As a multibillion-dollar industry, coaching provides employment to thousands of professionals across the globe. A simple search for the word ‘coaches’ gives over 6 million results on LinkedIn. The market size of the coaching industry was around $15 billion in 2019, and is estimated to have reached $20 billion by 2022!
Executive coaching, in particular, has seen great demand over the last decade with many top companies deploying the services of executive coaches to help their top managements as well as potential future leaders develop and learn critical skills, deal with performance issues, guide company-selected individuals to take on more responsibilities, and more.
But what makes executive coaching effective? This complete guide to executive coaching best practices in 2022, brings forth the methods that successful executive coaches employ to help their coachees achieve optimum success.
What is executive coaching?
Broadly, we can term coaching as a collaborative effort between the coach and the coachee that helps both parties assess and understand the coachee’s present requirements, their challenges, objectives & goals, chart a roadmap to overcome current limitations and explore alternate opportunities – while encouraging self-awareness, ensuring accountability and providing support for achieving targets and continued progress.
Executive coaching includes all of the above while focusing on imparting progressive, practical, and structured learning methods that are critical to high-performing leadership in organizations. Executive coaching is about cultivating leadership skills, facilitating all-round growth of the individual and the team that benefits the individual as well as the organization.
Coaching is often misinterpreted as mentoring (or consulting or training), but it is not the same. Though the differences are subtle, they are important to know.
Mentoring is more often instructing a person who may be less experienced on how to perform a particular task whereas a coach will bring forth what the client already knows and encourage the client to perform better.
You can check out this article to understand the differences between a coach and a consultant and which is the better suited route for an organization to take, depending on their goals.
To put it simply, an executive coach’s job is to help executives, whether C-suite executives or junior team leads, to be more effective leaders.
What do executive coaching best practices mean?
The dictionary defines best practices as ‘a set of methods, guidelines or techniques that have been generally accepted as superior to any alternatives because they produce results that are superior to those achieved by other means.’
In that context, executive coaching best practices refer to methods and techniques that have been used or exhibited by executive coaches that have produced practical and effective results during and post specific coaching processes for the executives being coached and for the organization.
Guidelines for executive coaching best practices
Effective executive coaching is one that aligns with the organisation’s business strategy, work culture & objectives. It must be a partnership between the executive coach, the coachee and the organisation – all of which have to work collectively for the success of the coaching program.
a. Qualifications, skills & experience
Do qualifications, trainings, skillsets & experience of the respective industry matter when selecting an executive coach? Definitely. A highly competent coach, one with solid ethics and who inspires trust and confidence in the client and understands the sanctity of a confidential agreement will be in much demand.
When a company selects an executive coach, they expect the coach to have the requisite degrees & certifications as well as deep knowledge, a broad toolkit and skills that encourage out-of-the-box, a novel thought process, the ability to build roadmaps to achieve desired objectives, and the ability to give unbiased feedback and sound advice.
An executive coach who has previously worked in a business environment will bring that experience with them which will be an add-on while understanding the coachee’s challenges and may prove handy while determining the coaching approach that meets and benefits the expectations of the client/organization.
b. Client is at the centre of the coaching process
One of the principles of effective executive coaching is to understand right at the outset of the coaching journey that your coachee is at the centre of your coaching program – where they set their own goals and agenda based on their requirements.
Of course, this coachee-centred approach does not mean that the coachee is always right, but instead that the executive coach is an equal partner in the process – listening carefully to the coachee’s input and showing respect for their knowledge, perspective and position.
This approach helps build mutual trust and is important in building and nurturing professional relationships. Client-focused executive coaching encourages coachees to identify their problems, think from different angles, and search for solutions themselves.
c. Focus on the business
Although coaching is quite often individual-centric, the fact remains that executive coaching is ultimately closely linked to the organisation’s final goals. The executive coach needs to keep the business objectives in mind while charting out a process for the coachee.
Their coaching methodology must define a strategy that aligns and integrates with the vision and end goals of the organization.
An effective executive coaching program must incorporate leadership development methods that provide feedback, coaching, mentoring, guidance, tracking and evaluation that are tied to measurable outcomes. Executive coaching is a partnership between all stakeholders who are accountable for the success of the program.
d. Explore different approaches
As an executive coach you will have coachees ranging from the top of the leadership pyramid to mid and entry-level leaders. And although the broad basics of leadership coaching remain the same, each segment will require some adjustments based on their unique challenges, position in the hierarchy, and end goals.
For example, a CEO will have more complex problems than a mid-level manager. In the case of the CEO, the executive coach will focus more on personal growth and leadership legacy whereas the mid-level manager may need more hands-on guidance such as a reflection on their handling of team members and personal introspection on their own approach to leadership.
Executive coaches need to be flexible in their approach towards different coaching assignments, while staying within the framework of the session objectives. An executive coach will use multiple tools and techniques in coaching sessions with their coachees such as providing reflective and guided exercises, asking reflective questions, providing assessment & feedback, and more.
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For instance, the executive coach can include specific exercises that help differentiate between a leader & a manger, assign homework that help the coachee focus on their needs and goals, provide previous learnings that tie in with the current goals & achievements, or divide tasks into urgent and non-urgent sections that can help simplify the bigger picture for the client.
Essentially, the executive coach needs to ensure that each session of the coaching program ties in with the organizational issues, goals, vision, hierarchy structure, and expectations.
e. Encourage self-awareness & uphold accountability
An executive coach needs to listen in a non-judgmental manner, be sensitive to the coachee’s needs, instil confidence that they have the coachee’s best interest, nurture them towards their goals, and at the same time support and encourage the coachee to self-achieve.
Challenge and support are closely interlinked in coaching and executive coaching involves the coach to subtly push the coachee towards self-awareness (by zeroing in on their obstacles, their present & future challenges, limiting beliefs, and helping them clarify their personal, professional & organizational goals) and simultaneously support them to accomplish their goals.
An executive coach needs to challenge their client on set leadership methods, push them to newer thought-processes, all the while providing quiet support so that continuous learning and development is achieved.
Another key aspect of successful executive coaching is to set realistic goals and hold the client accountable for them. This includes helping the leaders be open to ideas, suggestions & perspectives of their juniors, charting out a practical roadmap to achieve those objectives, identifying specific actions that will help accomplish those goals, as well as nudging them to adhere to timelines & milestones that can help measure progress.
f. Be frank but decisive in assessment & feedback
One of the crucial features of an effective executive coaching program is to impart helpful but honest feedback to the client that is easy to understand and implement.
An executive coach deals with top level leaders who are often used to their subordinates agreeing to their every word! The leader’s position or status in the organisation should not be a factor in you as a coach holding back honest assessment & feedback or telling them what you think they wish to hear – this will defeat the very purpose of the coaching program, not to mention compromise your standing as a principled coach.
Ideally start by mentioning things that work and then gradually move on to areas that need improvement. People respond well to appreciation more than just criticisms. Begin by mentioning strengths and then move on to areas of concern which the client can build on.
Provide timely feedback, gauge if and why there is a gap between present and desired performance level, and take note if there are any discrepancies between what the coachee is saying and doing.
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An executive coach can gather responses and assess in many ways – through interviews with the coachee regarding the goals set for themselves, making actual visits to the company premises, checking if the organization goals are aligned with the coaching objectives by examining feedback forms and insights provided by the coachee’s superiors, peers etc.
The idea is to not just scratch the surface but get an in-depth insight into understanding the client as a whole, their personal & professional goals, commitments to the company, and more, so that you can help them improve their work-life balance and contribute more to the organization.
Executive coaching has global scope and significance given that it deals with coaching individuals who are decision makers at various levels in the leadership scale in their organizations. It is a powerful tool that can contribute to the growth of present leaders as well as provide valuable guidance to potential leaders.
Of course, executive coaches are not miracle workers; the coachee must possess the basic qualities, skills, qualifications, temperament and experience of leadership that can be demonstrated to the coachee to bring forth greater performance.
Following the best practices of executive coaching will help coaches fine-tune their approach to coaching and figure out the best tools & techniques that they can employ for effective outcomes. In short, following these executive best practices will help executive coaches learn how to best coach their clients.
1. What do executive coaches help with?
An executive coach is a qualified professional who works with executives who are employed (in some capacity) in decision-making positions, anywhere from CEOs to mid-junior level leads. The executive coach’s main job is to help these individuals identify their priorities, goals, challenges, gain self-awareness, and unlock their true potential.
An executive coach also acts as an adviser helping their clients assess their time & resource allocation, evaluate performance issues, train potential future leaders develop & learn critical skills and take on responsibilities and also ensure that individual objectives and needs align with those of the organization at large.
2. What should you focus on with an executive coach?
While selecting an executive coach there are some key aspects that you should focus on. Firstly, the credentials of that coach – whether they have professional certification, degrees and skills. Their coaching experience (C-suite, mid-junior level etc.) in the corporate industry and whether they have any business background.
Trust is the key factor between an executive coach & the coachee and how they handle confidentiality is a big factor in proving their trustworthiness. Also important is the track record (testimonials, actual client feedback) and success rate of the coach with leaders. Gauge their knowledge, approach, humility & confidence. Finally look at the costing of the coaching program and evaluate if it gives value for money.
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