What Problems Can Executive Coaching Solve?

What Problems Can Executive Coaching Solve?

Summary Points:

  1. Leaders have a plethora of reasons to turn to executive coaching
  2. Executive coaching helps you think differently to get “unstuck” from any situation
  3. Coaching focuses on building greater self-sufficiency for sustained value beyond the engagement
  4. Choosing a coach you trust to support AND challenge you is how to maximize the value

Most, if not all leaders reach a point in their careers where they fear they’ve gone too far. That they’ve been promoted to the point of their own incompetence.

They find that what got them to where they are is no longer working for them, and they feel stuck. They start to create these “false choices” – looking at the world in black and white – where neither of their two (false) choices are giving them the results they want.

So, more practically speaking, why would somebody hire an executive coach?

Why would somebody hire an executive coach?

Executive coaching is like hiring a private coach to help an athlete up their game – to take leaders from good to great. To help that Founder/CEO scale their business past the next big growth hump. To help that experienced executive transform a challenging team that they just inherited when they took on a new role in a company. Or to help that leader launching a new product with an uncertain market while keeping the team motivated and inspired. You get the idea.

Most driven, ambitious leaders want to be able to accomplish more from their efforts – whether that is greater success or greater happiness. Coaching can help make that happen.

There are no real shortcuts in life, but there are ways that life can be easier than people make it out to be, and coaching helps people find answers for themselves.

Here are some of the most common reasons people hire an executive coach:

“I have transitioned into a new leadership role and I want to keep up or even stay ahead of the learning curve.”

“I’m struggling to work effectively with somebody on my team.”

“I’m losing valuable talent from my team, and I’m not sure how to fix some of the issues that are causing people to leave.”

“My team keeps missing deadlines and I don’t know how to drive accountability without firing people.”

“I really want to give more honest feedback to people but I don’t want to be the bad guy or hurt people’s feelings”

“I really want to create ownership mentality amongst my team, but they just seem to want to watch the clock or do only what is directly asked of them.”

But really, what is executive coaching?

A personalized engagement to help leaders get out of their own way

Most commonly, executive coaching is a one-on-one engagement between a leader and an executive coach that is designed to help that leader perform more effectively.

When done well, executive coaching leads the leader to feel more confident, courageous, and clear – not to mention more fulfilled, less stressed, and more effective.

It is a relationship and a process, and at times it includes tools and frameworks. But more than anything it’s a relationship.

So let’s dive more into that.

What is executive coaching like? 

Despite the increasing popularity of executive coaching, many people still don’t quite understand what it entails.

People often confuse it with other useful roles like mentors or advisors.

I think it is most useful to look at the primary functions that a coach performs, because sometimes mentors, advisors, and bosses choose to exercise those coaching functions in their roles, but are not, in and of themselves, coaches.

Coaches play several roles. In the course of an engagement, coaches can serve as a sounding board, a mirror, an accountability partner, and a confidant.

It involves asking a LOT of questions. Whereas mentors and advisors will provide solutions and recommendations, coaches are trained to help you find your own solutions.

The whole idea is that humans are whole and resourceful and that leaders grow to be stronger, more adaptable and more self-sufficient when they learn how to think differently, vs. simply accepting recommendations.

How do I choose an executive coach?

1. Choose somebody you trust

I’ll start with trust. It is super important that you trust your coach. If you don’t feel like you can be fully open, honest, and vulnerable with your coach, then you will not maximize the experience.

Trusting your coach means that you trust your coach has your best interests in mind. That means your coach is interested and invested in your agenda, not their own.

Trusting your coach doesn’t always mean you’re comfortable with them. Comfort has its benefits, but solid coaching will push the bounds of your own comfort to help you grow.

What’s important is that you trust that this pushing comes with heart. Which leads to my next criterion.

2. Choose somebody who is not a “Yes” person

Backbone and heart is my favorite way to capture this. Backbone is critical to the process, as coaches must be able to give you difficult feedback, hold you accountable to your own goals, and push you enough so that you are able to break through and grow. This works when it is delivered with heart. We all know that experience of a true friend who delivers real feedback but we trust their intentions, and how different that feels than when your competitive acquaintance offers the same feedback. The difference is heart.

3. Choose somebody who trusts you

You want your coach to have trust in you. Most humans do not like being told what to do. Even people who like structure and direction still prefer some level of autonomy. As humans, we are super motivated to be able to think for ourselves. So, even though in the moment, it might feel nice to have a coach that tells you what to do, what you really want is somebody who helps shape the way you think, not just somebody who feeds you answers. First – because of that whole “Give a person a fish, teach a person to fish” concept of creating self-sufficiency. And second – because somebody else’s answers may not be real or authentic for you. Even though it may take a bit more time in the moment – you want a coach who sits with you, asks you questions, challenges you, and creates the space to help you come up with your own answers.

4. Choose a coach with… coaching experience

This might sound really obvious, but honestly, at first blush, many leaders think they want to hire somebody who has experience working in their same industry. They think that somebody who has been down this road can point them in the right direction. And I’m all for having mentors and advisors – but this person is not a coach if they don’t have specific experience as a coach. A coach is focused on growing and developing you – not just guiding you with your business or your team. Coaches have their own set of knowledge and skills that equip them to help you level up as a leader.

How do I maximize my executive coaching experience?

So now I’ve got a coach – how do I make the most of it?

1. Co-create the relationship.

I believe that all things in life are co-created, and coaching is no exception. Think of yourself as somebody that designs the relationship. You and your coach are on level ground – they are not above or below you. Even though you are paying your coach, you are not “the boss” – if they’re good – they will push you and have the courage to say the hard things – again all because they want what is best for you.

I remember having one conversation with my first executive coach where I felt as if he was almost yelling at me, coming down on me really hard. Something about the tone and the language was really off-putting. In that moment, I paused, noticed the emotional reaction I was having, and then stated very clearly: “This is going to work if you yell at me. I need you to take a different approach.”

And he responded immediately. Honestly, he was probably pushing through some kind of “tough love” thing, but for whatever reason, I was NOT into it. So I exercised choice and used my voice to set an expectation. After that, things got back to productive.

I could have chosen to step away or cower, but I knew that the engagement was co-created, and I took my role as co-creator seriously.

2. Go deeper.

You’re smart. You’re driven and accomplished. I know you have answers to things. But if you want to get the most out of your coaching relationship, drop your answers. Assume what you have been telling yourself is only a partial truth at best, and total self-deception at worst.

And then practice accepting that. As humans have evolved, we continuously learn and unlearn new things about our species and our world.

The deconstruction of what you think you know is an essential part to growing. It is hard. But it gets easier.

Because everything is difficult before it is easy. So, yes, coaching is hard. You won’t grow if we don’t push ourselves outside our comfort zone. And all growth is emotional.

For that reason, we applaud your courage in committing to a coaching engagement. Not only will we push you (remember, backbone and heart), but you will likely experience highs and lows as you work to create the change you want to see.

3. Prioritize it.

You get out of it what you put into it. You’ll be tempted at times to move things around or to not follow through on your commitments, but there is nothing more important than actually growing yourself – because wherever you go, there you are.

If you fear you are being selfish in this endeavor, remember that this is you working to become a better version of yourself – and that serves everybody around you – professionally and personally. Many of our clients have told us how surprised they were that coaching has created transformation in their home lives as well as work. Because it’s just about human stuff.

What are some of the overall benefits to executive coaching?

If it doesn’t feel clear now, then I’ll reiterate some main points. Executive coaching gives you the following:

  • Greater clarity
  • More confidence
  • Stronger presence
  • Better adaptability
  • More authenticity
  • More effectiveness
  • Greater fulfillment
  • Greater self-awareness
  • Increased resilience

What are your biggest concerns about executive coaching? If you have done executive coaching before, was it similar to what I described here? If not, how was it different? Join the conversation and let me know what you think!

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