When all of the Best Places to Work rankings come out every year, whether it’s from Glassdoor or Fairygodboss or Fortune, you can see a few common threads running through the top-ranked companies. One of them is internal career pathing. Another is employee development. Together, they give people a roadmap of where the future might take them within their organizations, and the tools and skills needed to get there.
It’s a win for both employer and employee. For employers, retention of their good people is always high priority, but especially so in this current hiring market in which people can easily find what they perceive as greener pastures with a couple of clicks on their smartphones. Simply put, if you’re good at your job, your company wants to keep you around (or should want to). Part of what makes people want to stay with their current employer is a clear path of growth, development, and upward mobility. Employees want to know their companies are invested in them enough to help develop and chart their careers. With it, emerging leaders stick around. Without it, they go looking for someplace that offers more opportunity.
Executive coaching, which focuses on developing emerging leaders, is a powerful way for your employer to create a succession pipeline of people who are ready to step into more senior positions. If you’re an up-and-coming, middle-range employee with designs on the C-suite, executive coaching is the way for you to get there.
Do you need an executive coach?
Executive coaching makes sense, especially for people who may be looking ahead, charting their career paths, and thinking about what it will take for them to climb those next few rungs on the ladder. But anyone can benefit from it. Look at it this way: Tiger Woods may have had innate, raw talent, but it was his coach (his father) who helped him hone those skills, develop his technique, and spurred on the drive that would ultimately make him the best golfer in the world. Professional sports is filled with those kinds of stories — how a good coach meant everything. In sports, you simply can’t get to the top without one.
Is the workplace so different?
If you look around your office, you may see talented, driven, goal-oriented people all over the place. But the ones who have mentors and coaches learn to hone their skills, develop the competencies needed to advance, address weaknesses, course-correct if needed. You’re not necessarily going to get those opportunities, or that perspective, in your day-to-day job.
So, do you need an executive coach? Short answer: yes. Most people can benefit from working with one.
Elements of executive coaching
Not every executive coaching program is the same. Elements of what they offer can vary, oftentimes widely. Above all, however, the experience is personal. Executive coaching simply is not one size fits all. You’re not going to get the same coaching as Hal in accounting. Hal might want to spin off toward the CFO office. You might want to become CHRO. The two of you will have different needs, goals, and objectives. But there are some common threads that you can expect to find in many coaching programs.
Self-discovery. Oftentimes, coaches will begin by encouraging you to reflect on yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses, and they will conduct targeted assessments to see if your view of yourself matches what they see. You need to have a sense of your starting point to use as a springboard for growth and development.
Setting goals. Your coach will help you identify the goals and objectives you want to work toward. You and your coach will work together to create a development plan that will chart your course toward your future.
One-on-one sessions. Most coaches conduct their sessions one on one, focusing squarely on you, your needs, and the skills you want to hone or acquire. You may receive experiential learning exercises, mentorship opportunities, and other concrete ways to develop and grow. The key is to enhance your leadership potential by developing skills that will allow you to transition from being an individual contributor in your organization to a leader.
360-degree feedback. Your coach may enlist the aid of your coworkers, underlings, and managers to gain a clear picture of how people view you in the workplace. Nobody loves this part of the process unless all of your reports are glowing and wonderful, but truthfully, that’s not going to help you grow. The usefulness here lies in getting an honest picture of how you’re perceived, and creating a plan to course-correct if necessary.
By going through that process, your coach will be able to identify areas you should focus on. Some typical coaching areas may include:
- Interpersonal relationships, listening skills, empathy. These kinds of soft skills aren’t taught in business school.
- Influence, managing up, across, and down
- Communication skills
- Motivation and engagement
- Building and working with effective teams
- Delegation and empowerment of staff
- Leading during times of change
- Working with uncertainty and ambiguity
- Decision making
- Transitioning from individual contributor to leader
Outcomes of executive coaching
Executive coaching helps emerging leaders, middle managers, and execs identify and achieve professional goals that are strategic and practical. It gives people who want to move up and grow the opportunity to acquire new skills and competencies. It’s not about only identifying and shoring up weaknesses. It’s also about identifying strengths to build on and development areas to focus on.
Here are some outcomes of executive coaching.
The big picture perspective. People don’t often look at their careers from a bird’s eye view. There’s an old saying about paddling a canoe down a river. When you’re in the canoe, you only know where you’ve been, where you are, and what’s immediately in front of you. But a bird flying over your canoe can see everything you see, and also what’s coming much, much further down the line. When you come to a fork in the river, one way leads to rapids and a waterfall. The other leads to the destination you’re seeking. A good executive coach can give you that bird’s eye perspective on your career, taking you out of the day-to-day and allowing you to glimpse your potential years down the line.
A clearer view of yourself. We get it. Your workdays are filled with putting out fires, doing your job, even working ahead to get the job done. Executive coaching sessions are the one time during the workday when you can focus solely on yourself and your goals. Equally as important, the 360-degree feedback from colleagues and higher-ups lets them know how others see them. Identifying where they’re already strong and which areas need work provides a kind of self-awareness that people simply don’t gain in their day-to-day jobs. Studies have shown that employees want and need their leaders to be self-aware and understand how their behavior and actions impact others. By developing self-aware leaders, you’ll be benefiting your organization for years to come.
Improved soft skills. The most effective leaders are the most effective communicators, but not everyone comes into the job with that skill honed. Most HR departments aren’t hiring for those kinds of “soft skills,” instead focusing on the technical skills and education needed to do the job. Also, there is little ongoing training in communication. Those are the kinds of things they don’t teach you in business school. Executive coaching is a great place to improve your soft skills.
Improved hard skills. Executive coaching can identify the gaps between where you are and where you want to go. It might mean attending training courses, taking classes online, or even going back to school at night. You’ll see how an investment in training now will help you down the line (the bird’s eye view coming into play again) and understand that you’re working toward preparing yourself for a leadership role, either with your current company or another.
Strengthened interpersonal relationships. Although we hate to say it, office politics is still a thing in many workplaces. You may be on the receiving end of a manager or coworker who undercuts you, steals your ideas, resents your success, or myriad other nasty behaviors that people still insist on bringing into their work lives. The right coach can arm you with strategies to deal with those types of people, perhaps even turning enemies into allies.
Increased critical thinking. Taking employees out of their task-focused workday and allowing them to look at their jobs and their own performance from a different perspective lets them get at the “why” of situations, processes, and procedures rather than just the “what.” Critical thinking is one hallmark of effective leadership, and yet it’s something that you don’t practice every day on the job.
Enhanced existing strengths. Some employees know what they’re good at, but some might not see the forest for the trees. A skilled executive coach can help people build on what they’re already rocking, and uncover strengths they might not know they had.
Examples of how executive coaching works in practice
Everyone can benefit from professional coaching. The ultimate goal of coaching, after all, is to help leaders become the best version of themselves by focusing on improved decision-making skills, confidence, and productivity. These stories are real-world examples of how a need for coaching turned into opportunities for both business and career growth:
Correcting Avoidance-Oriented Management
Organizations don’t run well in the absence of honesty and trust. Managers need to face problems head on, rather than going around people to solve them or taking a passive-aggressive approach. Derek, a CEO at a global advertising agency, was intimidating employees with his “avoidance-oriented” communication style. But working with a coach taught him that it’s important for managers to be aware of and adapt to the communication styles of their direct reports. Derek was able to develop clear communication strategies to better manage his relationships with each employee.
Overcoming Cultural Gaps
When a coach comes into an organization to help an employee, it’s often due to a misalignment of expectations. For example, a U.S.-based company welcomed an executive from its Tokyo office, Hideaki, for a one-year assignment because he was considered a marketing expert. The company expected him to immediately assume a leadership role. However, the Japanese office sent him as a learner who could benefit from a global experience. Hideaki was expecting to be told what to do, to listen and learn in his new surroundings, and wasn’t accustomed to the informality of the American workplace. He was not prepared for this new setting. The coach worked with him to improve his listening skills and help everyone become more aware of the cultural differences.
Coaching for Promotability
When employees have been at a job for a long time, sometimes a coach is needed in order to help them get to the next level. Alistair was working at an international publishing company for 10 years when his boss decided it was time for him to grow and contribute at a higher level. He hired a coach to help Alistair identify his strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. The coach also met with the boss to compare notes and stay updated on Alistair’s development. After less than a year of coaching, Alistair received a promotion.
Choosing an executive coach
You’re convinced you could benefit from executive coaching. How do you choose the right coach? Here are a few things to think about when choosing an executive coach.
Do you have chemistry? Simply put, do you get along with the person? Do you like their vibe? Do you get a good feeling after talking with them? Do they make you feel excited about possibilities? Are they engaged and interested? Are they excited?
Are they current? Is their knowledge base up to date and current? Technology is disrupting and in some cases obliterating the past workplace status quo. You want someone who is well versed in the future of work in order to help you position yourself for it.
Do they have the background you need? Tiger Woods’ coach helped him get to the pinnacle of the golf world. He could do little or nothing for you in business. No matter how great a coach is, he or she needs to be great within your context. Your coach should be familiar with your industry and have a good handle on its pain points. He or she should be up on current trends and where your industry is headed in the future of work.
How long have they been coaching? In coaching, like in everything, experience matters. You want someone with a proven track record of helping executives in your industry reach the goals, objectives, and successes they desire.
Do they have credentials? Professional coaching certifications matter. It’s not enough to have succeeded in your industry. Coaching is a skill unto itself and you want proof that your coach has it.
At GetFive, our targeted executive coaching programs focus on the development areas your employees need most to maximize their professional potential. Questions? Contact us today.