environment that encouraged risk-taking ­— even if it resulted in failure.

"What he did was at the end of the year when they had their annual awards ceremony to reward those who had high sales or the best service, he started giving out an award for 'the best idea that didn't work'," says Weiss, who wrote the book "Million Dollar Consulting.

This small change helped to not only to inspire his team to be more creative but helped the executive reignite his passion for the job.

Weiss also often encourages his clients "to go see their customers or go walk around and talk to their employees," he says, and since most people get excited to show off their skills and teach others what they know, Weiss encourages mentorship.

They believe 'nobody can do things as well I can'

Weiss says he once worked with a newbie CEO of a billion-dollar organization who was putting in about 80 hours a week because he was convinced that to get things done right, he had to do everything himself; it made his employees feel micromanaged and his wife unhappy.

While it's important to work hard, working hard on the wrong things or things that don't matter can lead down a dark and unsuccessful road, says Weiss. And that feeling of "nobody can do things as well or as fast as I can," is the other big issue he sees in leaders.

The key to effective delegating is to help people understand that "there's no such thing as perfection. It doesn't exist, and perfection always kills excellence," Weiss says.

With the 80-hour executive, Weiss says he helped him understand that when an employee is performing tasks that are "good enough," leave it at that and move on.

With that understanding, Weiss helped the executive identify the high-level tasks he absolutely had to do due to his level of expertise, but he also helped him figure out who on his team could best handle the rest of the work.

After learning to delegate, his client eventually reduced his hours to around 60 a week, making both his employees happier and his wife "ecstatic."

How to make a change

Despite the hefty retainer, Weiss says about 25% of his clients will likely never change.

"They are scared because they don't want to admit that they've been doing something wrong all this time and now if they change, they've wasted all those years," he says.

However, around 50% of executives are willing and seeking change, he says, but making that happen requires an open mind.

"If you look at the most successful athletes or entertainers or business people, they all have coaches," Weiss says. "You need somebody outside of yourself who can look at you objectively and whom you trust."

But that person doesn't have to be a professional coach. Joining a professional group in your field or getting a mentor can be a way to learn and seek advice from similar-minded colleagues, Weiss says.

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