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Executive Coaching Means Getting Your Key People on Their a-Game

Executive Coaching Means Getting Your Key People on Their a-Game

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The last decade has seen a major shift in attitude towards executive coaching. Ten years ago the most likely engagement would have been with a client who was having serious problems. Organizations tended to hire executive coaches when one or more of their people was either having or causing serious problems. Many would wait until things had progressed to such a state that damage control was the only option. In those days, executive coaches were, more often than not, crisis managers. But things have really changed.
The last decade has seen a major shift in attitude towards executive coaching. Ten years ago the most likely engagement would have been with a client who was having serious problems. Organizations tended to hire executive coaches when one or more of their people was either having or causing serious problems. Many would wait until things had progressed to such a state that damage control was the only option. In those days, executive coaches were, more often than not, crisis managers. But things have really changed.

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Published by: Dr. Earl R. Smith II on Dec 22, 2009
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Executive Coaching Means Putting Your Key People on Their A-GameDr. Earl R. Smith II
DrSmith@Dr-Smith.comwww.Dr-Smith.com The last decade has seen a major shift in attitude towards executivecoaching. Ten years ago the most likely engagement would have been with aclient who was having serious problems. Organizations tended to hireexecutive coaches when one or more of their people was either having orcausing serious problems. Many would wait until things had progressed tosuch a state that damage control was the only option. In those days,executive coaches were, more often than not, crisis managers. But thingshave really changed.
The New Coaching Engagement
Now organizations see executive coaching as a way toincrease the performance, and therefore value, of keyemployees. Executive coaches have become facilitators of growth and improvement. Many coaching engagementinvolve support for people in the ‘fast track’ programs.Companies have come to realize that coaching is one of the ways to help their rising stars navigate the shoals andreefs that are encountered while climbing the corporateladder. They make this investment for three reasons. First, they want to helptheir people grow; develop into the future leaders that the company willneed. Second, they want to help them avoid the mistakes that will harm boththeir career and the company. And third, they want to recognize their risingstars. Having a coach is like getting the key to the executive wash room.Because coaching engagements are focused less on crisis management andmore on personal and professional development, they tend to be longer.Coaches have to be able to help their clients grow through a number of stages. The range of techniques, knowledge and abilities that a coach has tobring to the table is much broader. The one-size-fits-all approaches based onparticular techniques are less desirable. More and more the experience of the coach becomes the issue. Companies want to hire coaches who havesuccessfully made the journeys that their people are embarking on. Theyhave an increasing aversion to the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ coaches and tendto avoid the ‘they that cannot do, teach’ crowd. The new coaches have to
 
have the real life experiences that make them effective mentors as well ascoaches.
Who Gets a Coach?
In the old days, the squeaky wheel got the coach. The team member oremployee who has having or causing the biggest problem was the one whogot the support. Now the approach to selecting people for coaching moreclosely resembles preventive medicine. Rather than waiting until the patientgets really sick, the treatment is designed to keep them healthy and improvetheir well-being. But that does not mean that coaching will work in allsituations or with all people. Here are some suggestions for selecting whogets coached:
Are they coachable?
Some years back I had a sheep farm in easternMaryland. I trained border collies for use in working the sheep. Dogsare like people in some ways. They come in all sorts of dispositions andabilities. One thing I learned early on is that some dogs are ‘biddable’while others are so hard headed or inept that they are almost useless. The same is true for people. An individual who is open to coaching willrelish the chance to work with an experienced mentor. They will see itas an opportunity to grow and accelerate their career development.One who is not open to coaching will prove argumentative andresistant to coaching. They will see the offer of a coach as an indicationthat they are a ‘problemeven when they are not. The best arerealistic about their strengths and weaknesses. They have an ability tolearn from others even if they end up doing it their own way. The bestcandidate for coaching will take responsibility for the results andleverage the coach. A final comment; coaching a client who has beenpressured into being coach almost never works. If the collie is eager toget to work, they are likely biddable. If they are diffident or resistant tothe idea, they are not likely to benefit from the training. The same istrue for coaching clients. The best are eager to learn all they can fromthe coach.
Are they worth the investment?
Coaching represents aninvestment by the company. As such, it should generate a return. Eachcandidate for coaching should be assessed in this light. If we give themthe support of a coach, how much more valuable will they become?How much more solidly integrated into the core team will theybecome? Is this person critical to the success of the company? This last
 
question is a very important one. Coaching should be used where it willgenerate the best return. Any number of people might fit the definitionof ‘critical to the success of the company’. But they should be on thislist before being considered for coaching. Remember, the company isgoing to offer coaching support over an extended period; probably atleast six to twelve months. Most coaching engagements start off withweekly meetings that may become bi-monthly later on. There arealways lots of e-mails, phone calls, reading assignments and‘homework’. This means that the investment is not limited to the costof the coach. To make it worth the cost you need the right coachworking with the right team member on the right agenda.
Who needs help?
Sometimes team members face much largerchallenges. Maybe they have been asked to take over an ailing divisionor manage the start-up of a new program. Perhaps they have beenpromoted and now have responsibilities that new require skills andstronger leadership. All of these and more represent situations that canbe eased with the presence of a coach. Such a step sends a clear set of messages. “We recognize that you are under a lot of pressure toperform and are willing to support you and invest in your success?” Allof us get into these situations. We struggle to learn new skills and tocope with new situations. An enlightened organization recognizes thatfact and helps key people work through them. If a friend was drowning,would you throw them a life preserver? Think of a coach as a careerpreserver. One word of caution here, a coach should not be aconsultant who compensates for the client’s lack of skills andknowledge. A good coach will help the client develop those skills andknowledge and, thus, put himself out of a job.
Will the organizational culture support coaching?
This is one thatis often overlooked. Coaching can focus a lot of attention on the client.If the organizational culture is adverse to that kind of attention, therecan be significant problems. Resentment, hazing, abusive behavior andoutright aggression are some of the responses that assigning a coachto a rising star can bring. Coaching is most effective within a culturethat sees its value and supports the people who are being coached.Coaching does not work when the people above, beside or below theclient are indifferent, skeptical or hostile to very idea of coaching. Theywill oppose the changes that the client and organization is trying tomake. Coaching works best when the organizations leadership standssolidly behind the process; if they provide a lift rather than a drag.

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