When is executive coaching appropriate?
Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding around executive coaching is relegating it to a remedial situation, that is, when someone is underperforming. Coaching can certainly be helpful in these cases, but it can also be extremely valuable in accelerating the already strong performance of a hi-potential up-and-comer. This can be especially true in accelerating the learning-curve of a strong performer who’s facing a new assignment that involves a different or higher level of expectation.
In all these cases, the value of coaching lies in providing someone with an opportunity to focus, define improvement opportunities, develop a coherent plan to make those improvements and get ongoing, private, “in-your-corner” support in implementing that plan.
Everyone accepts without question the value and benefits of coaching in an athletic context, right? Why should it be different in the business environment?
How does the coaching process work?
There are probably about as many approaches to executive coaching as there are coaches. Clearly a lot depends on the personal styles of the coach and coaching subject – not to mention the chemistry that does or does not develop between them.
But beyond that, the orientation of our approach is reflected in this timeless quote from the poet, Robert Burns:
“Oh! Would some Power the giftie give us
To see ourselves as others see us!”
Our approach is to serve our coaching clients as a neutral, 3rd-party vehicle or conduit through which he or she can get a candid, unfiltered picture of how they are perceived in the work place by their superiors, peers and subordinates. Comparing this “baseline” assessment of their own “personal market” with their own self-assessment provides a rich context for identifying personal strengths and weaknesses.
From a practical point of view, it is also vital to help coaching clients see clearly the degree to which they are satisfying the demands of their professional constituencies. Using a “constituency mapping” approach, we help clients identify the sources of demands on their time and the relative importance of those sources. Then we assist in analyzing whether the client’s time and effort is properly apportioned against those key demand sources and priorities.
This approach reflects our view that solutions cannot be imposed from without. In other words, coaches do not “fix” or even “improve” clients. Coaches provide the means whereby clients gain the insight and personal commitment to improve themselves. The best coaches, we believe – and these beliefs guide our practice – provide clients with the tools and support to “see” themselves more clearly, develop strategies to improve, and take personal responsibility for that improvement.
Once implementation of a client’s development plan is underway, it is also almost always helpful for clients to have regular contact and ongoing developmental coaching in the same way that ongoing coaching provides value in any other field of endeavor.
What kind of results can coaching subjects experience?
Like anything else, executive coaching is no “silver bullet.” In fact, executive coaching is no guarantee of success. Anyone claiming the opposite is not being completely candid. We are all familiar with the old saying that begins, “You can lead a horse to water . . . .”
On the other hand, under the right conditions, it can be transformative, significantly enhancing someone’s self-awareness, insight, mental focus and personal business impact.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate what’s possible is to let some of our coaching clients speak for themselves:
First, the manager of a coaching subject:
“I can’t tell you how noticeable the changes in [coaching subject] have been to me and to his peers, since he has been working with you. It is everything from attitude to approach to behavior, and it is so encouraging. We have also seen a tremendous change in his general level of self awareness.
He has a clearer sense of his role, of the expectations for his position, and of his responsibility to his peers and his team. He has dug into his role with an entirely new energy and approach in a way that has been both surprising and delightful.” (Click here for the complete testimonial.)
And here, from a coaching subject:
“While I am typically a disciplined individual, I found that my coach’s leadership and counsel continued to push me to create even greater discipline in my thinking and, therefore, my process of managing.
“Being pushed continually out of my comfort zone (I had never really been pushed by anyone like this before) forced me to think more strategically. Building my goals, many of which have defined measurements attached to them, is ensuring accountability for future concrete results from me as well as from my entire team.
“Slowly I am effecting behavioral changes within my team, demanding specific deadlines to projects as well as forcing different thinking methods among the people who report to me. I continue to see improved communication within my organization and a greater sense of ownership that demands answers to our business problems.
“All in all it was clearly an amazing experience, and I would strongly recommend my coach to anyone considering the need for coaching or leadership training – or simply getting refocused to better plan for the future.” (Click here for the complete testimonial.)
(For more specifics on “360-degree” assessment interviews, “constituency mapping” and our entire approach to Executive Coaching, please visit our Executive Coaching web page.)