By Stuart J. Barnett
The use of executive coaching to enhance leadership, interpersonal skills and business strategy has proliferated in recent years. No longer is it sign of trouble but rather a sign of the continual pursuit of improvement. In a recent blogpost, Marshall Goldsmith – recognized as one of the top ten Most-Influential Business Thinkers in the World – observed: “I have seen the perception of coaching shift over the last three decades: Instead of a punishment, it’s now a mark of prestige to have a coach. It means you’re probably going places in your career.”
So if you’ve engaged an executive coach, how can you get the most out of the sessions? Here are a few tips to ensure a good return on your investment.
Why do you want an Executive Coach?
Before meeting with your coach, it is a good idea to have a clear idea as to why you want to be coached. Is there a particular challenge you are facing which you would like to work on? Are you looking for ways to be more innovative, better communicate your vision to employees, or more efficiently manage your time?
If there isn’t a specific challenge or area you want to work on, then discuss this with your coach, because coaching can be a great tool to discover what you may like to improve and can help identify strengths and build on those areas that energise you.
Coaching can also help uncover those issues that we aren’t aware of at the outset, so some flexibility throughout the engagement is useful.
Find the right fit.
The right ‘fit’ is something that is talked about a lot in coaching. One of the intrinsic benefits of coaching is having the opportunity to discuss issues you may not be able to talk about with anyone else. If you don’t feel that a coach is the right fit then this may inhibit your willingness to be open and honest, which is essential.
Most coaches will sit down with you for an initial ‘fit’ discussion, and this is an opportunity to get to know the coach and to get a feel for how you would work together. At its best, coaching is a partnership – with you, the client, being the common focus. But it is not just about feeling comfortable and supported; you also need to make sure your coach will challenge you and ask the hard questions.
Even if you were to do nothing more than use a regular meeting with a coach to pause and reflect, taking a break from the general busyness of work, there would be great benefit. But coaching is so much more if you are open to exploring.
Mentor, Consultant, or Coach?
There is an endless debate as to whether coaching, consulting, and mentoring overlap or whether they work best when separate and distinct.
I think that coaching works best when decoupled from mentoring and consulting, because it is the objectivity provided by a coach that is inherently beneficial to the process – all other relationships are biased by the very nature of the relationship, be it partner, employer, consultant, colleague or mentor. A coach is there for you alone, and doesn’t have a particular opinion or perspective to push.
That said, it is ultimately about what you want. There is no doubt a successful engagement can involve some mentoring, consulting and coaching – different hats being worn on different occasions. I know of at least one large ASX listed company that successfully engages former CEOs as mentors for senior executives who then coach as part of the process.
Having a clear sense of what you want from the coach will also enable you to discuss how you want to be coached. Are you open to being asked the hard questions? How do you want to be made accountable for any inaction? Do you want to talk about personal issues as well as business ones?
Be open to personal disruption
Even if you were to do nothing more than use a regular meeting with a coach to pause and reflect, taking a break from the general busyness of work, there would be great benefit. But coaching is so much more if you are open to exploring. And this is key: there’s not much point pursuing improvement if you are not open to change.
Becoming aware of what you might need to change is the first step. This is personal disruption, challenging the status quo. It can be uncomfortable, but it is an essential part in the continual pursuit of improvement.
So you need to change a behavior or an approach to move forward? This is where coaching really pays off – it’s personal, supportive, and works with you to achieve the change you seek.
Sometimes changing is as simple as a shift in perspective and everything flows relatively easily from there. Other times it is really hard work and requires time to explore how to implement the change, discovering different options and trying them out in the work place.
It can be a bit daunting at the outset, but having someone completely devoted to your improvement, understanding your viewpoint, and 100% on your side is both enjoyable and productive.
Your coach may, at times, ask permission to provide you with some feedback. This is a useful part of holding the mirror up to you and creating self-awareness, but it is also really important to give feedback to your coach. Part of the skill of an executive coach is to find the way that works best for you, the best way to engage with you, communicate with you, and reflect back to you. It’s a relationship that will develop as the engagement progresses. So give feedback, let your coach know what is working and what isn’t.
And finally: Enjoy!
Seems like a cliché but personal development is about the journey not just the outcome – much like life. It can be a bit daunting at the outset, but having someone completely devoted to your improvement, understanding your viewpoint, and 100% on your side is enjoyable and productive, particularly if you are open to new perspectives.
Stuart J. Barnett is a Thought Partner and Executive Coach who works with senior professionals to improve the quality of their working life through developing leadership, strategy and interpersonal skills.