Fast Company

Coaching: The Fad that Won’t Go Away

Five suggestions for getting the most out of a coach.

I ended my last column noting that we would examine three very popular leadership development methods (Action Learning, Coaching, and Leader-Led Learning) in more depth. So let’s start with executive coaching, which is now a billion-dollar industry experiencing explosive growth. Frankly, it wasn’t very long ago that having coach was sort of a dirty little secret -- you kept it to yourself. It meant you were in trouble and probably on the way out. Now it seems everybody has a coach. It means we’ve arrived, that were a rising star, someone our organization is investing in for the future. Wow, what a turnaround!

Our findings in my firm's executive development surveys (mentioned in the last column) indicated a dramatic increase in the use of coaching: In 2004, 56% of the companies said that executive coaching would be a major learning method they would emphasize. Then in a 2006 follow-up survey, 51% said the use of coaching had actually increased. Given this nearly miraculous change in the status of coaching we recently decided, along with our research partner, Dr. Brian Underhill of CoachSource, to conduct a major research project to explore the murky world of executive coaching in depth.

Our study, High-Impact Executive Coaching, was unique in that it examined the topic in a 3-D manner, i.e., through the eyes of coaches, organizations that retain them, and leaders being coached. The study included 48 organizations and 86 leaders being coached. In this column I want to focus mostly on what we learned from the leaders being coached since it’s highly relevant for anyone interested in either providing coaches to leaders or in being coached.

What did we learn?

First, let's clarify what we mean by “coaching.” There are coaches for developing leadership skills, improving public speaking, managing transitions to overseas assignments, enhancing “executive presence,” career coaches, life coaches, and coaches for just about everything else you can imagine. However, the vast majority of our respondents indicated “leader development” to be the primary reason coaches were engaged. The biggest change is from coaching being used as “fix it tool” for leaders with problems, to helping successful leaders get even better. In many firms, having a coach is seen as a badge of honor. And we found that coaching now reaches into the highest levels: 43% of CEOs and 71% of the senior executive team had worked with a coach.

And here's the bottom-line: 63% of organizations say they plan to increase their use of coaching over the next five years. Most telling, 92% of leaders being coached say they plan to use a coach again. Both indicate strong endorsements of coaching; the first by the organizations paying the bills, and the second by the leaders who are actually receiving coaching.

And what suggestions do the leaders themselves have for making the most of coaching?

  • Work hard, and smart. Leaders interviewed tell us you will need to dedicate yourself and your time to your coaching experience. Let yourself be challenged, work through discomfort; be open to new ways of doing things. Yet,don’t become too dependent on a coach. You want to accomplish specific goals as quickly as possible. “You have to do the heavy lifting, your coach just guides you along the way,” says Underhill.
  • Make sure your boss is supportive, and keep her/him involved. The vast majority of leaders who were satisfied with the results of coaching reported supportive and involved bosses. Make sure your supervisors are behind your coaching effort, let them know what development areas you’re working on, and check back along the way to see if they are noticing improvement.
  • Look for a great coach, but not your mirror image. Your organization should offer you a choice of pre-identified, pre-approved coaches (if not, ask for it). Review their bios and interview them. Leaders told us “ability to build rapport” and “business experience” were far and away the most important factors in selecting a coach. Interestingly, “coach certification” and “cost” were the least important. Select a coach you can relate to comfortably, but one that will also challenge you and keep you on your toes.
  • Measuring ROI: It’s about you. Everyone seems to be scrambling to identify a coaching return-on-investment; 73% of organizations would like one. However, you can measure whether you have improved your skills as a leader. Underhill suggests conducting follow-up 360-degree leadership feedback surveys or short “mini surveys” to measure perceptions of your improvement as a leader as identified by those working for you, and by your peers too.
  • Don’t drag it on. We found that most coaching assignments last between six and 12 months. However some leaders said they were happy to let assignments continue well beyond 18 months. Determine the appropriate end point and stick to it. Much of your learning can and should be continued on your own without a coach.

Finally, one leader told us, “I would say if you have coaching done well, it can change your life, and your life as a business leader.” Well it’s crystal clear from comments like that, and this study, that for some leaders coaching provides a rich and unique development opportunity. For sure, it’s here to stay.

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17 Comments

  • Doug Wickey

    I was elated to read the article and find that leadership coaching was out front. Furthermore that "certification" was not highly ranked but "ability to build rapport" was. Sounds like some of the early and specious fluff is being combed out of the field.

  • George Madine

    An interesting article where the basic premise is true, a
    good coach can radically alter your life. However, the flip side of this is
    that a poor coach can just radically alter your wealth. How many coaches know
    that not only do the methods of coaching change but so does the language
    depending on the level of manager in the organisation?. How many coaches have
    ever coached workers rather than managers in an organisation? Does coaching
    workers represent a ROI? If coaching is to develop as a profession surely we
    should know these things.

    I work in leadership development and engagement, as do many
    coaches, some of which have virtually no qualifications, or experience, in leading
    anyone or anything. Like all good companies I offer a guarantee on my work, if
    the client doesn’t feel that they have benefited from my coaching then they get
    their money back. I can give this guarantee based on the fact that I have owned
    or been a director of 12 different companies with interest as diverse as
    fishing, the building trade and management consultancy and I have coached at
    all levels in organisations. My qualifications include a Doctorate in Business
    Administration (DBA), an MBA and I have passed my chartered accountant exams
    (CIMA). I have been on several coach training courses virtually all have been lamentably
    poor. So poor that I now offer coach training to do the job properly.

    If we are going to be a profession we need to clean up our
    act and we need to get to the point that as a matter of course we radically
    alter client’s lives for the better and not just increase our own wealth. This
    means that we need good training and decent qualifications, couple this with
    experience and we have credibility as a profession.

    Dr George Madine

    DrGeorgeMadine@yahoo.com

  • Angelique Neumann

    While my specialty is in behavioral profiling, I'm wondering how many of you coaches utilize these objective tools to gain further insight to the strengths and probable weaknesses of your clients so that you can better guide them through their own personal growth. If you are intersted in a sample, please feel free to contact me.

    Angelique Neumann
    The Omnia Group
    813-280-3032
    www.omniagroup.net.

  • Martin Blokker

    Interesting article. 
    When was this research conducted and by whom? The date of the posting is april 2006. If that is correct, some things in the context have changed and I wonder whether it is still representative.

  • Elmo Shade

    More than a "fad" and more than "helping leaders get better."  As a Mindfulness-based Coach, the emphasis is on self-generation, i.e. understanding the underlying story and behaviors that have become one's "core belief" and the driver of dispassionate, unregulated and very often, toxic leadership.

  • Eddie Bogaerts

    Super article and very true.
    Just one observation:it always strikes me that people (preferably highly skilled professionals) seem to need to "reinvent" something that exists since a long time.Therfore ,they repackage,rename and theorithize it.So with coaching:talking WITH and transmitting from generation to generation,from friend to friend, without judging, is as old as the world .Of course,not everybody enjoyed the chance...
    SO,let's continue....

  • 180698

    Thank you for the article. For me, this is a great way to help them identify their core purpose. As a coach, I have become a better listener, because I can observe myself. Going forward, the new frontiers to explore would be - 
    a) making coaching affordableb) helping HR and the Business to provide coaching access to their 'middle management', and c) measuring it in terms of percentage of population covered.Kingshuk Gangulykg@lightbulb-moments.com

  • Andrew Fenniman

    There seems to be an inherent contradiction between the first finding, "You want to accomplish specific goals as quickly as possible, and the last, "most coaching assignments last between six and 12 months."  Unfortunately most coaching business models (well, I need to make money) and large organization structures (usually how do we control what are coaches are doing) lead to these longer engagements.  Clients will get the most out of their coach when they are able to create clarity as to their desired goals at the present, and when coaches flex to the client need to reach those goals in the time needed to do just that.  Some of my most favorite coaching engagements have lasted as little as two sessions....

    Andrew Fenniman
    Actionable Insights LLC

  • Hermans Eric

    Coaching is all about self-leadership. Everybody is 100 % responsible for his/her life, including the results. Real coaching is leading people to a higher level of awareness, which makes them grow as a person? It is about builiding selfconfidence. Good coaching opens the potential and the power in the coachee. It begins with understanding certain laws within this univers, recognising paradigms, finding their passion, using their talents, going through fear to find new results.

    Still everyday I'm amazed what people can do ...

    I'm blessed to be able to open this potential to my clients

    Eric Hermans
    Executive & Leadership Coaching

  • Janet Blaha, CPCC

    Excellent article and thank you fro sharing the recent research findings. Success is attributed to the clients' time dedication, effort and willing to step beyond their comfort levels.

  • Sergio Gomez

    Executive Coaching is a great tool for anyone looking to take their game to the next level. Look at Kobe Bryant, Tiger Woods, Tony Robbins, and any successful person and you will see that they work with a coach (or multiple coaches even.) The days of CEO's and upper tier management not reaching out for help or support is over. We all need a "time out" to take the time each week to make sure we are being as effective as possible. And I agree that no one should hire someone that is their mirror image. Find someone who has a characteristic you want for yourself and absorb it from them. 

    Sergio Gomez
    http://www.executivecoachingx....

  • sam jones

    Executive coaching is one of the best investments one can make in themselves and their business. It allows the CEO or management member to improve their skills and gives them a neutral space where they can explore what it is they are doing, how they are doing it, and where they can improve so they can take this insight into their business and have a positive effect. Some great information here on executive coaching http://executivecoachingx.com

  • Tina Elliot

    I completely agree with the research. I too find the biggest changes is from “fix it tool" to helping successful leaders be more successful. As an Executive Coach, I work with my clients to help them sort through the challenges, create awareness in their blind spots by bringing an outside perspective, boost communication skills to engage employees, create effective work environments and ultimately streamline a leaders path to the top.

    Thanks Jim for an excellent article.
    Tina Elliot, MBA, PCC
    www.synergycoaching.org

  • Jamie Matthewman

    If you're looking for free coaching and ideas to grab life by the balls you can visit my site and sign up for the newsletter which is full of great features to assist you make the most of your life.
    Jamie
    www.deliveryourpromise.com