Executive Coaching is first and foremost, an investment in people that typically translates into an investment in results. A recent study of executive coaching in a Fortune 500 firm revealed a 529% return on investment, with ‘significant intangible benefits’ to the business. According to a recent article by Donna Goss in the Lehigh Valley Business Journal, “executive coaching has become current because it has become relevant.” However, a study by the Center for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford Graduate School of Business reveals that nearly two-thirds of CEOs do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches. The survey also found that neither did almost half of senior executives receive coaching.
It might be helpful to think about executive coaching as similar to hiring a personal trainer – but instead of developing muscles, one develops leadership skills. As any sports enthusiast knows, football and baseball teams employ not just team coaches, but position coaches as well. These coaches review games, provide feedback, and set goals for improvement in a way that is similar to coaches working with executives.
According to the International Coach Federation (ICF), coaching involves “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
An executive coach works to bring clarity to issues, then develops action plans to reach specific goals, often with a result of unleashing a leader’s true potential. A word of caution, though: executive coaching should be used as a way of moving valued employees to higher levels of performance, rather than as a means of rehabilitating low performers.
Although coaching is tailored to individual needs and goals, it is always tied to organizational performance, which serves to differentiate it from personal therapy. However, the skills of a psychologist/therapist and those of an executive coach do overlap. Typically, executive coaches focus on issues that have to do with managing people by providing their guidance in handling complex interpersonal issues.
Most employees experience their transition to management as uncomfortable at best and disastrous at worst. This is primarily due to the fact that the skills and successes that bring people to management positions are not the same as those needed to do well in their new positions. Unfortunately, the skills needed for success in management do not come naturally to most people. Such critical skills are: the ability to evaluate employee performance, conduct difficult conversations, deal effectively with conflict, and motivate work teams.
In working with an executive coach, a leader finds a safe and private space to explore new ideas and practice different behaviors. The coach’s job is to provide the executive with honest, trustworthy feedback in order to facilitate behavioral change. Of course, the level of coaching success is always dependent to some extent on the ‘coachability’ of the executive. Those who benefit most from coaching
- Open to being coached
- Receptive to feedback and learning
- In need of developing critical interpersonal skills in order to work better in a non-technical leadership role
- Motivated to change
- Not receiving coaching as a ‘last ditch effort’ to save their job
Witherspoon and White (1998) identified four types of executive coaching as: 1) skills coaching, which involves improving presentation skills, 2) performance coaching, which focuses on present job performance, 3) development coaching, which involves preparing for a future job, and 4) leadership agenda coaching, which focuses on clarifying strategic vision.
There are various organizational situations when Executive Coaching is appropriate, such as, when an employee is:
- Being groomed as a high potential or as part of a formal succession plan (development coaching/leadership agenda coaching)
- Taking on a new role , which involves higher levels of authority and responsibility (development coaching)
- Responsible for implementing an organizational change or strategy that is critical to organizational success (leadership agenda coaching/development coaching)
- Working with senior team members in a new way that requires external advice, counsel, or support (leadership agenda coaching/ performance coaching)
- In need of help presenting, developing, and articulating a message, vision, plan, or strategy (performance coaching/skills coaching)
- In need of optimizing capabilities to improve the performance of others (performance coaching/skills coaching)
Executive coaching is all about teaching employees how to lead, not in a didactic way, but rather in a guiding and challenging way. As a result, CEOs, senior leaders, and other executives are able to learn and grow through objective feedback that it impossible to get from more common forms of workplace learning.