Executive Coaching: A Profession of Transformational Outcomes: PART 1
By Rick Forbus, PhD
Even though the profession of executive coaching has been around for several decades now, I still find it hard, at times, to explain what it really is to the interested inquirer. Some who have not experienced coaching and only heard someone share their understanding of it can be unclear of the power of executive coaching. It is not a criticism for those who do not understand the power and practicality of coaching, however, because I had the same lack of understanding. As a matter of fact, until I had a coach did the clarity begin for me. So, these unclear perceptions led me to write about coaching.
Coaching, in the business and organizational sense, can be expressed in several distinct ways. Some of the subtleties of expression could be described as:
o Alliance partner
o Accountability partner
o Career collaborator
At Trove, Inc., there are even nuances of delivery within a coaching session, depending on project outcomes and the professional or personal goals in play. Sometimes, although it is always coaching, the delivery mechanism for a coach could be more therapeutic and at other times leaning more towards counseling. In other scenarios it seems like consulting and other times more advisory. The bundle of delivery styles best defines executive coaching in the paradigm in which the Trove Team functions. When the session leads to concerns that need a therapist, financial advisor or counselor, for instance, then we refer them to these professionals.
As a leader or manager begins to set goals and the coaching conversations open up in honest and transparent avenues, a determination is made, usually in the moment, where this conversation needs to go and which of the methods of delivery are used. The list of expressions above also are considered, because a company or individual may engage our services initially because of a reason they see as crucial, yet, within the coaching journey discoveries are made that need attention immediately. Actually, that is the exciting part of coaching to me. Sometimes it feels like the client and I just jumped out of an aircraft without a parachute. We do not know how this is going to land, but it really seems fun and exhilarating at the moment. Major breakthroughs seem to happen in these times. Total life-shifts have occurred outside of the predetermined professional development plan.
In an article in Harvard Business Review in 2005 by Paul Michelman entitled, “What an Executive Coach Can Do for You, we can gain some insight into the transformation of coaching in the last few years. He writes,
“Is executive coaching at U.S. companies destined to play a role occupied by psychoanalysis in some Neil Simon version of Hollywood: a virtual prerequisite for anyone who aspires to be anyone?
It might seem that way at some organizations, at least to the untrained eye. IBM has more than sixty certified coaches among its ranks. Scores of other major companies have made coaching a core part of executive development. The belief is that, under the right circumstances, one-on-one interaction with an objective third party can provide a focus that other forms of organizational support simply cannot.
And, whereas coaching was once viewed by many as a tool to help correct under-performance, today it is becoming much more widely used in supporting top producers. In fact, in a 2004 survey by Right Management Consultants (Philadelphia), 86 % of companies said they used coaching to sharpen the skills of individuals who have been identified as future organizational leaders.”
I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process to draw out the skills or talent that was previously hidden within an individual, and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem previously thought unsolvable. John Russell
Later in the Michelman article, he cites, “At an even more basic level, many executives simply benefit from receiving any feedback at all. ‘As individuals advance to the executive level, development feedback becomes increasingly important, more infrequent, and more unreliable,’ notes Anna Maravelas, a St. Paul, Minnesota-based executive coach and founder of TheraRising. As a result, she says, ‘Many executives plateau in critical interpersonal and leadership skills.’”
At Trove, Inc. our experience has been congruent with Michelman’s findings. Most executives, vice-presidents, directors, managers and team leaders can experience a sense of isolation without some accountability and someone to have an honest discussion regarding their work. When coaching is delivered properly, it is honest, revealing and in alliance with the leader-client. Without an unbiased, nonpolitical and untainted viewpoint, such as a professional coach can bring, the leader can feel secluded and unaided pretty quickly. Most of my clients, after a few sessions, and when honesty and trust have been established, are eager to meet and share the ongoing context of their challenges and work in general. A good strategic listener, such as a coach, will craft questions that go beyond the conversation at hand to what may be behind the “curtain” of the presenting words.
Probably, my best quality as a coach is that I ask a lot of challenging questions and let the person come up with the answer. Phil Dixon
One client recently said to me that his series of coaching sessions afforded him opportunities to open up regarding his management team, his challenges with them and his leadership choices. In his case, feelings of isolation became prevailing at times. Because of the organizational structure, he did not really have peers to bounce things off of and his one report was inaccessible. The coaching sessions for him and for me became opportunities to energize thoughts, plans, and strategies and identify fears. Setting direction then became an act of strength and security, rather than, apprehension.
The website Fast Company, cites in another article, entitled, Coaching: The Fad that Won’t Go Away, by Jim Bolt (April 10, 2006) some more interesting comments regarding coaching.
“Our findings in my firm’s executive development surveys indicated a dramatic increase in the use of coaching: In 2004, 56% of the companies said that executive coaching would be a major learning method they would emphasize. Then in a 2006 follow-up survey, 51% said the use of coaching had actually increased. Given this nearly miraculous change in the status of coaching we recently decided, along with our research partner, Dr. Brian Underhill of Coach Source, to conduct a major research project to explore the murky world of executive coaching in depth.
Our study, High-Impact Executive Coaching, was unique in that it examined the topic in a 3-D manner, i.e., through the eyes of coaches, organizations that retain them, and leaders being coached. The study included 48 organizations and 86 leaders being coached. In this column I want to focus mostly on what we learned from the leaders being coached since it’s highly relevant for anyone interested in either providing coaches to leaders or in being coached.
What did we learn?
First, let’s clarify what we mean by ‘coaching.’ There are coaches for developing leadership skills, improving public speaking, managing transitions to overseas assignments, enhancing ‘executive presence,’ career coaches, life coaches, and coaches for just about everything else you can imagine. However, the vast majority of our respondents indicated ‘leader development’ to be the primary reason coaches were engaged. The biggest change is from coaching being used, as a ‘fix it tool’ for leaders with problems, to helping successful leaders get even better. In many firms, having a coach is seen as a badge of honor. And we found that coaching now reaches into the highest levels: 43% of CEOs and 71% of the senior executive team had worked with a coach.
And here’s the bottom-line: 63% of organizations say they plan to increase their use of coaching over the next five years. Most telling, 92% of leaders being coached say they plan to use a coach again. Both indicate strong endorsements of coaching; the first by the organizations paying the bills, and the second by the leaders who are actually receiving coaching.”
Several years ago an “informal” coach of mine asked me what was keeping me from making a significant shift in my future choices regarding my career. His questions that followed helped me dial in some ideas and some action steps. Also, since the coaching relationship was informal and very trustworthy, I had a sense of security and openness. His concern and questioning helped me find my own way. In this scenario he just asked open-ended questions which led me into a realm of self-discovery.
People will exceed targets they set themselves. Gordon Dryden
In the 2011 Sherpa Executive Coaching Survey, there is a lot of good information supporting the fact that executive coaching and professional developmental training is on the rise. Also, the survey shares some clarity on the definitions surrounding the ever-emerging trade of executive coaching. It states; “Here’s a widely accepted definition of executive coaching:”
Executive coaching means regular meetings between a business leader and a trained facilitator, designed to produce positive changes in business behavior in a limited time frame.
This definition clarifies:
1. Who coaches are
2. What coaches do
3. When things happen
Or, we could say that executive coaches are:
(1) Trained facilitators that (2) produce positive changes in business behavior (3) on a set schedule within a limited time frame.
The Sherpa article goes on to say,
“Executive coaches, as a general rule, do not share their own experience (as do mentors). Do not give advice (as do consultants). Do not impart specific knowledge (as trainers do). Avoid personal issues (the role of a counselor, therapist or life coach).”
These findings are somewhat similar to Trove’s delivery paradigm. The definition is right on target on the “whom,” how,” and “when.” However, we use a blend of styles to best serve our clients. For instance, it is not so rare to coach directly towards the professional goals of a client and a shift occurs to the direction of one of the abovementioned areas of concern like, knowledge sharing, or, something personal. This holistic approach is a defining strength of Trove’s in the market. Coaching is certainly here to stay. As long as people desire leadership, management or life breakthroughs, coaching will be around.
Some years back, as it was forming, a movement by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) was afoot to define and standardize coaching. The ICF says this today:
The ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.
I enjoy the fact that the ICF keeps high standards, sophisticated training and international transference in their mission. They also define this in their materials.
ICF is the largest worldwide resource for professional coaches, and the source for those who are seeking a coach. We are a nonprofit organization formed by individual members-professionals who practice coaching, including Executive Coaches, Leadership Coaches, Life Coaches and many more, from around the world. Formed in 1995, today the ICF is the leading global organization, with over 17,000 members, dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high professional standards, providing independent certification, and building a network of credentialed coaches. We exist to support and advance the coaching profession through programs and standards supported by our members and to be an authoritative source on coaching information and research for the public.
Many coaching certification schools and convocations define coaching similarly as the ICF. However, different applications of coaching skills will require other definitions and applications.
Executive Coaching is 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 coaching is contracted for the benefit of a client who is accountable for highly complex decisions with wide scope of impact on the organization and industry as a whole. The focus of the coaching is usually focused on organizational performance or development, but it may also serve a personal component as well.
Summary findings from the International Executive Coaching Summit, October 1999, compiled by Lee Smith and Jeannine Sandstrom, and including information produced by 36 coaches.
Wasylyshyn, as so noted below, has some interesting ideas about executive coaching. As does Trove, Inc., she sees coaching as a holistic endeavor with considerations regarding the sustainability of the coaching relationship.
There are four methodological factors that distinguish the coaching of super-keepers from that of other employees…These factors are: 1) holistic approach, 2) deep behavioral insight, 3) the active involvement of top corporate executives and 4) sustained relationships with the coach and/or trusted internal collaborator ‘usually a senior human resource professional).’
Karol Wasylyshyn in “Coaching The Super-Keepers” a chapter from the book “The Talent Management Handbook: Creating Organizational Excellence By Identifying, Developing and Promoting Your Best People” September, 2003
In Part 2 of this article, I will bring to bear insights on techniques and outcome tracking as they relate to coaching. Every coach will be different and much of the success of a coaching arrangement will be the match of the coach’s behavioral platform, style, experience and the client’s. At Trove, Inc., we actually use assessments to better match client with coach. We ask our potential clients to take an assessment then we match our coaches’ scales and behavioral tendencies with the client. Also, of course, coaching experience and particular strengths of the coach are taken into account as we match coach to client.
Hopefully, this article gives you better clarity of the profession of coaching. What is difficult to include are all of the client testimonials of life transformation and professional improvement we get to hear. Our website includes many but to end this article I will include one of the latest we have received.
I have had the privilege of knowing and being associated with Dr. Forbus and Dr. Young (Dr. Ron Young is President of Trove, Inc.) over the past couple of years and most recently was able to experience firsthand the leadership development that Trove is capable of delivering. Dr. Young and Dr. Forbus are not only true professionals but after just meeting them, you quickly realize that they love what they do with energy and passion, and genuinely want to help others better themselves. They have the ability to make personal connections through their own real life examples, which helped my team and me to feel comfortable in opening up through discussions and confident in the presentation. The assessments and materials are all first-class, but Dr. Forbus’ ability to simplify the program (a certain team workshop that included small group coaching) so as to truly receive the benefits while teaching you how to apply it your own situation is the real value.
Mario Campuzano, CCM
City Club of Buckhead (Atlanta)
(A professional club where we frequently coach clients including Mario and his leadership team)
firstname.lastname@example.org – Executive Coach