Executive Coaching: What it is, What it Isn’t, and What to Expect

Mary Morand

Talent Advisory Practice Lead

 

You’ve probably heard about executive coaching—or possibly you’ve had a coach yourself. A coach helps you look around and adapt, see forward and focus. For an executive facing ever increasing demands from his or her board, customers, employees and other stakeholders, it’s vital to always be learning and always be practicing leadership agility. Relying on past successes or enjoying a current state of strong performance? It may feel okay in the moment, but it’s a risky way to create your future. The world—and your business—is just changing too fast. And that means leaders have to change along with it.

An executive coach helps leaders create clarity in the (sometimes) chaos by seeing what they can’t see in their own forest of trees, by hearing what isn’t said and by saying what others simply will not say. A coach questions the obvious and challenges leaders’ assumptions. Real growth happens when we push beyond our normal. Rest assured though, a great coach is also a true partner. In fact, the only success for the coach is a leader’s success—and on his or her own terms. The coach supports the leader by providing a framework and giving him or her space to create the necessary changes. 

What does that mean exactly? Executive leaders typically know how to plan and they know how to execute the plan. Yet, something happens on the way to getting results. Something gets in the way—or maybe it’s multiple somethings mixed together with a few people problems and some organizational misalignment. Possibly the issues are with one’s own leadership. Coaching can surface the root causes, hidden insecurities and untapped strengths that exist in every single leader, team and organization.

The really good news in all of this is that sometimes even a slight adjustment is all it takes to make a big difference. A simple shift in thinking or in action can bring about the change that drives great outcomes. A coach helps leaders identify the shift, practice it in real life and ensure its sustainability. So much of the way we work becomes second nature and even robotic after many years, and though our habits may have served us well in the past, they can lose effectiveness over time and certainly as the stakes get higher. Executive coaching helps leaders identify habits that no longer serve them and develop the thinking that drives new behaviors and creates lasting change.

People have said to me, “Coaching is for people who are failing, right?” Not so much actually. Coaching is for someone who wants to change. That could mean fixing something that’s not working, but it also means leveraging what already is working and finding what else is possible. Some of the best organizations use coaches to prepare leaders for new roles, transition new leaders into their cultures and develop high-potential leaders for key businesses. In the competitive talent wars, coaching is a key development and retention strategy because it engages leaders personally and aligns their goals and aspirations with the business.

Executive coaching begins with a conversation about why the individual seeks coaching. Exploratory conversations help the coach and executive build a trusting relationship and establish coaching goals. Together they identify the stakeholders who have a vested interest in the leader’s success. They may seek direct feedback from the stakeholders and then work to incorporate that into the coaching. Consistent meetings help create momentum and strong progress toward goals.

Unlike mentoring where the mentor shares his or her own experiences with a mentee, a good coach is more of a facilitator. A coach creates the space in which the executive can think aloud and process. The coach is always focused on the executive’s stated goals for the future and helps the leader discover his or her own solutions that work for the situation. 

Coaching isn’t a quick fix because change is hard. It takes time to practice new things and develop new habits. But the results can have a significant impact that lasts a lifetime. Very likely, the leader’s organization, team members, direct reports, customers and stakeholders will all feel the impact. It can even extend to personal connections with family members and friends.

Though executive coaching isn’t the solution to every challenge, it can play a major role in helping talented executives maximize their efforts. If you’re interested in learning more about coaching, let’s discuss how it can help meet your needs.