mildly stunned by how something so straightforward as executive coaching has become so disparate in definition and execution. Are you a leader who wants to perform at your best? Partner with a professional who understands how to facilitate your development and help you achieve your goals. Perhaps I am oversimplifying things, but I find brilliance in simplicity.
Even the two coaching books that sit on my desk as references define executive coaching differently between them. A Google search of “what is executive coaching” will produce almost 6 million results so the chances of variable definitions there is quite high, too. I hope this post on the basics of executive coaching will help provide a “lay of the land.”
What is executive coaching?
Executive Coaching is a partnership between a professional coach and an executive, designed to develop the executive (“coachee”) towards specific professional goals in the context of their role within an organization.
The focus of the work is typically to identify behaviors and mindsets that help and hinder the achievement of those goals. The professional coach is there to help the leader realize behavioral and mindset changes that allow them to be more effective in their roles and help the organization.
Due to the nature of the work, emotions and personal matters can and often do arise in coaching meetings and are addressed to the extent they impact professional performance.
What is it not?
If there is a hero of the coachee’s story, it can only be the coachee.
Executive coaching is not psychological counseling or therapy, nor is it mentoring or strategic consulting. It is not spiritual guidance, nor is it anything like the narcissistic relationship between fictitious CEO Gavin Belson and his “guru” on HBO’s Silicon Valley, as amusing as that relationship is to watch on Sunday nights. The best coaches help coachees learn how to identify and resolve their own challenges; they don’t step in to solve problems for the coachee. If there is a hero of the coachee’s story, it can only be the coachee.
What is a professional coach?
Having met and worked with many coaches, some credible and a few charlatans, my experience is that a qualified professional coach has several years of experience coaching business clients. They also have a well-defined and transparent coaching process that is consistently used, often along with a rigorous accreditation process behind them.
Even though one study found that only 30% of coaches think a certified coach is necessary, to me, a professional executive coach is one who is accredited as meeting a high and consistent standard of knowledge and practice by an authoritative professional body like the International Coach Federation (ICF), International Association of Coaching® (IAC®) or Association for Professional Executive Coaching & Supervision (APECS). I take great pride in calling myself a professional executive coach because it reflects the significant time, energy and other resources I have invested (and continue to) in learning how to help you be more effective. There is a consistency to accredited coach training that may also provide some measure of reliability to clients.
Where do you find the right executive coach for you?
Some coachee’s hire executive coaches themselves but most executive coaches are brought on by an organization (the “client”). Either way, the first tip is to remember that the coachee should choose the coach with whom s/he wants to partner. We know that chemistry is a top factor in coaching intervention success. Fit is so important because the productivity of the partnership between coach and coachee is generated from trust, openness and mutual respect.
Presuming the coachee is ready and willing to engage in coaching, find an executive coach in 1 of 2 ways: seek recommendations from trusted colleagues or maybe your company’s leadership development team. Alternatively, visit a professional association’s site. For “warm” recommendations from trusted sources, you are looking for executive coach candidates with relevant experience (to your needs), a clear process or methodology, and a “fit” with the coachee. I recommend that coachees talk with at least 2-3 candidates before selecting an executive coach – the time taken up front should improve the chances of mutual fit and realizing desired outcomes.
If you start with a “cold” search through an association, a scan of their site will allow you to quickly learn about their coaching philosophy (which usually reflects the philosophy of a potential coach they’ve accredited) and determine which approach aligns with your needs. Most associations offer directories on their websites so you can search for candidates to interview, which is the next step. The first conversation with an executive coach is the beginning of a potential long term relationship that can have meaningful impact for you and your organization, so take your time to ask the questions on your mind.
Hope that helps to get you started on the road to a highly successful executive coaching partnership. If you have questions I didn’t address here, you know where to find me.