I was recently asked this question “Why is executive coaching important?” And with executive coaching slowly gaining popularity worldwide, I frequently come across people who are not entirely aware of who an executive coach is and how hiring an executive coach it is beneficial not only to the individual who’s getting coached but also immensely valuable to the organisation that they are part of.
What is Executive Coaching?
Jody Michaels, who has 20+ years of executive coaching experience under her belt, defines executive coaching in the following way: “An executive coach is someone who specialises in developing an executive to optimize your leadership performance and more effectively manage increased overwhelm and stress”
Executive coaching requires the coach to meet with leaders or senior managers of an organisation (which could include presidents, vice-presidents, CEOs, or directors) on a one-on-one basis. Executive coaching thus provides a safe, structured, and trustworthy environment in which they can offer support to the individual getting coached.
The coach aids an executive to see their own competencies, understand how they are perceived by others, bring the focus on identifying & clarifying their goals, and pave an action plan for the executive to achieve them.
Thus, executive coaching can lead to plenty of benefits for the individual being coached and the organisation as well. What executive coaching however does not involve is directly replacing the work the executive does or is expected to do. The number of things that executive coaching does contribute to, however, are plenty. Let me elaborate a few crucial points.
The Benefits of Executive Coaching
1. Helps executives reflect
With the help of a coach, executives are able to reflect better as the process of coaching involves asking lots of reflective questions.
And while some of these questions may seem similar or even repetitive in nature, they are aimed at guiding the executive to dive deeper into their goals or problems and address the situation through multiple angles and lenses – this ensures there is clarity on the subject being discussed for both the executive as well as the coach.
2. Provides guidance that’s otherwise absent
In a regular work environment, an executive/leader typically works with their team, key shareholders, and key customers.
So, more often than not, most of their conversations revolve around achieving corporate goals and the executive is usually found wrestling with questions such as “Am I providing adequate return for my shareholders?” “Are my customers happy?” “Is my team motivated?” And while people in the organisation often turn to the leader looking for answers, the leader usually doesn’t have that luxury to turn to someone when they are feeling stuck.
This is where a coach’s role becomes vital. Let’s take the example of prioritisation: A common conundrum for an executive is whether they should spend more time with their employees or with their customers. The coach in such a scenario can provide guidance as to how the leader can provide adequate time to both and where they may need to prioritise their time, depending on the circumstances.
3. Paves way for new ideas
The coach acts as a confidante to the executive, which then sets up the space for them to have conversations openly, get some perspective, and bandy about new ideas in a trusted, confidential, free and open environment – without having to worry about any judgment or repercussions.
This would usually not be possible for the executive if they were in the company of the shareholders, where they may need to be a lot more guarded in their approach. Having a coach can thus open the executive’s mind to greater and bigger ideas and vistas.
4. Encourages a coaching approach
Working with coaches gives the perspective to the CEO or leader that not everything needs to be taught and one can instead be encouraged to find their own answers. The executive could perhaps learn that they don’t necessarily need to tell people what they need to do and instead can act as the coach to their team.
Doing so will ultimate be very helpful to the executive, the people who work for them and the organisation as a whole as it will encourage a culture where employees make the effort to figure out the best way forward instead of waiting to be spoon-fed every small detail in their day-to-day work life.
5. Gives a balance to the organisation
I’ve worked with companies that have had no experience of working with coaches prior to me and I often found that all of their conversations were rather strategy and transaction-oriented and personal development was just a check-box item and not something that was given a lot of priority or importance.
Conversations I would often hear would be on the lines of “I sent my top executive to the Ivy League university and spent xyz amount on them” or “Each employee in my organisation has been trained for abc number of hours per year” – which were all impressive figures and names, but none of them provided any real value.
What happens when an executive gets coached is that a coaching culture gets embedded in that organisation. When a CEO of the company sees the benefit of coaching, they tend to encourage that more people in the organisation coached and experience the benefits of coaching first-hand.
The ultimate level that can be potentially reached is that coaching is not seen as an add-on but is instead considered to be pretty much a normal part of the day-to-day workings of an organisation – wherein the executives, managers, and supervisors all conduct the most basic of activities with the undertone of coaching. And research tells us that this is the kind of leadership style that provides maximum value for the organisation.
How Organisations Can Get Started with Executive Coaching
- Organisations can expose leaders to the concept of coaching by having a senior executive coach address them about what coaching entails and how it could benefit them.
- Identifying a department to run a pilot program for coaching. Perhaps newly promoted managers or executives could form a cohort and get coached collectively on how to transition into their new roles with more responsibility.
- Organisations can educate themselves on various methodologies and schools of coaching such as ICF, EMCC, Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centred Coaching and consult with them.
- There is a lot of literature and case studies available nowadays that organisations can utilise and get informed on about the ways in which coaching has benefited a similar organisation or industry. That in itself can get the organisation started off on the right foot when it comes to bringing about executive coaching within their organisation.
- The fifth and perhaps the most important one in my opinion is that one needs to just dip their toes in water and test it out. You can read and study and analyse aspects of coaching for months and even years, but nothing can come close to truly understanding the benefits of coaching without actually trying it first-hand.
So, in conclusion, I would highly recommend organisations to just test waters, even if it is on a small scale, and do the work in terms of finding the right coach(es) and just get the process started. What follows afterwards could end up surprising even the strictest of sceptics!