Executive Coaching Questions & Answers

We define executive coaching as a hands-on, one-on-one process between an executive and an external coach. There are internal executive coaches and mentors, but we are referring to professional coaches hired from outside the organization to work with senior and high-potential executives.

The process typically lasts between 3 months and 1 year, depending on the type of intervention needed, and consists of face-to-face or virtual developmental discussions aimed at performance improvement or developing particular competencies.

The coaching is meant to be practical and goal-focused and may concentrate on further leveraging existing strengths, avoiding professional derailers or working through organizational issues like change initiatives.

In recent years, Executive Coaching has become widely accepted as a crucial component of developing an organization’s top talent. A number of factors have contributed to this trend...

To retain valuable executives – Dissatisfaction with potential for career development is a leading reason executives leave companies. Executives who receive coaching often feel more connected to the firm through a greater sense of commitment to their jobs, increased alignment with the firm’s goals and a sense that their value is being recognized. Investing in the development of current employees is usually better than spending money recruiting new ones.

  • The boss must be supportive of the executive’s development.
  • The executive’s role and responsibilities must be clearly defined.
  • The person must possess the required competencies, experience and education to succeed in the role.
  • The expectations of the role must be set and clearly communicated to the person.
  • The goals and objectives against which the executive will be evaluated must be clear.
  • The executive must be open to change and committed to the coaching process.
  • The coaching is being used as a “last ditch” effort to save an executive who should really leave the company. Remedial coaching efforts often result in “too little, too late” for an executive who is unlikely to change a consensus already reached or secure forgiveness from key stakeholders.
  • Success is driven by factors beyond the executive’s reach, such as economic, technological or other business factors.
  • The executive suffers from personal or emotional problems that are best addressed by a professional such as a clinical psychologist, social worker or lawyer.
  • The problem emanates from a poorly designed organizational structure or management process, rather than from the individual. These situations may be best addressed by an organizational development specialist.
  • The executive is in the wrong job or position. Some situations require reassignment and may call for the services of a career or outplacement counselor rather than a coach.
  • The executive does not believe in or desire coaching.
  • Coaching is primarily for correcting behavior. If people are only coached when they do something wrong, then the objective of coaching is missed. The focus should be on what people are capable of doing and being, and then working toward that end. It’s about building not fixing.
  • Coaching is soft stuff. The leader or manager who avoids the soft stuff usually does so because it is so hard - the work is easy, it's the people that are difficult. Because people issues can be so challenging, the ill-equipped leader minimizes their importance and labels them soft or “touchy feely”.
  • Coaching is like therapy. Sometimes the coach and the executive being coached fall into the trap of treating the coaching as personal therapy. Rather than focusing on practical steps for improving the executive’s performance at work, sessions are devoted to examining family or relationship problems, other unresolved psychological challenges or even drug or alcohol addictions. These types of issues are usually beyond the scope of the coaching assignment and the qualifications of the coach and are best referred to a professional therapist, lawyer, etc.
  • Coaching is telling people what to do. People don’t usually learn from being told something. They learn best through self-discovery. When a coach tells an executive something, no matter how brilliant, it will most likely make a mild impression. However, when a person discovers something for themselves, it is more likely to have a profound impact. The coach’s job is to help the individual connect to a path that will take them to the answer, not to hand it to them.
  • What is the challenge being faced or the developmental goals for the executive?
  • Is it worth the time? All executives have faults and they will never be perfect. Coaching and behavioral change take time and support.
  • What happens if there is no coaching? Are there other developmental options to consider?
  • Does the executive know his/her behavior is not what it should be? Sometimes people just need to be made aware of the situation.
  • Is the desired outcome something the person is capable of? If the person is truly not suited for the position, coaching probably won’t help much.
  • Are there obstacles to success that are beyond the person’s control? It may be necessary to change the system instead of the employee.
  • Are the incentives in place shaping the behavior? Do positive rewards follow good performance?
  • Can trust and confidentiality be ensured by all participants in the process?

The coaching results will only be as good as the match between the coach and executive. Finding a coach who has the necessary expertise and a connection with the executive is not always easy. It is best to take time until everyone is comfortable with the prospective coach. Whoever is hired, the executive being coached should have some say in the selection. Ideally, the executive is given 2 or 3 coaches to choose from after Human Resources has ensured their qualifications. The following are some questions to ask to determine whether a person is the right coach for an executive.

In order for the relationship between coach and executive to be effective, the executive must be able to openly discuss personal feelings and concerns regarding their jobs, their leaders and colleagues, the organization and its strategy and many other issues. Without confidentiality, which is a necessary precursor to trust-building, the coach will be unable to understand the executive's challenges with sufficient complexity. Therefore, it is paramount that clear ground rules regarding confidentiality are agreed upon between the executive, coach, leader and HR during the contracting process.

While the content of the coaching conversations should remain confidential between the coach and executive, we do recommend that summary-level progress reports from both the coach and executive, focused on progress or obstacles toward developmental objectives, commitments and results, be shared with other stakeholders in the process. Additionally, any discussions of illegal, criminal or unethical behavior should not be subject to the confidentiality agreement.

To accelerate the development of a leader receiving executive coaching, shadowing is an option to consider for many engagements. Shadowing means observing the leader in day-to-day interactions (in-person, or more likely these days, on Zoom, etc.), watching her in real-time, and seeing how others respond to her.

Coaching should not occur in a vacuum. Watching the leader in action provides the coach with deeper insight into the executive’s leadership and communication style, work context and how the leader is perceived by others. When conducted by an experienced coach, this type of observational coaching can be profoundly effective, shedding light not just on what skills the leader needs to improve or deploy, but how she needs to exercise those to be most successful in that particular system.

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