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BW Businessworld

Who Needs An Executive Coach?

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Is your job more demanding than ever? Does your job scope continue to expand? Are you tasked with more responsibilities and fewer resources? Do you manage geographically dispersed teams? Could your leadership style use some refinement? Do all the "new opportunities" in your organization leave you scratching your head about how to be an effective leader, change agent, manager, and top contributor? Maybe you need an Executive Coach.

Executive Coaching is an effective, highly personalized process to help organizations build leadership capacity. The coaching process is a formal, contracted relationship between a leader and the coach. Typical engagements are six to eighteen months long.

Today, executive coaching is regarded as a "badge of endorsement." Being coached sends out the positive message that your organization considers you a worthy investment, and sees you as a next-generation leader. This has not always been true. Historically, coaching was used to remediate managers who were likely to derail. At the other extreme, coaching was an exclusive privilege reserved for the most senior executives. Today, coaching is becoming available as a means to develop talent at all organizational levels.

Types of Coaching
Executive coaching can address a broad continuum of development or performance needs.

Although distinctions are made between development and performance coaching, this is misleading-development occurs in both approaches.

Development coaching focuses on broad lessons gained from the leader's experiences. Through cycles of inquiry and reflection stimulated by the coach, a leader broadens self-awareness about their own pattern of attitudes and behaviors in different workplace situations. These tendencies tell a career story of how the leaders' handling of situations have either served or undermined their career progress. There is a strong emphasis on what the leader "thinks."

Performance coaching focuses on short-term solutions relevant to their current job. Though the process of inquiry and reflection is similar to that of development coaching, the questions posed to the leader shift in order to create immediate outcomes. Alternate ways of talking and acting are discussed; but the alternate behaviors may not be sustainable without the leader's broader awareness about why they talk and act in certain ways. There is a strong emphasis on what the leader will "do."

Both types of coaching can be used to either proactively promote the careers of emerging or top talent, or to remediate particular behaviors, attitudes or skills of those whose careers are in jeopardy.

Just as organizations pursues both a long-term strategy and short-term goals, so too might a leader when he or she engages with a coach. Long-term development is related to the hopes of the leader for the future, and involves developing new capacities and perspectives. Short-term development is goal-oriented, more practical and immediate, and relies on the leader applying an established set of skills and behaviors to contribute to their company's financial strength and long-term strategy.

Both approaches benefit the company, and leaders need to attend to both. By maintaining a development and performance perspective, leaders are better prepared to accept broad and complex leadership demands at the top level.

Need a Coach?
Although a powerful and effective method, executive coaching is not the right solution for every person or situation. Here are 3 questions to determine if you should consider working with an executive coach.

  1. Will you make the coaching work a priority in your busy schedule?

  2. Can you commit the necessary time, money, and motivation to a six to eighteen month formal, contracted relationship?

  3. Are there specific short-term performance-based goals or long-term development goals you are ready to address?

If your response to these three questionsis yes,then consider the "coaching readiness" questions below to prepare yourself for your engagement with an executive coach.

Coaching Readiness Questions:

Situation helps to clarify goals to achieve.

  1. Do you think you need to develop? Are there particular skill areas, interpersonal needs, or career requirement you have to meet?

  2. Does someone else such as your boss or HR want to give you an opportunity? Why?

Motivation determines how much effort you are willing to make to change and achieve your goals. 

  1. What is motivating you to make a change?

  2. Does your boss support your making the changes?

  3. Are you open to feedback?

  4. Do you have specific career goals you want to accomplish?

Learning styles help determine the best approaches for development,

  1. Do you learn best from conversations with others?

  2. Do you get the most from a clear process and structure?

  3. Do you learn best from trying different behaviors and evaluating the results?

  4. Do you need the big picture, how it all fits together, before you get to the details?

Accountability helps sustain motivation and achieve results.

  1. Does being accountable to your organization help you to persist? Do you need the support of others to help you stay motivated?

  2. How does the involvement of others in your plans affect you?

Executive Coaching is a powerful method to develop a leader. As the relationship progresses, the leader gains new awareness about self, others, situations and their personal impact. Today, more than ever, executive coaching is no longer a luxury reserved for the executive elite but an effective process to help all types of managers at all levels throughout an organization.

Pros of Executive Coaching:

  • Confidential

  • Highly customizable

  • Objective feedback

  • Highly qualified professional coach

  • Growth and learning oriented

  • Flexible methods (where and how the work is conducted)

  • Focused development goals

  • Time-bound

  • Improve effectiveness

  • Performance improvements

  • Strong accountability

  • Outcome driven

Cons of Executive Coaching: (few, but important)

  • Six- to eighteen month commitment

  • Prioritizing calendar time

  • Higher Cost than other developmental approaches (leadership programs)

Author is Coaching Portfolio Manager, Center for Creative Leadership