Today’s executive is expected to fulfill many roles and to do it well enough to make it look easy. But it isn’t easy. Changes in the workforce, the marketplace, technology, and customers require today’s executives to be in continual learning mode. At the same time, he or she is expected to remain in touch with team members and avoid appearing aloof, or sequestered in an office on the top floor. It’s only natural that, even when they have worked hard to obtain an executive position, executives may be unsure of their capabilities and how best to put their skills to work. Executive coaching addresses these uncertainties and produces stronger, more effective leaders.
An executive coach isn’t a consultant, but is more directly involved with the client. But an executive coach isn’t a therapist either, because it’s work skills and work performance that are the coach’s areas of emphasis. Think of sports coaches you may have interacted with growing up. Sure, coaches can help you build confidence, but primarily they’re there to help you identify which skills you need to improve, which you need to fine-tune, and how to assimilate all your skills to become a valued athlete who contributes to your own and the team’s success. The executive coach uses many of the same principles in the context of the workplace.
Why Do Leaders Work With Executive Coaches?
Three primary reasons why executive coaches are engaged are:
- To develop executive potential or facilitate transition to a position of greater responsibility
- To act as a sounding board as the executive navigates his or her responsibilities
- To address behavior that limits the executive’s effectiveness
The level of confidentiality in the coaching relationship is important, though some coaches do keep key stakeholders apprised of progress while maintaining discretion with personal information. And although coaching is not engaged to assist an executive with personal issues, it’s only to be expected that personal matters have some impact on the coach-executive relationship, and the outstanding coach understands this and deals with it appropriately.
Identifying Who Can Benefit From Executive Coaching
Almost anyone – executive or otherwise – could benefit from coaching, but organizations must be selective about how they direct resources, so they have to identify executives who have the most to gain from executive coaching.
Asking a few key questions can help illuminate whether coaching is likely to be beneficial:
- How critical is this person’s performance to the organization? Most organizations only have resources to provide coaching for selected executives.
- What challenges is the person facing? This could be anything from lack of confidence to inability to listen to other people’s ideas to learning to lead former peers.
- Is this person willing to work with a coach? If an executive is resistant to change, coaching can be a waste of resources.
- Are alternatives to coaching available? Such alternatives may include training, mentoring, and special assignments. A manager abdicating responsibility should not be the basis for bringing in a coach.
- Are stakeholders supportive of this person’s efforts to improve? Skeptical or overtly hostile peers and leaders can undermine the coaching relationship and prevent executives from reaching their goals.
Results You Should Expect from Executive Coaching
Although part of the answer to the question, “What is an executive coach?” depends on what an individual executive needs from a coach, you can expect the organization to benefit from a good executive coaching relationship. More specifically, you can look for:
- Higher productivity and profits
- Better self-awareness and recognition of areas for improvement
- More decisiveness so processes happen more quickly
- Awareness of “blind spots” and attitudes that hold executives back
- Higher confidence in decisions
- Improved specific skills, like communication, delegation, or conflict management
An executive coach fulfills a unique need in a business world where expectations for executives are continually raised. A valuable executive coach isn’t a “yes man” or a business consultant, but helps executives identify areas where confidence is low, or where an executive knows he or she needs to improve. Skills development, and skills practice until proficiency is achieved are two important functions of executive coaching. The results benefit not only the executive, but the overall organization.