There is nowhere to hide. Not even the executive suite is safe from the changes sweeping business today. In fact, the impact of those changes is felt most keenly at the executive level. CEO’s, COO’s, CFO’s, and senior VP’s—like everyone else—have to hit the ground running and keep running fast. Stockholders and stakeholders demand fast results. Teams must work more efficiently under greater pressure. High potentials and emerging leaders need to be identified and developed earlier and more effectively. Business savvy—always important—has been taken to new heights. Add to this the quest for job satisfaction and life balance and you have the dynamic tension that creates the vital need for executive coaching.

Executive coaching is a professional process that links individual effectiveness to organizational performance. It is a strategic process that helps organizations attract and retain great leaders, enables executive teams to improve leadership and team performance, and supports senior executives responsible for making crucial business decisions and achieving outcomes. It truly provides the “shock absorbers” on the often bumpy road of organizational change.

The powerful advantages in the leadership development process, particularly in areas where performance goals are at risk, has moved coaching top-of-mind for executives and HR leaders alike. Yet there is still a tremendous gap between what is expected of executives and the available resources to help them acquire both the inner-core attributes and outer-core skills and competencies required to achieve those expectations. Executive coaching closes that gap.

The reality, however, is that while executive coaching is top-of-mind for executives and HR, only 35% of the organizations we surveyed in our Trends in Executive Development Research Study (Pearson, 2011) utilize executive coaching as part of their high-potential developmental programs. By comparison, 48% of the organizations utilize executive coaching for their VP level and above executives. For high-potentials, organizations continue to emphasize developmental job assignments (70%) and custom training programs (51%), as their primary developmental strategies.

We were surprised to learn that 65% of the organizations we surveyed do not cite executive coaching as an important developmental strategy for their high-potential and emerging leader talent pools. I see this as a significant issue and opportunity for organizations especially in light of what different generations expect from their employers (i.e., Generation X want a casual, independent, flexible environment, and a place to learn; Generation Y want a structured, supportive, and interactive environment). More than anything else, it is critical to understand that both generations make-up nearly 100% of any organization’s future leader pool and both generations crave continuous growth and “connectedness” with people.

Executive coaching represents a powerful strategy for meeting the continuous growth and “connectedness” needs of your future leaders. That said, there is a lot of variability in the world of executive coaching. Just like anything else, there are effective and ineffective executive coaches. It is important to never underestimate the importance of hiring external coaches who have a solid “operations” mindset and who have had experience on the “firing line”. Building trust and empathy with high-potential coachees is everything and I have found that having operations experience goes a long way toward helping a coach build rapport, trust and credibility with a coachee. It is also important to understand the “philosophy” of the coach you are considering partnering with. They should be able to verbalize their philosophy concretely, without hesitation.

I am a believer in leveraging the coachee’s stakeholders and mentors throughout the coaching process. The strength and success of any coaching intervention is in direct proportion to how well the coach has created and facilitated a “coaching process” whereby the coachee actually learns more from their stakeholder and mentor interactions than the coach. The goal of any great coach is to create a foundation of continuous self-discovery and “connectedness” learning for their coachee that endures well beyond the conclusion of the coaching assignment.

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