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The Importance of Executive Coaching

Aug 17, 2007
Why executive coaching services are expanding and how best to use an executive coach.

Why use an executive coach?

Nothing to be ashamed of

Unfortunately, for years, the idea of using an executive coach was looked on as a weakness. Somehow, the higher up people got in a company, the more responsibilities they were supposed to handle without any outward sign that they weren't superman or superwoman.

It wasn't even supposed to be the image of the swan - serene and calm on the outside, but paddling like hell underneath. No, people were supposed to look serene and paddle serene as well!

Fortunately, these days things have moved on a lot. It's not considered a weakness to seek support. At least in some companies. There will always be those that think the stiff upper lip is better than admitting that not only people can't do it alone, but it's a whole lot better if they don't.

All the 'big people' have their own coaches, mentors, 'gurus', counsellors or wise person. Indeed, having an executive coach is nothing to be ashamed of.

Pressure 'they' put on you

You are a key member of your company. People rely on your leadership, interpersonal skills, judgements and decisions and expect you to continually 'come up with the goods'.

As a matter of course, you are called upon to give keynote speeches, chair crucial meetings, develop strategy and people, focus on succession planning, handle crises and deal with the internal and external pressures that go with your position.

Part of the deal is that others do expect you to handle all that and more with grace, professionalism, energy and enthusiasm. And then there's the rest of your life, too: all that work-life balance stuff.

Pressure you put on yourself

Not only that, staying under duvet may seem very inviting, especially if you, too, set high (if not impossible) expectations for yourself. Unfortunately, staying under the duvet is not an option most of the time.

Putting additional pressure on yourself is not uncommon. Somehow, the more responsibility people are given, the stronger their sense of obligation. Now, that's not a bad thing. It's good to be really committed and responsible.

However, the downside is that people give themselves a really hard time when they don't live up to the expectations they've set themselves. And those expectations are usually way higher than any their companies set. They really get to a point where they can't see the wood for all the trees they themselves planted.

Good executive coaching should put all these pressures into perspective and give you tools and additional skills to cope more effectively with everything that's thrown at you.

Benefits of using an executive coach

It's a place to offload

When you use an executive coach, it's a wonderful opportunity to offload your concerns, issues and complaints without fear of making a career-limiting move.

Your coach offers confidentiality and objectivity

These are qualities everyone could use in their life. You want to know that what you discuss with your coach stays between the two of you. At the same time, getting an objective perspective on your situation is invaluable.

You will feel more motivated and enthused

When someone is totally on your side and guiding you through some of the rockier times in your working life, energy and enthusiasm are released. It's very reassuring knowing someone is there.

They will give you unbiased practical support

Without an axe to grind, your executive coach won't be biased, won't have the same prejudices and expectations others within your company may have. They will also be able to offer you practical suggestions and options because they may perhaps see your issues more clearly than you are able to.

They bring outside expertise

A good executive coach should have an array of expertise and skills that you may not have. You can expect to have your own knowledge and skill base developed the more you use a coach.

They aren't part of your company

This is key. An executive coach who isn't part of your company won't be caught up in the politics, intrigues, pettiness or even just the day-to-day routines.

They bring an outside perspective

Following on from the above point, the fact that they aren't part of the company means that they will see everything with 'untainted' eyes. In turn, they simply won't see the things the way you do and will be able to offer you fresh perspectives to help you tackle problems more creatively.

Your confidence will increase

With someone providing unconditional support, fresh perspectives and who is there just for you, your confidence can only increase. Having an executive coach is like having your own private cheering squad (even if a discreet one!).

You'll get better at what you already do well

A good coach should help you develop what you're good at. By giving you a variety of skills and techniques, your qualities and talents will grow exponentially.

Leadership and executive coaching

Leadership vacuums

We definitely hear this a lot from our various clients, how there is a big leadership void, how they don't make leaders like they used to, how things would be better if they only had good strong leadership within their organisations.

We've written quite a bit on leadership (link here to leadership docs?), but it's important to look at leadership in the context of executive coaching.

We agree. There are leadership voids in many organisations. There isn't however, a lack of people who could fill those leadership voids. The issue seems to be more about how people's leadership skills and potential are perceived.

Owning up

We think this is one of the best indicators of a good leader: owning up to mistakes and showing vulnerability.

It really is all right to make mistakes. You can't and won't know it all and you will screw up every once in a while - everyone does. When you do, try not to make excuses, point the finger of blame at someone else, sweep it under the carpet and hope it will resolve itself on all its own or justify your own behaviour.

Humility and maturity go hand in hand. When something goes awry, take responsibility for what went wrong and use your executive coach to debrief. The more you can let your coach know what has been going on for you, the better able they will be to give you relevant, practical suggestions to ease you through the rocky times.

Then you'll be exhibiting true leadership behaviour.

Being a role model

People need role models

Great, even good leaders need to be role models for the people around them. Others look to you for guidance, wisdom, surety and confidence. They rely on your dependability. They want to know you're handling it all.

So what if you aren't? Can you still be a role model?

Of course you can.

How executive coaching can help

This is exactly where executive coaching is most needed. In these kinds of situations you can display true leadership behaviour just by having an executive coach.

First, you'll be demonstrating that you, too, need support, which in turn gives permission to the people around you to acknowledge they might need support as well.

Second, you'll be letting others know that you aren't invincible. The knock on effect of that could be that people will be more aware of just how much you have to cope with.

In turn, if chosen well, your executive coach can be one of your role models. Because we can guarantee that your executive coach isn't invincible either!

Role models aren't indestructible. And if you want to be a great role model, let other people know it.

Choosing an executive coach

Who's right for me?

The spectrum of executive coaches and executive consulting services is enormous. The executive coaching services on offer are seemingly endless. Different people offer different skills and it's really important for you to be clear about what you want from an executive coach.

If you aren't clear what you want when you start, then that's one good way to find out if you'll be able to work with someone: by talking with you even for a brief time, a good executive coach will be able to help you pinpoint exactly what they could do to support you.

But there are some essentials no matter who you use.

Your executive coach has to:

Be trustworthy
Be hugely experienced in dealing with a variety of people and issues
Have your best interests at heart
Be empathetic
Have really good counselling skills; be direct and clear
Get to the point and give practical suggestions

And most important:

You do have to like them
Whatever anyone says, if you or your company are paying for executive coaching support, you absolutely must get on with this person.

Some companies may have a group of executive coaches they know and use. If you don't like any of them, find your own!

Having an executive coach could be a major relationship in your life. You may use them only once or decide that you want them supporting you in an on-going role. You may decide to have a 'check up' or 'MOT' once a year.

At Impact Factory, those of us who do executive coaching have all kinds of coaching relationships:

people we see once who have an intensive, powerful and in-depth session
people we see regularly who like to know someone is out there just for them
people with whom we have a less formal arrangement - they use us as and when things arise and they need an outside eye to help them
However and whoever you use, executive coaching could make a significant difference to how you feel and what you do.
About the Author
Jo Ellen and Robin run Impact Factory who provide Executive Coaching for Individuals, Public Speaking Presentation Skills, Communications Training and Leadership Development.
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