Do You Need an Executive Coach?

by Leigh on September 7, 2011 · 0 comments

in Career,Coaching,Leadership

“Coaching is Hot” according to the headline for an article by Vickie Elmer in the September 5, 2011 issue of Fortune Magazine.  The question “Is It Right for You?” leads into Elmer’s summary that “Once seen as the last step for an executive about to fall off the ladder, leadership coaches now help smooth a promotion, teach outsiders about their new culture, and tune up talent.”

At the end of her article, Elmer offers four ways to make your coaching experiences a success:

1) It’s critical to find the right match:  From my experiences coaching executives and those working to be a leader, it takes the right chemistry to have a good coaching experience, one where trust and authenticity can help the client move forward.  As every good coach should do, I had a coach, actually more than one to find the right fit and to work with those who were specialists in different areas.  One coach I consulted about a workshop series I was starting told me that I had to promise my audience that they would get jobs!  That high-profile woman wasn’t on the same wave length; I would never promise something I didn’t think was achievable.

2) Be aware of your company’s expectations:  Individuals, managers, and human resources personnel together set performance goals and monitor the progress the client is making.  There are an array of assessments and various tools that coaches can use to assess the client’s change.  These costs for these items can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the issues for which the client needed coaching.  Yet, the results are worth it to gain insights for the client and a game plan to improved performance for the coach.

3) Make sure you get what you pay for:   Rates for executive coaches can range from astronomical to a reasonable $200/hour—plus, if needed, travel expenses.  Executives, who seek a coach on their own, may find they will pay from $200-500.  Most coaching engagements start at three months and may go up to six months or a year—to start.  Change doesn’t happen over night; it might take three months for the client and coach to confirm that they are a good fit to work together.

4) The coach needs to see you in action:  Shadowing a client is the best way to understand the executive’s performance challenges and to pinpoint the ways that it can be improved.  Written assessments do provide feedback on performance.  Seeing—and experiencing—the client’s day-to-day behavior provides perspectives and knowledge about the daily interactions with staff.

Caution: not all coaching works for a variety of reasons.  The client needs to be open to growth and address, not avoid, the impact of his behavior on others.  As an adviser to an organization seeking a coach for an executive, I strongly suggested that the company not engage the coach that was initially chosen.  The reason for my reluctance was that the coach had five different college degrees—but he had no coach training and no corporate experience.  The challenge for the client needing a coach was that he was also highly educated in a field similar to the coach—but that similarity was not the reason the company sought a coach for the executive.  The coaching initiative was to help the client better understand business, especially how to delegate.  We needed to find a coach with the expertise that could bring about an improved workplace performance.

Below is an example of a coaching engagement with a client who was about to ‘fall off the ladder’—or, in my own words, a two-strike leader.  If you want to find out more about coaching, sign-up for the “Coaching Report for Leaders” and experience a sample coaching session with me.

Coaching an Older Executive to Upgrade his Performance

The Client

Mike, a vice president at an international high profile company (real names of clients are not used), was on the verge of losing his job. Mary, Mike’s manager, was frustrated. Mike’s operational skills were outstanding; it was his behavior that needed upgrading. During their weekly meetings with him, Mary tried to help Mike improve his communication skills with his colleagues and meet deadlines. When she didn’t see any improvement, Mary requested Lisa, a vice president in Human Resources, begin the process to fire Mike. Lisa, knowing Mike’s skills and the cost of finding an employee equally qualified, requested that Mike be given another chance. Mary agreed but soon was back again to request Mike be terminated. Lisa countered Mary’s request with the suggestion that an executive coach be brought in to work with Mike.

The Challenge

The challenge Leigh took on was to help a technically skilled but professionally challenged older employee adapt to a ‘newer’ corporate culture, revitalize his team of young adults, acquire more effective communications skills, and be a stronger mentor to his direct reports.

The Process

—Mary requested that Mike take a 360° assessment to gather input from Mike’s circle of influence: Mary, his direct reports, colleagues he dealt with regularly, Lisa, etc.

—“They’re wrong,” Mike said wiping away tears when he saw the ‘blind spots’ others pointed out on the 360° assessment. Mike had rated himself more effective in all but two categories; he didn’t want to accept how others felt about his performance. The turning point of Mike’s acceptance came when Leigh asked, “What if they are right?”

—Mike’s playing field had ‘obstacles’ keeping him from performing at his best. One of them was that he had never worked for a woman before and he was not willing to accept her as a leader. Leigh explored this with Mike and addressed how he needed to resume the weekly meetings with Mary he had stopped plus acknowledge gratitude that she was investing in keeping him on staff.

—Leigh observed Mike at team meetings. He was using ‘old school’ behaviors that provided him steady work for over 20 years but which were no longer effective. Leigh pointed out ways he could ‘upgrade’ his language and approach to be more effective.

—Mike and Leigh—joined at times by Mike’s direct reports—had many conversations about the ways he could make smarter decisions, communicate in a timely and professional manner, redirect his attention, and focus on the bottom line of performance.

The Impact

Gradually Mike’s behavior began to change. His relationship with Mary improved along with his performance and communication skills. Mike learned how to take down barriers that locked him into old habits and went on to successfully manage a major technology upgrade.

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