Driving the trend for executive coaching is the business reality that good people are hard to find and harder to keep. With a constant need to stay competitive, companies are seeing coaching as a way to help valued employees develop swiftly in a rapidly changing business environment.

A growing number of Fortune 500 companies offer executive coaching to their top people. Whether hiring external coaches or training their own leaders in coaching skills, companies are finding that coaching is essential for creating change and evolving people towards their highest productivity and potential.

The Executive Summit of the International Coach Federation defines executive coaching as a facilitative one-to-one mutually designed relationship between a professional coach and a key contributor who has a powerful position in the organization. The focus of the coaching is usually upon organizational performance or development, but may have a personal component as well.

Why Executive Coaching?

Executive coaching can be very useful in helping executives carry what they learn in leadership development programs back to the workplace and applying those lessons into practice. One study examined the effects of executive coaching in a public sector municipal agency. Thirty-one managers underwent a conventional managerial training program, which was followed by 8 weeks of one-on-one coaching. Training increased productivity by 22.4%. The coaching, which included goal setting, collaborative problem solving, practice, feedback, supervisory involvement, evaluation of end results, and a public presentation, increased productivity by 88%, a significantly greater gain compared to training alone (Olivero, Bane, & Kopeirnan 1997). If the observations from this study bear out, it means that executive coaching coupled with management and leadership training can boost productivity and help build leadership competencies.

The objectivity that an executive coach brings to a developmental opportunity is helpful to managers seeking to make difficult changes in attitudes, work habits, perspectives and interpersonal relationships.

There seems to be little question that coaching is a valid method of producing desired change with leaders. Companies that have employed coaches will agree that, overall, there are performance improvements, as well as improved well-being among participants.

About 6 out of 10 organizations currently offer coaching or other developmental counseling to their managers and executives according to a survey by Manchester, Inc., a Jacksonville, Florida, career management consulting firm. Another 20% of companies said they plan to offer such coaching within the next year.

One study shows that the top reasons for offering coaching include:
1. Sharpening the leadership skills of high-potential individuals (86%)
2. Correcting management behavior problems such as poor communication skills, failure to develop subordinates, or indecisiveness (72%)
3. Ensuring the success or decreasing the failure rate, of newly promoted managers (64%)
4. Correcting employee relations problems such as poor interpersonal skills, disorganization, demeaning or arrogant behavior (59%)
5. Providing the required management and leadership skills to technically oriented employees (58%).

The Transformational Coaching Experience

What makes a good coaching experience, one that provides long-lasting and excellent results? On the face, coaching sounds like simple goal setting with accountability and motivational pep talks thrown in.

The work of truly effective coaching within organizations involves much more than goal-setting. It involves unleashing the human spirit and expanding people’s capacity to achieve stretch goals and bring about real change. This does not start with techniques like setting goals, motivating people and giving feedback. It starts with considering and altering the underlying context in which these occur.

The underlying context is all of the conclusions, beliefs and assumptions people in the organization have reached in order to succeed. This context is shaped by the shared interpretations people make about their business environment. And it also includes the management culture that is inherited or self-imposed. This basic cultural context must be considered in creating a framework for effective coaching.

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, winning organizations need a new kind of management culture, one that is based on creating new knowledge. This requires constant learning. A crucial catalyst in this new management culture is the coach. His or her job is to provide direction while leaving plenty of room for people to pursue their passions, personal interests and projects.

Xerox’s Paul Allaire says, “The key to the new productivity is people – helping them do what they can do, what they want to do, what they inherently know is the right thing to do.”

In its simplest terms, transformational coaching involves expanding people’s capacity to take effective action. It involves challenging underlying beliefs and assumptions that are responsible for one’s actions and behaviors. At its deepest level, masterful coaching examines not only what one does, and why one does what one does, but also who one is.

Using Assessments with Coaching

Many coaches begin the coaching process with assessments. Some coaching involves extensive feedback from 360 degree surveys in which the person being coached receives input from peers, subordinates and superiors.

Initially there may be extensive work examining and formulating one’s personal values, interests and creating a personal mission statement. This is similar to a business strategy and mission statement for the organization. There may be coaching around aligning the personal purpose and objectives with those of the organization.

The astute coach will help the person examine gaps or openings between what they believe they do and what they actually do. This is fertile ground for personal growth and development, but is also the area where people can become defensive and resistant. It takes a talented coach to help someone out of these stuck areas, or blind spots – where they do not see with clarity. This is where the effective coach uses finely-tuned listening and observing skills.

Goals and Outcomes

What are the goals and outcomes of effective executive coaching? Traditionally, the goals have been fairly specific and have focused on preventing executive derailment. The coaching process may address a specific behavior that is causing managerial conflict, improve specific managerial competencies, solve specific problems, or help executives address behaviors or issues that are impeding job effectiveness.

Increasingly, coaching seeks to enhance the performance of high-potential executives. The goals of executive coaching are shifting and broadening as more and more executives seek out coaching for a variety of different reasons.

Here are some other important results cited in research on the outcomes of executive coaching:
1. Better management by enhancing an executive’s ability to navigate sensitive political issues
2. Strengthening strategic decision-making
3. Opening a window onto organizational and self explorations

Research by the Center for Creative Leadership has found that the primary causes of derailment in executives involve deficits in emotional competence. These are listed as:
1. Difficulty handling change
2. Not being able to work well in a team
3. Poor interpersonal relations

A study of 130 executives found that how well people handled their own emotions determined how much people around them preferred to deal with them.

It is becoming obvious that coaching is not only about behavioral changes leading to improved performance on the job. The masterful coaching experience goes deeper than behavior changes into real and lasting changes.

Coaching is effective when it leads to behavioral change, particularly when it affects the bottom line. However, for change to be lasting and meaningful, the coach must reach for deeper levels of commitment and explore core issues with the client.

David Whyte puts it eloquently: “It is incumbent on each of us, to start telling our story in such a way that you can grant magnificence back to your work and back to what you do. If you can’t grant magnificence to your work, you grant magnificence to yourself and have the courage to step out of it into something that is really commensurate to your gifts and is a place where you can really feel like you come alive again at the frontier of your own destiny” (1999).

How to Get the Most Out of Coaching

1. Talk about what matters most. Be selfish about your coaching time – talk about what really matters rather than what you “should” be addressing.

2. Focus on how you feel, not just on what you produce. Don’t avoid talking about feelings, no matter what your opinions of them are. Feelings drive behaviors. To change your behaviors, change how you feel. Awareness is the first step toward change.

3. Get more space, not more time, into your life. Coaching needs room in order to work. If you’re too busy, you’ll use coaching to push yourself harder, instead of using coaching to become more effective. Simplification gets you space.

4. Become incredibly selfish. Coaching will help you to identify and reduce things that drain you such as recurring problems, difficult relationships and pressured environments.

5. Be open to see things differently. You will get more out of coaching if you are willing to examine your assumptions, ways of thinking, expectations, beliefs, and reactions. As David Whyte has said, “Nobody has to change, but everybody has to have the conversation.”

6. Sensitize yourself to see and experience things earlier. Coaching conversations will lead you to increased awareness. The more you sensitize yourself to your feelings and thoughts, the faster you can respond to events and opportunities. This may mean eliminating alcohol, stress, caffeine and an adrenaline-based energy system for living.

7. Strengthen your business and personal environments. Design the perfect environment in which to live and work. If your surroundings are unpleasant, unhealthy, or disorganized, they can affect your success. Clean up, organize, beautify.

8. Be clear about your goals before ending the coaching session. Coaching is just conversation unless it leads to action. Make sure you know what your goals are, both immediate, near future and long term.

9. Improve your ability to give feedback. Successful leaders know how to give feedback to their key people. They do it frequently and with authenticity. Give your coach feedback, especially at the end of each session. Say what worked, what didn’t, and what you’d like next.

10. Be willing to evolve yourself, not just increase your performance. Coaching is a developmental process and an evolutionary one. You’ll learn how to accomplish more with less effort. But you will also learn to think differently, change outdated beliefs and assumptions and expand your view of yourself and your place in the world. Work with your coach to become more magnificent in your work and in your life.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Maynard Brusman is the president of Working Resources – a transformational leadership consulting, talent management, and executive coaching firm. He is a full professor in counseling psychology in the Northern Arizona University Statewide Education Program where he has taught summer courses in self-management and career development. As an instructor in the U.C. Davis Extension Human Resource Development and Management Certificate Program, he taught interpersonal skills and techniques. While a post-doctoral fellow in Psychological Services at U.C. San Diego, he developed and directed the stress and wellness clinic. He is currently an instructor for The College of Executive Coaching, where he teaches “How to Use Assessments in Coaching”. He specializes in offering customized individual and organizational collaborative consultation services and workshops on succession management, competency modeling, hiring, coaching and retaining emotionally intelligent people; executive selection and assessment; performance-based interviewing and selection; multi-rater 360-degree feedback; interpersonal skills; career development; change management; and executive coaching. He specializes in working with attorneys and law firms. For over twenty years, Dr. Brusman has trained and coached hundreds of people in companies, law firms, health care organizations and educational institutions. He facilitates leadership retreats nationally and in Costa Rica.

At Working Resources our mission is to help our clients assess, select, coach and retain high performing people. We specialize in creating a great culture and values fit between individuals and organizations where high-level commitment and high performance thrive.

Among the organizations he has conducted workshops or provided coaching for are Accounting Solutions, Army Corp of Engineers, American Express, CAMICO Mutual Insurance, Chevron, CopTech West, Dolby, Executive Renaissance Forums, Faricy & Roen LLP, Fenwick and West LLP, Hanson & Bridgett LLP, Hitachi America, Internal Revenue Service, James River Corporation, Kaiser Aluminum, Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group, Marin General Hospital, McCutcheon, Doyle, Brown and Anderson LLP, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, RINA Accountancy, Skylonda Health Retreat, State Compensation Insurance Fund, Smith & Hawken, Sybase, and Zomax.

Dr. Brusman has been chosen as an expert to appear on KTVU FOX, Brian Banmiller "On the Money" discussing Surviving And Thriving after Corporate Downsizing... KGO ABC, "Bay Area Focus" discussing Getting Fired... KALW 91.7 Information Radio discussing Workplace Problems and Solutions... KFRC Radio Magic 61 "In the Medicine Cabinet" discussing Stress and Your Heart... K101 Radio, "Blue in the Morning" discussing How to Cope with the Stress of the Gulf War... and was quoted in the articles, "Surviving When You Get The Ax", in the San Francisco Chronicle, "Driven To Distraction - Are Your Bad Habits Driving People Crazy?", in Business Start Ups magazine, "Successful Strategies for Holiday Job Hunters", in The Wall Street Journal National Business Employment Weekly, "How To Cut Interruptions, Get Work Done" in Investor's Business Daily. “How to Get Job Stress Under Control” on MSNBC, “Downsizing at Work May Hurt Your Health” in CBS Health Watch, and “Betrayed at Work” in Fast Company.

Dr. Brusman is a member of the American Psychological Association, American Society for Training and Development, Bay Area Association of Applied Psychologists, Bay Area Organization Development Network, California State Psychological Association, Institute of Management Consultants, the International Coach Federation, Marin Coaches Alliance, the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, the Northern California Human Resources Association, the Professional Coaches & Mentors Association, and San Francisco Coaches.