What is Executive Coaching?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

What is Executive Coaching?
by Robert G. Goodman, Ed.D.

Executive Coaching is a targeted, customized method for leadership development. I approach it as a collaborative partnership among an upper level executive, his/her organization, and the executive coach. This approach implies that the coaching takes place within the context and on behalf of the organizational strategy, objectives, and mandates. The organization is the client; the benefactors are the executive and the organization.

A coaching partnership is comprised primarily of one-on-one interactions between a professional coach and an executive, and is supported, as needed, by others. It is based on agreed upon ground rules, time frames, and specific goals and measures of success.

For family firms, an executive coach who is external both to the firm and to the family has the ability to be objective in interpreting feedback as well as to deliver it in a detached manner. The coach can deliver information that would be too difficult for another family member or for a non-family executive to impart in a way that it could be heard and acted upon effectively.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF EXECUTIVE COACHING?
The purpose is to facilitate both the executive's and the organization's learning and to achieve identified business results.

WHY USE EXECUTIVE COACHING?
Executive Coaching is being used with increasing frequency because it has been found to be highly effective, especially when compared to other executive group training methods that are general and cannot take into account individual experiences, leadership styles and preferences.

WHO USES IT?
It is used by successful executives to develop their leadership and managerial competencies. It is often used for individuals who are being groomed for a new role with increasing responsibilities that demand new skills, more complex thinking, and highly effective managerial and interpersonal competencies. Less frequently, it is used for performance improvement.

WHAT ARE THE TYPICAL PHASES IN AN ENGAGEMENT?
Typical phases include:

  • Pre-coaching needs analysis and planning
  • Contracting
  • Data gathering, usually a 360 process, plus individual measures
  • Goal setting
  • Coaching
  • Measuring and reporting results
  • Transitioning to long-term development



WHAT ARE THE PRACTICES OF EXECUTIVE COACHING?
Within the context of predefined goals, coaching uses tailored approaches, to include developing a complete understanding of one's leadership style, skill building, performance improvement, behavioral change, development for future assignments, and how best to leverage one's leadership to achieve organizational effectiveness.

Coaches use many learning techniques such as problem solving, planning, rehearsal and on-the-job practice, feedback, dialogue, clarification of roles, assumptions, and priorities, teaching and the application of a variety of management and leadership tools, and finally, referral to other developmental resources.

HOW LONG DOES A TYPICAL CONTRACT LAST?
The length varies with goals. However most senior executives retain a coach for one year to eighteen months. This duration allows ample time for the executive to make progress with goals, to measure progress, and to build in methods for the executive's long term development.

WHAT ARE THE OUTCOMES?
Outcomes will depend on the goals of the coaching engagement, but most executives report an increase in their effectiveness as leaders. Research suggests that successful coaching depends upon three factors: first, the executive's level of commitment and motivation; and second, the quality of the relationship between the coach and the executive. The third factor is the quality of the executive-manager relationship and in particular the manager's ability and commitment to support the executive's development.

WHO ELSE IS INVOLVED IN ADDITION TO THE COACH AND EXECUTIVE?
Successful coaching includes key stakeholders, such as the executive's manager, human resources, peers, direct reports, board members, and other key people in the executive's life.

WHAT IS A "360" AND HOW ESSENTIAL IS IT TO THE COACHING PROCESS?
The concept of a "360" refers to the activity of gathering feedback on an executive's performance and leadership from the people all around the leader. The best way to accomplish this feedback is by the coach's conducting confidential, one on one, individual interviews with the people identified by the executive and the executive's manager. This data is gathered, analyzed, and fed back to the executive in comprehensive de-briefing sessions. From this information, and in combination with other data, both coach and executive draft a development plan, which charts the course for the coaching phase.

All executives whom I have coached have reported that the 360 process was extremely useful. In some cases, it was a pivotal experience. Although opportunities for honest and valuable feedback usually diminish as an executive climbs the corporate ladder, it is this information that holds the key to an executive's success.

WHO IS QUALIFIED TO BE AN EXECUTIVE COACH?
Currently there is no clear and agreed upon credentialing process. Executive coaches should have training and experience in both business and psychology. Many of the best coaches hold a Ph.D. in psychology or a related field. They understand how adults learn and change. These same coaches have either worked internally in business settings or have owned or operated their own business.

It is of utmost importance that the coach be ethical, trustworthy, and guided by clear personal values. Trust is the foundation of the coaching relationship. Without it, the executive will not take the risk to learn and will not talk about the issues that are most critical to achieving the stated objectives.

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Robert G. Goodman is a founding Board Member of The Executive Coaching Forum, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing best practices and ethical guidelines worldwide in the field of executive coaching.

This article is also featured by The Roseview Group, a company that specializes in providing guidance to family owned businesses with management and governance issues.

updated 6 years ago