Leaders are not born, they are made
Executive Coaching - "It's lonely at the top"!
The 2013 Executive Coaching Survey by the Stanford Graduate School of Business, states that nearly two-thirds of CEOs and half of senior executives do not receive external leadership advice but nearly all want it. It's true it's lonely at the top, and executive coaching can provide you with a personal and professional confidant, to help to change behaviour therefore improving your leadership and performance.
The survey shows the top areas board directors say their CEOs need to work on are mentoring skills/developing internal talent and sharing leadership/delegation skills. However it's can be the more sensitive behavioural areas which need focus such as compassion, empathy, motivation or persuasion skills.
Some coaching models promote a focus on enhancing your strengths while others aim to develop weaknesses, with a 2017 Sherpa Coaching survey stating 75% of coaches prefer the strengths approach. The survey also shows a growing trend away from hiring a coach directly to address a problem, towards leadership development.
Witherspoon & White (1996) supply three coaching approaches:
- Skills’ coaching - A tactical focus on developing a very specific skill-set, for example: communication, negotiation, time management, delegation.
- Performance coaching - A focus on work performance with a wider breadth than skills' coaching, generally as a result of a performance review which has identified particular concerns to be addressed within a specific time-period.
- Developmental coaching - This focusses specifically on development in the current role and preparation for future roles. It includes both personal and professional development and promotes self-reflection. The primary aims are to increase self-awareness and awareness of others and the environment, with goals to achieve higher levels of performance and responsibility.
Executive coaching is primarily aligned with developmental coaching practices with behaviour change at its heart, however this may also depend on your individual needs, experience, skills and leadership requirements. I take the stance that the different coaching approaches and models, and whether focussed on strengths or weaknesses, all have their benefits, and I will tailor an approach that works for you and you unique needs.
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"Ten years ago, most companies engaged a coach to help fix toxic behavior at the top. Today, most coaching is about developing the capabilities of high-potential performers."
What Can Coaches Do for You? - Harvard Business Review
This article was printed in 2009, and professional executive coaching continues to evolve into the present. While there will typically be a clear work-related focus for coaching, the discussion will always incorporate personal growth and elements of the executive's experience outside of the workplace and benefits will be observed for the organisation and the individual.
The article highlights the need for coaches to address elements of an executive's personal life in conjunction with the professional side for effective outcomes. Coaches surveyed state that while only 3% hire them to deal with personal issues, 76% end up assisting with personal needs.
The Overlap between Consulting, Coaching and Counselling
Coaching is not counselling, nor is it consulting, however there are overlaps with each of these disciplines - and my work has confirmed the benefits of being trained and experienced across all three areas.
- In contrast to counselling, coaching typically focuses more on the future than the past - however at times there can be a need to explore the root cause of behaviour formed in the past to effectively target change;
- Consulting seeks to resolve business problems - coaching may provide similar advice on business problems however it is the executive's responsibility to enact change;
- Counselling explores the unconscious while coaching explores the conscious - this line is blurred and effective coaching will likely reveal some unconscious behaviours limiting performance;
- On a continuum, consulting through to coaching and then counselling, there tends to be a trend from objective to subjective. As the relationship develops the executive is likely to explore their subjective experiences but learn to apply more objectivity to these.
Read this Harvard Business Review article to see if you are ready for Executive Coaching!
Potential Benefits of Executive Coaching to the Individual
- Improved leadership competency, increased ability to manage and implement change;
- Improved performance, passion and career progression prospects;
- Stronger relationships and communication skills. Enhanced ability to give and receive feedback and to make developmental changes accordingly;
- Raised emotional intelligence, self-awareness and self-control;
- Improved analytical and logical reasoning skills;
- Increased confidence and professional reputation;
- Reduced stress and a better balance of life, stronger time management, prioritisation and delegation skills;
- Personal and professional growth - development of skills which can be applied to all aspects of life.
View the benefits shown through the International Coach Federation (ICF) Survey here.
Potential Benefits of Executive Coaching to the Organisation
- Benefits to culture, engagement and cohesion, through more effective leadership, and promotion of a coaching and development environment;
- Improved decision-making, goal-setting and planning;
- Better client communication and stronger relationships;
- Improved team effectiveness and team development, increased employee motivation;
- Stronger organisational performance and productivity, which in turn leads to an enhanced industry reputation;
- Increased employee retention, employee skills development aimed towards more productive outcomes and succession planning;
Please refer to the Workplace Coaching page for further beneficial applications of coaching within your organisation.
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"Leaders become great, not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others." - John C Maxwell
External Coaching versus Internal Coaching
An organisation has two options for coaching its employees - use of an external coach with no affiliation with the organisation, or engaging an internal coach.
There are benefits and pitfalls on each side. With the external coach there may be no expertise specific to the organisation, its culture and people; however this also provides the benefit that there are no preconceived notions about what the outcomes may be. The external coach will likely be unbiased and objective, therefore allowing the executive to be truly open and at ease in the relationship. In an internal coaching relationship, there is the benefit of organisational expertise and perhaps prior knowledge of the executive, however with this comes the risk of the coach having difficulty being objective or potentially leading the executive. Additionally, there is the risk of the executive not being fully authentic if there is the belief they may be judged.
There is no 'correct' way to proceed, and any issues which may arise will be dependent on the coach's ability to navigate challenges in line with their organisational experience and knowledge of the executive, or lack thereof. It should be noted that much research suggests the executive should be able to select their own coach, chemistry is an important determinant of a successful coaching relationship.
Executive Coaching Process
An executive coaching relationship may be formal or informal depending on the individual's and organisation's needs. The process can be aligned with both parties needs if required, or particular areas focussed upon. Both formal and informal approaches will seek to identify current state, future preferences (individual and organisational) and create goals, explore developmental requirements, and develop pathways and schedules to achieve goals. There are multiple coaching models, including Sherpa, Co-active and GROW, which may be used if there is a preference for a more formal approach with quantifiable outcomes.
A major part of the executive coaching process is based on observation and feedback. Ideally the coach will be able to observe the executive's performance directly, for example through meeting attendance or reviewing emails, or conduct 360 degree feedback surveys with other employees, to ascertain strengths and weaknesses and therefore developmental areas. The executive's openness to receiving feedback is paramount in achieving effective outcomes; however it is expected they either accept criticism and action, or disregard, based on their own analysis of any mitigating factors. Additionally, it can useful to conduct leadership assessments to understand the executive's approach, and personal lifestyle analyses to recognise and align the executive's personal goals.
The length of the coaching process is highly variable given it depends on the depth, key focus areas and content, complexity and time-lines to achieve goals, and whether the coach is engaged for planning or through implementation and maintenance. The above Harvard Business Review survey report provides an average duration from 7-12 months which would account for coaching continuing until short-term goals have been achieved.
Leaders don’t create more followers, they create more leaders – Tom Peters
Executive Coaching Approach
My training covers many different coaching and counselling techniques including: learning and personality theories, cognitive-behavioural, solution-focussed, narrative, Gestalt, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), emotionally-focussed or person-centred approaches, along with the Sherpa Coaching technique, the GROW model and the Co-active Coaching model.
If you have a preference we can certainly work with a specific approach, if not, I will tailor what works for your needs, rather than choosing a single method. I work best through open and honest discussion, from a strong analytical and objective perspective and a well-studied interest in people, psychology and the mind. This has allowed me to develop high awareness and problem-solving abilities which have been incredibly useful in making improvements in my own and others' lives.