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Executive coaching can help you better tackle current challenges, limit future challenges, bridge communication gaps with colleagues, and diffuse conflicts
Those who frequent LinkedIn and other startup circles will almost certainly be familiar with the term ‘executive coaching.’ It has its advocates and its detractors, but many founders still lack an understanding of what it actually means.
Executive coaching became popular during the 1990s, and has, over time, shed the stigma associated with many other forms of counseling. It has been described as a ‘pivotal’ experience by some, and others, such as Tony Robbins, built self-help empires on the backs of the growing craze.
For in essence, that’s what lies at the heart of executive coaching. American scholar, organizational consultant, and author Warren Bennis once said, “A lot of executive coaching is really an acceptable form of psychotherapy. It’s still tough to say, ‘I’m going to see my therapist.’ It’s okay to say, ‘I’m getting counseling from my coach.’”
Executive coaching is the practice of bolstering the performance of top executives, senior management, and other C-suite employees, by helping them tap into their full potential. If done right, the benefits are enjoyed by all three involved parties: the coach, the client or the company that hired the coach, and of course, the employee who received coaching.
Organizations may hire executive coaches to groom their existing middle managers for senior management roles, or to tackle any problems that might be hampering performance and productivity. At the upper levels of company hierarchy, it can also be directed toward helping CEOs to analyze their strategies and challenges, optimizing their – and by extension, their companies’ – performance.
Effective executive coaching aims to produce cognizable behavioral changes in the client, in order to help them better achieve strategic goals. In other words, an executive coach helps executives to see their problems and challenges from a different perspective, thereby facilitating better decision-making.
Much like a sports coach trying to draw out a player’s A-game in the interest of maximizing the potential of both the player and the team, executive coaches work to benefit both the employee and the company.
While still a relatively new field, business coaching is experiencing increasing demand. Companies like IBM, AT&T, Kodak, and Goldman Sachs have invested in executive coaching, although it still lacks proven methodologies and certifying authorities. The average duration of a coaching contract is 6-12 months – a wide range because it often depends on the goals of the employee and the types of problems that need solving.
For executive coaching to be effective, both the organization and the executive to be coached need to agree on explicit goals that they are looking to achieve through the process, along with measurable milestones to mark their progress.
Why executive coaching is taking off
- Executive coaching can help you limit the number of challenges you face by improving communication, thoroughly discussing options and next steps, and defusing short-term conflicts.
- While useful in the short-term, much like regular counseling, it also has long-term applications in business strategy and growth planning, by helping executives enhance their strategic thinking abilities.
- For CEOs and business owners, executive coaches tend to offer a safe thinking place where they can talk about their strategies, plans, fears, doubts, and weaknesses.
- Executive coaching generally helps you see yourself more clearly and understand yourself better. Coaches may gather information from everyone you work closely with, to paint a clear picture of how you are perceived by others. In turn, this may help you identify key strengths and improvement areas.
- Departing from the usual format of business communications in this way can also help you learn new ways of communicating in the workplace. For example, if a manager had a problem delegating tasks and providing constructive criticism, the executive coach could try to discover the root of the problem, and help them to work on new ways of communicating.
The dangers of executive coaching
- Executive coaches who lack proper psychological training may do more harm than good. If behavioral issues are addressed without proper investigation into the background of these problems, executives may display short-term results but experience long-term psychological stress.
- Unlike traditional forms of psychology and psychiatry, there are no higher authorities providing a trusted certification for executive coaches. Because there are no universally-recognized parameters for a ‘good’ executive coach, organizations need to carefully evaluate the skills of executive coaches before employing them.
- Coaches who derive their treatment plans from behavioral psychology tend to treat symptoms, rather than problems. For example, some coaches implement assertiveness training, which can lead an executive to dramatically change their leadership style in a way that does not align with their personality. This can cause inner conflict, which could later exact a heavy psychological toll.
- One of the selling points of some executive coaches is fast results, which sounds alluring to organizations worried about costs. However, trying to achieve results quickly can lead to sloppiness on the part of the coach, leading to the type of problems described above.
Moreover, it is important to understand that each manager has a unique set of strengths, weaknesses, passions, and challenges. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
- While less likely to happen, CEOs and managers can form close bonds with their coaches, potentially gaining the power to affect company decision-making. Unethical coaches, or those who aren’t cognizant of professional boundaries, may intentionally or unintentionally abuse this power.
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