Dan Coughlin

Article Summary:

Looking for an executive coach? Here’s some guidelines about what to expect from your executive coaching program.

The Executive Coach: Myths and Realities of Executive Coaching

“Who’s your coach?”

This question used to be reserved for athletes, but today more and more business executives are being asked that question. Over the past five years, a new industry in the area of performance improvement has grown at an exponential rate. That industry is Executive Coaching. Unfortunately, as this relatively new service has grown in popularity, several myths have grown in popularity as well and are seen by many people as facts today.

I have provided more than 450 Executive Coaching sessions with presidents, senior vice-presidents, regional managers and senior directors at Fortune 500 companies and major privately owned corporations. Here are some of the myths and realities of Executive Coaching:

Coaches must be certified
This widespread belief has no basis in fact. Essentially, an individual develops a series of modules and then “certifies” other people on the use of these modules. Who certified the certifier? Executives are not investing in having a certified coach, they are investing in better results.

The role of the Executive Coach is to influence clients to think, communicate and act in ways that lead to better results in their highest priorities. Period. End of story. That is the role of the Executive Coach.

Of course, there is a lot in that statement. Executive Coaching includes identifying the most important outcomes that the other person wants to achieve, the issues that keep them from achieving those results, and the perspectives and approaches the individuals needs to reconsider and change in order to improve results.

The Executive Coach’s role is not to be certified, but rather to improve results. This is an art, not a science. What coaches need is not a certificate, but rather a well-developed ability to influence other people to think and act in more effective ways. Jack Welch is not certified to coach, but don’t you think he would bring tremendous value as an advisor to any organization? Forget the labels and work to find out whether or not the prospective coach has a proven ability to influence other people in ways that lead to better results in their highest priorities.

Coaches must provide a structured curriculum
Absolute nonsense. Executives don’t need another course. They need someone they can talk to who is outside of the organization and who can provide tailored suggestions for improving results. Many coaches today guide people through a series of exercises and modules. The emphasis is clearly on input (the teaching of the modules), and not on output (the improvement of results in the highest priority outcomes.)

An effective coach is one who starts each relationship with a blank sheet. Every tool that is developed, every suggestion that is offered and every homework assignment that is given is created for just that client. Since every executive is trying to achieve unique objectives, then the suggestions from the coach must be provided in a unique manner. A great clothier doesn’t make one fantastic tailored suit and then expect to offer it to ten different clients. The suit was made for one client and one client only. The same should be true in an Executive Coaching relationship. The same approach does NOT work with every individual.

Coaching is for mediocre performers
Coaching is NOT for mediocre performers. The same reasons why they perform at a mediocre level (late for meetings, consistently unprepared, lack of passion, etc.) in their careers are the same reasons why they would not deliver a strong return on investment with a coach. When a boss tries to force an Executive Coach on a poor performer, he or she will soon find out they have made a poor investment. Executive Coaching is for top performers who want something more in their life (better balance, a bigger title, larger salary, more responsibility, higher level of effectiveness as a leader or presenter, etc.) and want to work with a person outside of the organization to assist them in getting there. I call these individuals “Incline People.” They are on an incline. They want to go to a higher level. These are individuals who welcome an Executive Coach into their mix of advisors. “Plateau People” are individuals who are absolutely satisfied with where they are at in every area of their lives. Working with an Executive Coach is not for them.

Coaching can be completely done over the phone
When I first started providing Executive Coaching, I thought the client and I could accomplish all of our objectives through telephone conversations. Over time, I learned that this was a very limited approach. Telephone conversations only provide input from the client’s perspective. Consequently, my advice leaves out the all-important perspectives of my clients’ boss, peers, direct reports and customers. Today I think of the telephone relationship as a mentor relationship. A mentor provides input away from the action and offers suggestions based on his or her experiences.

In athletics, the coach stands along the field of play and sees the individual perform in live situations. The same needs to hold true in Executive Coaching sessions. It is important for the Executive Coach to spend time with the client in actual business situations. The greater the variety of these situations, the better the overall understanding the coach develops. In this manner, the Executive Coach can provide input that addresses the actual way the individual interacts with other people. The more often the coach sees the individual in these situations, the more the client relaxes and acts the way he or she would even if the coach wasn’t present.

The goal is to certify the client
Again, this is absolutely bogus. Executive Coaching firms that charge clients to be certified are simply creating an additional revenue stream by playing to the ego of the client. Certifying a client does not insure that he or she will be able to effectively influence the way other people think, communicate and act in ways that lead to better results in their highest priorities. All it means is that the individual completed a series of training sessions. This business about the coach being certified and then certifying the clients is diverting the attention of the coaching process away from driving better results and toward keeping the coaching firm busy creating certificates and charging accordingly.

Executive Coaching is perhaps the single most effective method for improving the effectiveness of a top performing executive. The key is to maintain focus on influencing behavior and improving priority results and not on explaining predetermined content and certifying people.

As a consultant and professional speaker, Dan Coughlin works with executives and entrepreneurs to accelerate their critical business outcomes. His clients include McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Marriott, Citigroup, St. Louis Cardinals, SBC Communications, Auxeris Therapeutics, Fru-Con, McCarthy Construction and more than 70 other organizations. He specializes in leadership, management, teamwork, innovation, branding and strategy. He has more than 100 free articles on his website, www.thecoughlin company.com.

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