The Need for an Executive Coach
Executives and leaders today are expected to deliver exceptional results with what can be limited resources. Executives and leaders have a scarcity of people with whom they can test ideas and frankly discuss challenges. In this sense the “top” is often a lonely place to be. An executive requires command of the requisite leadership skills and behaviors, yet unfortunately, these traits are often found to be in short supply.
Role of an Executive Coach
Executive coaches provide the solution in terms of working to form a “strategic partnership” with Executives and Leaders. Executive coaches are a dependable, trustworthy sounding board for leaders and executives. As trusted guides, they effectively help leaders to achieve sustainable development, change, and growth at every level, whether it’s an individual, group, or organization. An executive coach is simultaneously a business coach that can guide a leader on vital skills such as communication, conflict management, team building, decision making, and interpersonal interactions, giving an executive the strategic planning tools to boost both efficiency and effectiveness.
Executive Coaching Benefits
Executives and leaders will clearly witness progress and forward movement in learning, performance, and fulfillment. Not only that, but the benefits are tangible – surveys have shown that 9 in 10 executives believe coaching to be worth their time and money; the median return on investment was more than 7 times the amount spent. Executive coaches are invaluable in providing the business coaching and leadership training that the leaders of an organization need.
Executive coaching is, at its core, about helping create the changes that will lead to achieving firmly set goals. It accomplishes this by expanding choice, increasing awareness, and deepening executives’ trust in themselves. According to Fortune, executive coaching is 55 percent more effective than just training alone. It is a huge advantage for leadership development, particularly in the case of C-suite executives but also to foster high potential talent within an organization.
To sharpen leadership skills and foster the qualities crucial for being an effective leader, executive coaching is a smart business investment with abundant return.
“Coaching takes a holistic view of the individual: work, corporate values, personal needs and career development are made to work in synergy, not against one another.”
Executive coaching is an ideal approach to helping executives, managers, or other business persons improve their business as well as their personal life. Executive Coaches partner with the executive, and sometimes with the company, and facilitate an environment of self-discovery of key practices that result in improvements in the business as well as in the personal life of the executive. Most executives are expert at their chosen “trade” but often not proficient at the management skills necessary to run an effective team. The skills that lead someone to the executive suite are not necessarily the skills they need to be effective at the executive level. The Executive Coach focuses the executive on those critical interpersonal, strategic, and management skills.
What is Executive Coaching?
Executive development is a critical aspect of all organizations and often the one that’s most overlooked.
People come to coaching for several reasons: They could be “stuck” and can’t think of what else to do in order to move the organization forward; there may not be anyone at their level that they can have confidential conversations with, or they believe if they were to change/improve something within themselves, the greater organization would benefit. Maybe they are ready to do something different but are not sure what that “something” is. Perhaps they are looking for change, a different perspective, or have important goals to reach. Executive or “business” coaching focuses on helping individuals go from where they are, to where they want themselves and their company to be.
Whatever the reason, distinct from other forms of training, coaching focuses on a specific way of “learning” for the executive. It is believed that “the more an individual is involved in identifying problems, in working out and applying solutions for them and in reviewing results, the more complete and the more long-lasting the learning is. This form of self-improvement tends to bring about learning with a deeper understanding than learning that is simply taught.” Given the right circumstances, one-on-one interaction with an objective third party, who is not tied to the organization or other executive or company influences, can provide a focus that other forms of organizational support cannot. Coaching develops the leader in “real time” within the context of their current job while allowing them to maintain their day-to-day responsibilities.
Unlike therapy, which goes into depth about various issues usually dealing with the past and consulting which generally results in giving the client answers, coaching is more action-oriented and focuses primarily on the present and future. Coaching focuses on what the client wants and utilizes a process through the one-on-one coaching sessions to enable the client to self-discover, learn and determine their own “answers”. It is the client who determines the goals and commits to their goal, while allowing the coach to help hold them accountable.
Why should you hire an Executive Coach?
In today’s demanding business environment, executives have limited opportunity to devote time and energy to their own development as leaders. Many executives struggle to fulfill the responsibilities of their positions and are too busy and too stressed with the day-to-day operations to step back and learn from their experiences or to implement changes to satisfy best management practices.
The reasons for choosing coaching go beyond the need to identify, correct or resolve problem behaviors or poor performance issues. Executive coaching is also chosen to develop executive-level skills, developmental and growth needs which impact the entire organization.
The most common reasons for forming a strategic partnership with an executive coach are cited below and encompass both problem solving and developmental emphases. They could also be described as change-oriented, with an emphasis on supplementing and refocusing the participant’s skills, or growth-oriented, with an emphasis on accelerating the learning curve for high-potential or recently promoted executives. The percentage of respondents citing that particular reason is in parenthesis:
- To develop the leadership skills of high-potential individuals (86%).
- To improve the odds that newly promoted managers would be successful (64%).
- To develop management and leadership skills among their technical people (59%).
- To correct behavioral problems at the management level (70%).
- To help leaders resolve interpersonal conflicts among employees (59%).
The Coaching Process
Each coaching engagement begins with a “discovery” session of some sort. This is the time where the potential client and coach have a conversation to determine and discuss several items which may include:
- What the client is looking for in the coaching relationship
- What the coaching relationship is and isn’t
- The style of the coach and how that resonates with the client
- Rules of engagement and protocol (Coaching is confidential and priority to the client, no one else!)
- The coach’s credentials relative to the client’s needs
- Timing and logistics of the coaching
- How success for coaching will be measured
- Agreement to move forward
- Coaching services can be purchased by the hour, or in packages that include a set number of sessions within a given time-frame, such as a month, 3 month or 6 month period, or a set number of hours to be used within a 3 to 4 month period.
- It’s always recommended to start with at least a 3 month commitment in order to establish the Coach-Client relationship and goals for the coaching, and because all real change takes time and dedicated application to produce and then maintain in a consistent and on-going fashion.
- In a majority of cases, the coaching sessions happen weekly (3 to 4 times per month). Since the client expects to make changes and/or improvements for themselves, weekly sessions help keep the process on track and also serve as an “accountability” measure to the incremental improvement, along with addressing any other situations the client wishes to discuss with the coach.
- The purpose of the coaching is often what establishes the amount of time required to achieve the desired outcome and results.
Developmental Coaching (8 – 15 hours)
Normally, this is for three months or less. The focus of the work is to identify and prioritize developmental needs. This work is usually done in conjunction with the executive and the executive’s supervisor or HR. Interviews are conducted and a developmental plan is created with the client. This coaching jump-starts the plan with a quick transition to client independence with the supervisor and HR support for continued progress. This coaching is described more as a three-way partnership between the executive, the coach, and the organization, in which all involved agree on specific goals and parameters. Issues discussed in a coaching session however, outside of the set parameters, are considered “personal and confidential”.
Executive Coaching (30 – 60 hours)
This coaching is for a minimum of six months up to one year. The focus is to identify and prioritize developmental issues and goals with an action plan. The coach will gather data via a client questionnaire, a 360 degree feedback process, and/or other diagnostic assessments such as Myers-Briggs, Strength Finders, etc. The coach is responsible for working with the executive to determine the plan, its implementation and subsequent follow-up. The coach also lends support to the client in addressing and focusing on strategic issues of the organization, while simultaneously addressing personal developmental issues.
Team Coaching (30 – 60 hours)
Many times, an executive team will have an off-site conference where the company’s strategic plan is discussed, vision & values are established, and/or team goals are determined. As a result of this different team process, individuals make a “commitment” to change in order to help the organization move forward or to the next level. In other words, if change is to happen, everyone has to commit to doing something differently than they have done previously. Individual executive coaching then follows the off-site meeting for six to twelve months to ensure the team objectives are being met and remain in focus. The above description of Executive Coaching would apply. Quarterly “check-ins” with the team are held to validate progress and ensure main priorities are still correct.
What makes a difference to coaching outcomes?
Everyone involved in the coaching process wants to know which factors will improve the likelihood of achieving positive outcomes. There are several attributes that make a difference in coaching outcomes, some of which are listed below.
Organizations must be in favor of and agree to provide resources to support the executive coaching, and recognize that it requires a long-term investment in order for the coaching and change to succeed. “Executives need follow-on coaching and reinforcement in order to sustain changes in behavior. In addition, professionals’ development should be kept separate from performance because the high level of trust and openness required for development would be compromised if these two essential processes are mixed.”
The coaching-style preference is also a factor for coaching success. The coach and the executive are agreeing to enter into a “relationship” therefore style preferences and compatibility can impact the outcomes. It is important that the coach and the client agree on how the client prefers to receive help, what they want to focus or work on, and when they want to receive it.
Coachability, in my opinion, is the number-one success factor to consider. The reason is that no matter how experienced or effective the coach might be, no change of the executive (coachee) will occur if the executive does not want to change, recognize the need to change, or does not take responsibility for the change needed. The executive needs to be open to feedback, willing to use the feedback to commit to change, and be willing to be held accountable to the commitment.
Competence of the coach is the fourth important factor that is often mentioned to determine success in the coaching arrangement. At a minimum coaches should be creditable, educated and certified. They should have a coaching process that includes helping the client set an action plan in order to change behavior as well as a process to measure change. The International Coaches Federation estimates that over 10,000 people call themselves coaches, yet not all are effective. The coach should have a philosophy of coaching for sustainable change; in other words, the coaching commitment should be “transformational” and not “transactional”.
The role of the executive coach
The concept of business coaching has been a part of the corporate development landscape for some time, but its emphasis on soft skills development means that its practical application in a business environment can be misunderstood. Unlike a training seminar or workshop, the aim of business coaching is not simply to impart knowledge or to improve performance in a single area of expertise. Rather, the emphasis is upon holistic development through exposure to a variety of management competencies. Coaching aims to equip the client with the skills to make broad-based improvements at both a personal-professional and an organizational level.
The relationship between client and coach
The coaching relationship depends quite crucially upon the individuals who are partnered up. It’s vital that both parties have a clear understanding of the aims of the process, and how each is to participate in order to meet the coaching objectives. Since a business coach is typically appointed to the role by higher-level stakeholders or corporate sponsors, it’s the primary responsibility of the coach to work with the client to devise a development plan that’s in alignment with the sponsor’s felt needs. How this is achieved is largely an open-ended question.
The coach is acknowledged to bring to the relationship a unique perspective and is free to explore whichever coaching methods seem most relevant to unlocking the growth potential in the client. Personal insight and prior experience are regarded as integral to the coaching relationship, and therefore each coach will contribute to the relationship in a different way. In all cases, however, the main aim is to improve key areas of competency.
In order for the trust relationship to work effectively, it’s imperative that confidentiality is maintained. The sponsors and stakeholders can expect to receive a development plan, but specifics of the coaching sessions are never revealed. It’s also important to understand that the coaching process relies on the involvement of all parties – the coach, the client and the relevant stakeholders.
Starting with a reflective discussion, the client and coach work together to create an outline which details the client’s perceived strengths and areas of weakness, also known as the client’s felt needs. For the duration of the coaching engagement, the coach will assist the client in reformulating these felt needs into actionable goals. These goals lead to the creation of the development plan, which puts forward a set of designed objectives that can be worked on.
Practical application in business
The above discussion describes how business coaching takes place, but it does not explain why this might be of value to an organization. How can a programmer of personal development serve the company’s needs and, more specifically, how can it be seen to have any effect on the company’s bottom line? To answer this question, it is necessary to consider how the coaching client relates to the organization. Since business coaching is generally aimed at improving management and leadership performance, the client is likely a key member of the company’s organizational structure. In practical terms, this means that if a given manager is able to improve personal efficiency, then the effect will carry over to other aspects of the organization.
An example of this effect might become apparent if the coaching relationship results in an improved communication competency on the part of the client. By learning to communicate ideas and instructions more effectively, and by being able to relate to staff feedback in a more dynamic way, the department may significantly improve its operational performance. There are likely to be fewer operational errors and the time taken to correct any problems that do arise will also improve markedly. The positive effect on productivity that stems from the client’s improved performance provides a clear indicator of the value of this approach to the corporation as a whole.
It’s worth bearing in mind that, because the performance of a key member of staff is being enhanced, this person effectively acts as a magnifier. Small benefits that filter down the organizational structure result in much larger productivity gains if the client’s competencies can be propagated successfully.
A benefit that’s seldom considered is the role that business coaching can play in reducing staff turnover. Too often, a manager’s relation both to their position in the company and to the company’s larger goals can fall out of alignment with personal development plans. By allowing for a two-way process of negotiated adjustments, it’s possible for higher-level corporate stakeholders and key management staff to reach agreement. This satisfies the company’s need to retain skilled managers who are able to effectively promote the company line; and it gives managers a meaningful sense of engagement in their own role. The knock-on effect is an elimination of the need to spend time and resources on replacing highly specialized senior members of staff.
The corporate coaching relationship encourages fresh perspectives and approaches that may exert a positive influence on operational practices. No organizational structure is 100% perfect. It can always be improved upon. Since operations are in a constant state of flux, it’s valuable to review them periodically. Adding new ideas to existing practices may yield greater efficiencies.
A client’s skill-set may be suited to certain management goals but not others. By exposing the client to other skill-sets, new approaches and insights may be learned. Coaching allows the client to access an experience pool far larger than their own. What seems like a new and formidable problem may have been encountered and resolved by someone else. Access to this body of knowledge can minimize the impact and severity of an unforeseen situation and allows for smooth and methodical problem-solving.
Dr. Linda Gadbois’ Credentials: Dr. Linda holds a doctorate in Spiritual Sciences (Transpersonal Psychology and Healing Arts); a Bachelor of Science in Clinical Hypnotherapy; and an Associate of Arts in Marketing and Graphic Design. She is a certified Health and Success Coach, and a Certified NLP Coach; a registered Behavioral Therapist; and is a professional Trainer, specializing in Psychological skills, Communication skills, Personal Transformation, Management Skills, Creativity and Innovation, and Leadership Skills. She has over 36 years of experience in business and upper management, with 27 years of experience as an Entrepreneur and business Executive. She is renowned for her ability to teach and communicate ideas in a very effective and meaningful way and turn those ideas into a reality through practical application and implementation of innovative strategies.