It occurred to me that some people might not know what an executive leadership coach is, what it means to work with one, what the basics of a great relationship are and what to expect. Know that engaging an executive leadership coach is NOT a sign of weakness. Rather, it is evidence that you are opening yourself to more opportunities to grow with the help of a loyal supporter.
What is an executive coach?
There are a lot of executive leadership coaches around the world who are highly effective, successful and inspiring. They make an impact on leadership through their work and through the people they coach. However, the phrase “executive coaching” has been applied to too many individuals who are not qualified to be executive coaches, muddying the meaning.
An executive coach supports an executive. I define executive as being a member of the Pivotal Leadership TrioTM (PLT–as depicted below): The CEO; a board director who has responsibilities for leading within the board or managing aspects of governance; an executive who is a C-level executive, senior vice-president or vice-president who leads and manages a single functional area, cross-functional areas, or a number of functional areas, such as a Chief Operating Officer (COO) does. An executive can be an individual who leads a division or a subsidiary in the role of General Manager or President. An executive coach should typically be qualified to serve the needs of one of these leaders and/or of an entrepreneur who needs to grow his/her capacity for being an effective leader. (Some executive coaches also work with boards and understand board dynamics, and boards can benefit from this kind of outside advisor.)
There are coaches who have been effective having been professionally trained in Organizational Development (OD) or through coaching institutes. Others have been executives and/or management consultants who have turned their insider experience into a foundation for coaching. Some coaches have a combination of both backgrounds.
An executive or former executive is not necessarily a great coach. It is a fine line to adroitly coach an executive without imposing a specific leadership style, ensuring that an executive leads with his/her full potential and talents while resisting the urge to define what should be. A great coach allows his/her executive clients to (ideally and eventually) see for themselves what is needed, so that they can more readily invite and embrace change.
There are a number of ways that an executive coach can work with an executive, and in my opinion there needs to be a clear set of expectations by the executive so that he/she can identify the best coach to meet stated goals and objectives. (If the executive is unclear, but was advised by someone to consider working on some aspects of his/her leadership, that can also serve as the basis for identifying the right coach.) The executive should speak with, and/or meet in person, the coaching candidate so that both can assess their chemistry and fit. Personally, I will never force a relationship in my role as a leadership advisor and trusted confidante. I want my client to feel a connection with me and vice versa; the rapport has to feel right to both parties.
Why work with an executive coach?
It’s time to consider working with an executive leadership coach when you need to tackle organizational and operational growth challenges, when you’re ready to be a more effective director at the board table, and/or when you need to address behaviors that get in the way of effectiveness as a leader and as a team player – such as personal dilemmas. Below are a few examples of when you might engage an executive leadership coach, although this is by no means a comprehensive list:
- When an executive is scaling his/her responsibilities to a new role
- When an executive is overwhelmed and stressed out; the pressure shuts him/her down or brings out the worst in him/her
- When the CEO needs support to establish a solid culture
- When an executive needs help developing his/her own persona and charisma to inspire and to be an effective communicator
- When a CEO is struggling with leading with focus
- When an executive and/or CEO is micro-managing and has not let go of being a manager
- When assistance is required for conflict resolution within the executive team due to disruptive behaviors by an executive or by a board member
- When an executive needs a confidante with whom to privately exchange about challenges and successes
- When an executive is confronted with personal challenges, such as health issues or transitions, that impact the leadership flow
- When an executive desires to increase self-awareness, harmony and authenticity in all things
- When an executive’s confidence has been eroded through challenging organizational dynamics or less-than-ideal performance for being unduly too demanding on him/herself
- When one expands his/her role and becomes an executive or CEO for the first time, and desires assistance with positive growth while taking on new responsibilities
The coach-client relationship
The key to progress and impact lies in the executive coach asking the right questions from the very beginning, and throughout the relationship. This helps prioritize and uncover the source of any challenges as quickly as possible, so that change and/or transformation can take place. With individuals in the Pivotal Leadership TrioTM, a coach-client relationship can’t afford to take an inordinate amount of time uncovering issues and identifying solutions or ways to get unstuck.
Respect needs to be established between the client and the coach from the very beginning. The executive must commit to learning, growing and addressing any issues that surface, and the guidance of the coach should drive the process forward, achieving a positive outcome for the executive.
Whatever the reasons and expectations for the relationship, the number one requirement for a healthy relationship between an executive and a coach is trust. There must be a trust and a commitment to confidentiality between the two parties. I do not disclose information about any of my executive coaching relationships. All my clients know that no one has to know we are working together. When I work with a board, a member of a board or an executive, particularly for a public company, it is sensible to keep the relationship contained and confidential. Unless the executive wishes to disclose about the relationship, discretion is most advisable.
I personally find it extremely fulfilling and rewarding to support a leader, to support a board or an individual who wants to maximize their potential. My clients typically have very few people they can count on to have their success, fulfillment as a leader and growth as shared intentions. It is inspiring to my clients to grow, and it is inspiring to me to see them grow, becoming more fulfilled and successful. In most of my work, while I support an executive with business dynamics and their role as leader, I also get to touch their lives in a positive way. I am a loyal supporter, and I want them to trust me.
I believe every executive who cares to be more effective should consider having a companion on the leadership journey! I believe also that a board and/or an executive team benefits by having an objective outside partner. That companion can be an executive coach, a trusted confidant or a proven leader who has experience and innate wisdom. It is a win-win!