Executive Coaching – Explained
How Executive Coaching actually works and what happens to help you achieve you objectives
Among those considering Executive Coaching there appears to be many views about what it does and does not offer. This article provides a clear explanation of the way it works and what to expect. It also describes how managers can use coaching to enable them to achieve the business results that they want.
It’s probably best to explode some myths and start by saying what executive coaching is not. There is a difference between coaching and consultancy which is often confused. Coaching is not about providing advice and suggestions for resolving issues; that is the remit of a consultant. Some mix up coaching with counselling or therapy, but therapy tends to deal with deeply rooted psychological problems and has a focus on the past and upbringing. Whereas coaching concentrates on normal individuals with a focus on the present and achieving future goals. Finally coaching does not tend to work well as a last ditch remedy for someone about to get fired. Some managers seem to think that being seen to have a coach is the first stop on the way to the departure lounge! This is not true and many very successful executives have a coach to enable them to continually operate to their full potential. This is certainly the case with my clients.
Managers engage a coach when they have something that they want to change in order to improve business results. The coach provides a source of help that is independent from the company and is therefore not linked to any internal politics. The relationship is a confidential and collaborative one, where coach and manager work as a partnership. The type of topics worked on in coaching can be varied. They are often related to leadership, developing a particular competence such as influencing stakeholders, or change management issues. Coaches can also provide an objective sounding board for difficult business decisions. The great thing about good coaches is that they will work hard to make sure they understand the manager’s situation, thinking or feelings. They will be non-judgemental and committed to the success of the client in achieving his or her objectives. In my recent research (Goddard, 2010) executive coaching clients stated that the coaching relationship was unique and provided them with the opportunity to develop and test their ideas in a safe environment.
So what is it that working with a coach can do for a manager that he/she cannot do for him or herself? The key role and skill of the coach is to enable the manager to get a new and different perspective on his/her topic. The coach generates a new awareness which allows the manager to create a new way of thinking about a situation or topic. This is primarily done through skilful questioning, checking the evidence and rationale for views, and providing the personal challenge and encouragement to try out new ways of doing things. The key here is that through the facilitation of the coach the manager finds his own solutions to the topic and develops his or her own action plan for implementation. In reality this is the only way that people are committed to making a change; well meaning advice from experts does not always work. Let’s take an example of a couple of questions that a coach may use that are not directly related to a particular business or problem. Answer them for yourself and see if they generate any new awareness or perspective for you.
The first question is ‘what would you consider to be the ten greatest successes in your life?’ List them out, and then consider them. What do you notice about your answers? Do they focus on one part of your life such as career or family? Or do they cover all aspects of your life? What are the implications for you of your list?
The second question is ‘on a scale of 1-10 how satisfied are you with your business performance?’ What would it take to improve your satisfaction to a rating of 9 or 10?
The returns on coaching have been calculated at six times the cost of the original investment. If leadership is enhanced, or the implementation of an initiative can be improved it’s easy to see how this kind of return can be achieved. So if you are seeking to improve business results give coaching a try. Most coaches give a free ‘taster session’ so you can soon find out if it’s for you.
Goddard, A. (2010) The Clients’ Experience of the Executive Coaching Relationship. MA Dissertation, Oxford Brookes University.
This study is available as a free resource from