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Executive Coaching Is Hot!

Driving the trend in executive coaching is the economy which makes good staff hard to get and harder to keep. In the need for constant change to stay competitive, companies see coaching as a way to help valued employees develop swiftly in the changing business environment.

A growing number of Fortune 500 companies offer executive coaching to their top people. Whether hiring external coaches or training their own leaders in coaching skills, companies are finding that coaching is essential for creating change and evolving people towards their highest productivity and potential.

Research shows that the quality of the relationship between manager and employee is a major predictor of an employee's intentions to remain in an organization (Buckingham and Coffman, 1999). Coaching helps managers talk with subordinates about their developmental needs. There's a potential big payoff in developing positive relationships through coaching.

The Executive Summit of the International Coach Federation defines executive coaching as a facilitative one-to-one mutually designed relationship between a professional coach and a key contributor who has a powerful position in the organization. The focus of the coaching is usually upon organizational performance or development, but may have a personal component as well.

Why Executive Coaching?

Executive coaching can be very useful in helping executives carry what they learn in training situations, such as leadership development programs, to the workplace and in putting those lessons into practice. One study examined the effects of executive coaching in a public sector municipal agency. Thirty-one managers underwent a conventional managerial training program, which was followed by 8 weeks of one-on-one coaching. Training increased productivity by 22.4%. The coaching, which included goal setting, collaborative problem solving, practice, feedback, supervisory involvement, evaluation of end results, and a public presentation, increased productivity by 88%, a significantly greater gain compared to training alone (Olivero, Bane, & Kopeirnan 1997). If the observations from this study bear out, it means that executive coaching coupled with management and leadership training can boost productivity and help build leadership competencies.

The objectivity that an executive coach brings to a developmental opportunity is helpful to managers seeking to make difficult changes in attitudes, work habits, perspectives and interpersonal relationships.(McCauley & Hughes-James, 1994; Young & Dixon, 1996.)

There seems to be little question that coaching is a valid method of producing desired change with leaders. Companies that have employed coaches will agree that, overall, there are performance improvements, as well as improved well-being among participants.

About 6 out of 10 organizations currently offer coaching or other developmental counseling to their managers and executives according to a survey by Manchester, Inc., a Jacksonville , Florida , career management consulting firm. Another 20% of companies said they plan to offer such coaching within the next year.

One study shows that the top reasons for offering coaching include:

1) Sharpening the leadership skills of high-potential individuals (86%);

2) Correcting management behavior problems such as poor communication skills, failure to develop     subordinates, or indecisiveness (72%);

3) Ensuring the success, or decreasing the failure rate, of newly promoted managers (64%);

4) Correcting employee relations problems such as poor interpersonal skills, disorganization, demeaning or     arrogant behavior (59%);

5) Providing the required management and leadership skills to technically oriented employee (58%).

The Masterful Coaching Experience

What makes a masterful coaching experience, one that provides long-lasting and magnificent results? On the face, coaching sounds like simple goal setting with accountability and motivational pep talks thrown in . The athletic coach comes to mind, transformed into a business-like version. Even Ken Blanchard co-authored a book with Don Shula, Everyone's A Coach . But the truth is, not everybody is a masterful coach.

The work of truly effective coaching within organizations involves much more than goal-setting . It involves unleashing the human spirit and expanding people's capacity to achieve stretch goals and bring about real change. This does not start with simple coaching techniques like setting goals, motivating people and giving feedback. It starts with considering and altering the underlying context in which these occur.

The underlying context is all of the conclusions, beliefs and assumptions people in the organization have reached in order to succeed. This context is shaped by the shared interpretations people make about their business environment. And it also includes the management culture that is inherited or self-imposed. This basic cultural context must be considered in creating a framework for effective coaching (Hargrove, 1995).

In today's rapidly changing business environment, winning organizations need a new kind of management culture, one that is based on creating new knowledge. This requires constant learning. A crucial catalyst in this new management culture is the transformational coach. His or her job is to provide direction while leaving plenty of room for people to pursue their passions, personal interests and projects.

Xerox's Paul Allaire says, “The key to the new productivity is people – helping them do what they can do, what they want to do, what they inherently know is the right thing to do.” Developing individuals' capacities for productivity is critical to the competitive life of business organizations today.

In its simplest terms, masterful coaching involves expanding people's capacity to take effective action. It involves challenging underlying beliefs and assumptions that are responsible for one's actions and behaviors. At its deepest level, masterful coaching examines not only what one does, and why one does what one does, but also who one is. What are the principles upon which one forms identity?

Using Assessments with Coaching

Many coaches begin the coaching process with assessments. Some coaching involves extensive feedback from 360 degree surveys in which the person being coached receives input from peers, subordinates and superiors.

Initially there may be extensive work examining and formulating one's personal values, interests and creating a personal mission statement. This is similar to a business strategy and mission statement for the organization. There may be coaching around aligning the personal purpose and objectives with those of the organization.

The astute coach will help the person examine gaps or openings between what they believe they do and what they actually do. This is fertile ground for personal growth and development, but is also the area where people can become defensive and resistant. It takes a talented coach to help someone out of these stuck areas, or blind spots – where they may not see with clarity. This is where the effective coach uses finely-tuned listening and observing skills. Some talented coaches have spoken of the magic of asking the right question at just the right time.

Goals and Outcomes

What are the goals and outcomes of effective executive coaching? Traditionally, the goals have been fairly specific and have focused on preventing executive derailment (Ludeman, 1995; Machan, 1988; McCauley & Douglas, 1998; Sperry, 1993; Waldroop & Butler, 1996). The coaching process may address a specific behavior that is causing managerial conflict (Strickland, 1997), improve specific managerial competencies or solve specific problems (Douglas & McCauley, 1997; Hall, Otazo & Hollenbeck, 1999), or help executives address behaviors or issues that are impeding job effectiveness (Koonce, 1994).

Increasingly coaching seeks to enhance the performance of high-potential executives (Judge & Cowll, 1997). The goals of executive coaching are shifting and broadening as more and more executives seek out coaching for a variety of different reasons.

Here are some other important results cited in research on the outcomes of executive coaching:

1. Better management by enhancing an executive's ability to navigate sensitive political issues;

2. Strengthening strategic decision making;

3. Opening a window onto organizational and self explorations (Hall, Otazo & Hollenbeck, 1999; Pilette &     Wingard,1997).

Research by the Center for Creative Leadership has found that the primary causes of derailment in executives involve deficits in emotional competence. These are listed as:

1. Difficulty handling change

2. Not being able to work well in a team

3. Poor interpersonal relations

A study of 130 executives found that how well people handled their own emotions determined how much people around them preferred to deal with them (Clarke, 1997).

It is becoming obvious that coaching is not only about behavioral changes leading to improved performance on the job. The masterful coaching experience goes deeper than behavior changes into real and lasting changes through mind shift. Many call this transformational or masterful coaching.

One of the newer fields of study is developmental coaching. This examines the client's level of development along the 15 or so one journeys throughout the life span. Based on the work of developmental psychologists (Wilbur, 2000), it combines with the work of organizational action science and is called Developmental or Integral Coaching (Laske, 2000).

Coaching is effective when it leads to behavioral change, particularly when it affects the bottom line. However, for change to be lasting and meaningful, the coach must reach for deeper levels of commitment and explore core issues with the client.

David Whyte puts it eloquently: “It is incumbent on each of us, to start telling our story in such a way that you can grant magnificence back to your work and back to what you do. If you can't grant magnificence to your work, you grant magnificence to yourself and have the courage to step out of it into something that is really commensurate to your gifts and is a place where you can really feel like you come alive again at the frontier of your own destiny ” (1999).

How to Get the Most Out of Coaching

1. Talk about what matters most. Talk about your important needs. Be selfish about your coaching time – talk about what really matters rather than what you “should” be addressing.

2. Focus on how you feel and want to feel, not just on what you want to produce. Don't avoid talking about your feelings, no matter what your opinions of them are. Feelings drive behaviors. To change your behaviors, change how you feel. Be willing to explore and discuss your feelings with your coach. Awareness is the first step toward change.

3. Get more space, not more time, into your life. Coaching needs room in order to work. If you're too busy, you'll use coaching to push yourself harder, instead of using coaching to become more effective. Simplification gets you space. You need space in order to learn and to be able to evolve beyond where you are today.

4. Become incredibly selfish in order to reduce energy drains. Coaching will help you to identify and reduce things that drain and strain you such as recurring problems, difficult relationships and pressured environments. It's up to you to ask your coach for help in reducing energy drains.

5. Be open to see things differently. You will get more out of coaching if you are willing to examine your assumptions, ways of thinking, expectations, beliefs, and reactions. As David Whyte has said, “Nobody has to change, but everybody has to have the conversation.”

6. Sensitize yourself to see and experience things earlier than before. Coaching conversations will lead you to increased awareness. The more you sensitize yourself to your feelings and thoughts, the faster you can respond to events and opportunities. This may mean eliminating alcohol, stress, caffeine and an adrenaline-based energy system for living.

7. Design and strengthen your business and personal environments. The value of coaching can be extended if you use part of your coaching time to design the perfect environment in which to live and work. If your surroundings are unpleasant, unhealthy, or disorganized, they can affect your success. Clean up, organize, beautify.

8. Be clear about your goals before ending the coaching session. Coaching is just conversation unless it leads to action. Make sure you know what your goals are, both immediate, near future and long term.

9. Spend part of your coaching time to improve your ability to give feedback. Successful leaders know how to give positive feedback to their key people. They do it frequently and with authenticity. They never hesitate when feedback is less than positive. You should give your coach feedback, especially at the end of each session. Say what worked, what didn't, and what you'd like next.

10. Be willing to evolve yourself, not just increase your performance. Coaching is a developmental process and an evolutionary one. You'll learn how to accomplish more with less effort. But you will also think differently, adopt a new personal vision of yourself, change outdated beliefs and assumptions and expand your view of yourself and your place in the world. Work with your coach to become more magnificent in your work and in your life.

Key Coaching Principles

1. Synergy causes better results, much more easily. Proper coach/client matching is essential for synergy to    occur.

2. When people are fully heard, they move forward immediately. Not being heard slows down personal    development and human evolution.

3. Any situation can be optimized, turned around or improved. And if it cannot, get out of it responsibly.

4. Fewer problems occur when one has a strong personal foundation. Rising above the muck of life is step one    in coaching.

5. Sometimes the client has the answer, sometimes the coach does. It doesn't really matter where it comes     from.

6. One can have a perfect life. It's not a fantasy or pipedream. It really is do-able, and in this lifetime.

7. Humans operate at one percent or less of our potential. Coaching increases this figure.

8. Success is a basic human right. Success has nothing to do with deservingness, privilege or background.

9. When the client properly defines success, coaching becomes easy. And clients know better how to use their     coach.

10. Most people don't really know what they truly want. A coach can help clients discover what that is. It's      usually simple.

11. What one puts up with costs one dearly. Tolerations waste one's spirit, one's heart, one's mind, and one's      pocketbook.

12. We are all Picassos-In-Training. The world is waiting for people to discover, express and share their      creativity.

– Thomas Leonard


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Working Resources is a Leadership Consulting, Training and Executive Coaching Firm Helping Companies Assess, Select, Coach and Retain Emotionally Intelligent People; Emotional Intelligence-Based Interviewing and Selection; Multi-Rater 360-Degree Feedback; Career Coaching; Change Management; Corporate Culture Surveys and Executive Coaching.

Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist and Executive Coach
Trusted Advisor to Senior Leadership Teams
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