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Leadership: Heads Up on Coaching

The need for executive coaching is booming.

The need for executive coaching is booming.

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One reason for the boom is the increased emphasis on succession planning. More and more senior leaders are looking for replacements, not simply for themselves but for key levels throughout the organization. Part of this shift is demographic; baby boomers will begin to retire in record numbers. Another part is a realization by senior leaders that they have not prepared their managers to become more senior leaders. Leadership development programs are one solution; another more personalized solution is executive coaching. [Source: Conference Board and Bersin & Associates]

Executive coaching most often involves behavior-based change. [Exceptions include coaching related to business and strategic development.] An individual works with an executive coach to develop a plan of action that addresses behaviors that when improved can affect performance. Typical coaching focuses on aspects of leadership related to communication, delegation, decision-making and conflict management. Sometimes the coaching is developmental; other times the coaching is corrective, finding ways to overcome behaviors that are interfering with productivity as it relates to people and processes.

Yet as popular as coaching has become there are many questions about what coaching is and what coaches really do. Executive Coaching for Results is a good place to start to learn how coaching can help an individual and her organization. Written by three veteran executive coaches (two with a background in hiring and managing other coaches) Executive Coaching for Results provides a step-by-step look, based on real-life case studies, at the coaching process from selecting a coach, using assessments, measuring the return on investment, and follow-up. Here some insights:

Link to leadership development. Coaching cannot exist within a vacuum. It requires the support of senior leaders. Coaching may complement leadership development efforts. Many CEOs, as the authors point out, have received coaching. Their success can serve as testament to its effectiveness.

Manage the coaching engagement. Coaching cannot be a fly-by-the-seat of your pants process. It is a complement to the business equation and as such needs to be managed. The authors include a checklist of items to consider during the process that cover everything from selecting a coach to arranging assessments and arranging sponsorship of senior leaders.

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Using assessments. Instruments that assess personality like the Myers-Briggs provide the coachee with information that she can use to understand her behavior. The authors write, “The majority of tools are viewed as value-neutral. Their purpose is to facilitate understanding of a person’s tendencies, personality, or leader characteristics – not to pass judgment as to good or bad.” That last point is critical. A critical theme of coaching is self-awareness. Apply that awareness to evaluate one’s own behavior is essential to self-development and performance improvement.

Measuring impact. The outcome of executive coaching should be improvement. But how do you measure it? Sometimes you can link coaching to an up-tick in ROI; other times you can link it to an improved climate in the workplace. Still other times, you can measure it as improved leadership effectiveness; that is, leading with a greater sense of purpose, clarity, and outward focus.

Coaching yourself. The conclusion of an executive coaching engagement is not the end. For many it is a continuation on the leadership journey. A successful coaching engagement will have opened the door to self-awareness that the coachee can keep open by reflecting often and asking others to observe his behavior to ensure that behavior change is sustained.

Executive coaching is not for everyone. The first requirement is personal commitment. If an individual does not desire personal change or is unwilling to commit to working with a coach, then no amount of coaching would be worthwhile. Yet for the rest of us executive coaching can be a great illuminator. It can open up doors of personal awareness that can help us learn more about our strengths and weaknesses, and how we can build upon what we do well in order to perform at a higher level.

Executive Coaching for Results will find its way on to the bookshelves of many internal coaching programs. That’s good, but it would be my hope that copies of the book get passed around and well-thumbed through. The insights found in these pages will help anyone seeking coaching as well as anyone hiring one to get a strong foundation for the coaching process. Knowing more will help the person being coached as well as her organization to benefit more from the coaching process.

Sources:Brian O. Underhill, Kimcee McAnally and John Koriath Executive Coaching for Results” The Definitive Guide to Developing Organizational Leaders San Francisco: Berrett Koehler 2007
Nic Patton “CEOs worried by new generation of managers” www.management-issues.com 10.05.07 [Citing Conference Board study]
Nic Patton “U.S. suffering a critical shortage of middle managers” www.management-issues.com 5.17.07 [Citing Bersin & Associates study]

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John Baldoni • Leadership Expert: Executive Coach/Author/Speaker • Baldoni Consulting, LLC • www.johnbaldoni.com