Just what is an executive coach exactly?

Just what is an executive coach exactly?

Chris Woodman, managing director of Leadenhall Consulting recently (18/9/2012) published a blog in Managing people, Pay & benefits considering what  executive coaching exactly is.

Do you know what and executive coach does for a living or are you considering executive coaching for yourself or someone else but you are not sure what it is all about and what to expect? It is common practice for professional sportspersons to have a coach, why then, do many business people not even know what an executive coach does, let alone consider having a coach working with them?

What then is any form of coaching about? Whether it be football or business, there are badges to be had, but the badges do not make you a good coach, but they can be helpful and provide knowledge and information. The quality of a coach varies hugely, but the best coaches can make a huge difference to the performance of an individual. How does this work? As with sports coaches, the executive coach does not go on court, on the pitch or running track and perform.

In fact the coach may or may not have ever performed at the same level as the person being coached. Here are seven things that can make a difference:

  1. Experience: Some coaches have been there, done that and got the T-Shirt. They may have got the scars and may be able to give insight, support and ideas to their protégés. This may be more ‘mentoring’ than coaching, but experience has a part to play in some coaching assignments.
  2. Identification: Good executive coaches help executives work out what they are doing well and what they could do better, they help the person being coached to assess, understand and work on their strengths and weaknesses .
  3. Questioning: Coaches can ask questions that others cannot or will not ask. They are not managers, not subordinates, not peers, not spouses, not friends, they are not actors in the drama of the business or life of the person being coached. They can skillfully facilitate the thinking of the person being coached to find solutions to issues that need addressing
  4. Accountability: Coaches can hold their charges to account or better provide an environment where the person being coached holds himself or herself to account.
  5. Psychology: The beliefs and values of individuals may be an impediment or a platform for success. The coach can elicit these beliefs, work with the person being coached on understanding their beliefs and values and how they can use that understanding to enhance their performance. The coach relies on her understanding of the psychology of living.
  6. Focus: What get measured gets done. By creating space and time in which to focus on key issues, the coach can work with the person being cached to prioritise and focus on what is important, away from the noise of day to day activity.
  7. Trust and support: The life of a senior executive can be an isolated one. The coach can provide a safe place for an individual to explore and test thoughts in a safe environment. Those ideas may be the source of new achievements and results, but the executive needs space in which to explore them safely in a non-judgemental environment.

Woodman says that in his experience, coaching is one of the best ways of making a difference in an executives’ performance. Training courses can be valuable for skills development and providing knowledge but coaching and its sister mentoring provide the opportunity over several months to bring about an agreed change or deliver specific improvements.

Coaching used to be given primarily to ‘problem’ executives to turn them around. Now coaching has moved to enhancing the highest performers.

Given the growth in executive coaching over the last 20 years it would not be surprising if in the very near future any senior executive worth his or her salt will have a coach and nobody will be asking the question “What is an Executive Coach?”