What is Coaching?

The essence of executive coaching is helping executives improve specific core skills of management, the common denominator of which is often improving their relationships with key stakeholders. Skills include group leadership, teamwork, decision-making, problem-solving, time management, delegation, establishing priorities, and successfully interacting with superiors, peers and direct reports. Mastery of these skills is central to being a successful executive, and these skills are applicable whether the organization is for-profit or not-for-profit.

Benefits of Coaching

I believe that executives who wish to improve aspects of their fundamental managerial skills have the capacity and willingness to look within themselves, respond to feedback from colleagues, and then make the changes necessary to improve their performance and effectiveness. Although changing established patterns of behavior can be uncomfortable and requires a measure of fortitude and determination, the results of a successful coaching engagement can be transformative for these executives and their organizations.

When is Coaching Successful?

Most importantly, coaching is successful when the client wants to be coached. There must be a fairly clear idea of the focus of the coaching, which is determined and verified during the initial phase of the engagement. The engagement also needs to have the support and buy-in of the senior executive team, and coaching should be perceived by the individual as a vote of confidence. Since the client is only coached for a finite period of time, the support of all levels of management surrounding him or her helps solidify the desired changes, and then provides on-going encouragement and feedback after the engagement is complete. It is interesting how powerful even subtle changes in behavior and performance can be, to the clear benefit of the executives and their organizations.

The Coaching Process

A coaching engagement starts with a conversation between the client, that person’s sponsor, the relevant HR partner and myself. This discussion identifies one or two areas of behavior the executive wishes to change and establishes a structure to explore the areas to be changed.

At the heart of executive behavioral change is an enhanced level of self-awareness.  Early on, I usually perform an objective fact-finding exercise, such as a 360 assessment, through which the client receives direct, confidential and unequivocal feedback as to how his or her behavior is perceived by peers, superiors and direct reports. This part of the process serves two functions. First, clear feedback is provided to the client. Second, those around the client become involved in their colleague’s behavior change by providing reinforcing feedback as the coaching engagement progresses. This requires a high degree of trust on the part of all concerned, and this trust is key to helping the individual modify his or her behavior.  Also, I will sometimes recommend an Emotional Intelligence assessment, which can provide valuable insight into self-awareness.

Once feedback is provided, which can be a difficult and uncomfortable time for the client, we work together to shift his or her perceptions from the existing situation to the desired future state. This process specifically examines the consequences of non-action, as a way of understanding obstacles, and the benefits of change, as a way to encourage the work of change.

The next step is to build a plan for change, being careful to identify and discuss desired and required new behaviors. Also, the challenges and difficulties likely to be encountered in achieving the future scenario are discussed, and specifically what must change in this individual’s conduct, approach and thought patterns. 

Once a plan is developed, it is time to practice. I work with the client to take ownership of the changes to be made in the work situation and help him or her practice new behaviors. This phase is where the greatest amount of time in a coaching engagement is spent. It is an iterative process in which the client will experiment, make a change, and then we will talk about how the change went, what worked and what did not work, and what practice and continued refinement is required. Additionally, in this phase, the individual might solicit the input of those people most affected by his or her behavior change. In this manner, progress is noted, measured and reinforced.

Since coaching is for a finite period of time, the objective is to help the client make the changes necessary for continued success, understand what changes are made, own the changes, and be able to conduct business without the continued assistance of the coach. Therefore, the final phase is preparing the individual to sustain changes made and continue to develop on his or her own.

Length of the Engagement

Most coaching engagements are nine to twelve months in duration, with flexibility to extend as circumstances warrant. Coaching sessions are conducted by me, both in person and by phone, in meetings that are typically from one to two hours in length. Initially, I arrange for three or four sessions per month. As the engagement progresses, the interval between sessions becomes two to three weeks, as the client becomes more comfortable with new behaviors. Between sessions, I am always available by phone any time the client needs reassurance or feedback. And, while the process discussed above is the usual approach, I can adapt my approach to suit the specific needs of the client and the culture of the organization.