What Can Coaches Do for You?

by Diane Coutu and Carol Kauffman

Today, most coaching is about developing the capabilities of high-potential performers.

Coaching borrows from both consulting and therapy (see above).


The Coaching Industry: A Work in Progress

by Ram Charan

There’s no question that future leaders will need constant coaching. As the business environment becomes more complex, they will increasingly turn to coaches for help in understanding how to act. The kind of coaches I am talking about will do more than influence behaviors; they will be an essential part of the leader’s learning process, providing knowledge, opinions, and judgment in critical areas. These coaches will be retired CEOs or other experts from universities, think tanks, and government.

Clearly, this is not a description of what most coaches do today, as the survey results demonstrate. What we think of as coaching is generally a service to middle managers provided by entrepreneurs with a background in consulting, psychology, or human resources. This kind of coaching became popular over the past five years because companies faced a shortage of talent and were concerned about turnover among key employees. Firms wanted to signal their commitment to developing their high-potential executives, so they hired coaches. At the same time, businesspeople needed to develop not just quantitative capabilities but also people-oriented skills, and many coaches are helpful for that. As coaching has become more common, any stigma attached to receiving it at the individual level has disappeared. Now, it is often considered a badge of honor.


Does Your Coach Give You Value for Your Money?

by David B. Peterson

Today, coaching is a popular and potent solution for ensuring top performance from an organization’s most critical talent. Almost half the coaches surveyed in this study reported that they are hired primarily to work with executives on the positive side of coaching—developing high-potential talent and facilitating a transition in or up. Another 26% said that they are most often called in to act as a sounding board on organizational dynamics or strategic matters. Relatively few coaches said that organizations most often hire them to address a derailing behavior.

The research also revealed an important insight about what companies ask coaches to do and what they actually end up doing. Consider work/life balance. It’s rare that companies hire business coaches to address non-work issues (only 3% of coaches said they were hired primarily to attend to such matters), yet more than three-quarters of coaches report having gotten into personal territory at some time. In part this reflects the extensive experience of the coaches in this survey (only 10% had five years or less experience). It also underscores the fact that for most executives, work and life issues cannot be kept entirely separate. This is particularly true of senior executives who spend grueling hours on the job and are often on the road and away from home. Many of them feel some strain on their personal lives. Not surprisingly, therefore, the more coaches can tap into a leader’s motivation to improve his or her home life, the greater and more lasting the impact of the coaching is likely to be at work.


How Do You Pick a Coach?

by P. Anne Scoular

 There are two basic rules for hiring a coach. First, make sure that the executive is ready and willing to be coached. Second, allow the executive to choose whom he or she wants to work with, regardless of who in the organization initiated the engagement. The survey data support this emphatically: Willingness and good chemistry were by far the most frequently cited ingredients of a successful coaching relationship. Beyond that, respondents had strong and sometimes divergent opinions about what matters most in hiring a coach.

The surveyed coaches agreed for the most part that companies need to look for someone who had experience coaching in a similar situation, but hadn’t necessarily worked in that setting. Organizations should also take into account whether the coach has a clear methodology. According to the survey data, different coaches value different methodologies. Some coaches begin with 360-degree feedback, for example, while others rely more on psychological feedback and in-depth interviews. From an organization’s perspective, methodology is a good way to winnow the pile. If a prospective coach can’t tell you exactly what methodology he uses—what he does and what outcomes you can expect—show him the door. Top business coaches are as clear about what they don’t do as about what they can deliver. For example, a good coach will be able to tell you up front whether or not she is willing to serve as a sounding board on strategic matters.

Significantly, coaches were evenly split on the importance of certification. Although a number of respondents said that the field is filled with charlatans, many of them lack confidence that certification on its own is reliable. Part of the problem is the number of different certificates: In the UK alone about 50 organizations issue certificates; buyers are understandably confused about which ones are credible. Currently, there is a move away from self-certification by training businesses and toward accreditation—whereby reliable international bodies subject providers to a rigorous audit and accredit only those that meet tough standards.

What should be the focus of that accreditation? One of the most unexpected findings of this survey is that coaches (even some of the psychologists in the survey) do not place high value on a background as a psychologist; they ranked it second from the bottom on a list of possible credentials. That’s surprising; some of the organizations I’ve worked with will hire only psychologists as coaches. It may be that most of the survey respondents see little connection between formal training as a psychologist and business insight—which, in my experience as a trainer of coaches, is the most important factor in successful coaching.

Although experience and clear methodologies are important, the best credential is a satisfied customer. A full 50% of the coaches in the survey indicated that businesses select them on the basis of personal references. So before you sign on the dotted line with a coach, make sure you talk to a few people she has coached before.

Harvard Business Review, January 2009 Issue

Why CEO's DON'T want executive coaching (and how to overcome that)

A recent study by the Stanford Business School found that nearly two-thirds of CEOs don’t receive executive coaching or leadership development. And almost half of senior executives in general aren’t receiving any, either. Paradoxically, nearly 100 percent said they would like coaching to enhance their development, as bothBloomberg BusinessWeek and Forbes reported in recent articles.

So, why do CEOs and other senior leaders say they want coaching but don’t seek it?

I think the answer lies in what they’ve learned to think coaching provides, in contrast to what they think they need. Both views create a gap between desire and action. Ironically, that gap is unwittingly supported by most coaching programs, themselves.

That is, most omit or misconstrue the core coaching element that CEOs need to grow their skills and effectiveness: Increased self-awareness, honest self-knowledge, about one’s motives, personality capacities and values. The consequences of this absence play out in ways that diminish the relevance of coaching in the eyes of most senior leaders.

Self-awareness is crucial to leadership and it can be heightened through coaching. To explain why and how, consider the obvious but insufficient explanation for the paradox that CEOs want coaching but don’t pursue it. Stephen Miles, CEO of the Miles Group, that partnered with Stanford on the study, pointed out that to CEOs, “coaching is somehow “remedial” as opposed to something that enhances high performance, similar to how an elite athlete uses a coach.” Moreover, CEO’s saythey’re most interested in such skills as conflict management and communication. Yet they put the need for compassion, relationship and persuasion skills far down on their list. They think of the latter as “soft skills,” ancillary at best.

Both views reflect CEOs’ perceptions. But those, in turn, reflect the failure of coaching programs to show that the infrastructure of successful leadership vision and behavior is heightened self-awareness about one’s motives, values, and personality traits. That’s especially true within today’s challenging, fluid environment. Because of this failure, coaching programs unknowingly collude with CEOs’ view that self-awareness is either irrelevant to leadership or of minor importance.

The higher up you go in companies, the more you’re dealing with psychological and relational issues. Successful CEO leadership requires astuteness about others: their emotional and strategic personal drivers; their self-interest, overt and covert. These relationship competencies rest on a foundation of self-knowledge, self-awareness. And you can’t know the truth about another without knowing it about yourself.

Self-knowledge and the relational competencies they’re linked with are central to a CEO’s ability to formulate, articulate and lead a strategic vision for a motivated, energized organization. Self-knowledge builds clarity about objectives; it fine-tunes one’s understanding the perspectives, values, aims and personality traits of others. When that’s lacking, you often see discord and conflict among members of the senior management team; or between some of its members and the CEO.

Power and Empathy

Being able to see, understand and deal effectively with others’ perspectives is key to successful leadership (as well as personal life). That capacity, part of self-awareness, is empathy. Two recent studies show its crucial role. One looked at the impact of power in an organization upon behavior; the other, its impact upon brain activity. Both studies found that increased power reduces empathy.

One study, conducted by Adam D. Galinsky and colleagues at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, found that increased power tends to make one more self-centered and self-assured, but not in a good way: The researchers found that power makes one “prone to dismiss or, at the very least, misunderstand the viewpoints of those who lack authority.” High-power individuals “anchor too heavily on their own perspectives and demonstrate a diminished ability to correctly perceive others’ perspectives,” according to Galinsky and his team, adding that, “As power increases, power-holders are more likely to assume that others’ insights match their own.”

The other recent study, by Canadian researchers, found the same thing by looking at brain activity when people have power. They found that increased power diminishes the ability to be empathic and compassionate because power appears to affect the “mirror system” of the brain, through which one is “wired” to experience what another person is experiencing. Researchers found that even the smallest bit of power shuts down that part of the brain and the ability to empathize with others.

These are highly important findings, because empathy, compassion and overall self-awareness are qualities of a developed, mature mind. One that’s resilient to stress, able to manage internal conflicts, experiences interconnection with others, and maintains well-being. And, that therefore stimulates broad perspectives for understanding the problems and unpredictable challenges facing CEOs.

Much research shows that such capacities are essential personal strengths; certainly important to effective senior leadership. Moreover, studies find that you can grow them with conscious effort. The emotionally detached, un-empathic person, unaware of his or her personal motives or truths is not going to be very effective as a CEO or senior leader. We see examples of the consequences from time-to-time, when a CEO resigns or is fired.

Building Self-Awareness

Self-awareness builds from honest self-appraisal about emotional strengths and vulnerabilities; your values and attitudes, personality traits and unresolved conflicts. You’re a total person, not just a set of skills performing a role.

One of Google’s earliest executives, Chade-Meng Tan, teaches a popular coursefor Google employees that helps build such qualities. It’s demonstrated positive benefits for success and wellbeing. And much research confirms that self-examination is critical for leaders’ positive development. For example, Scott Keller, a director at McKinsey & Company, described the importance of overcoming self-interest and delusion in the Harvard Business Review. He emphasized the need for openness to personal growth and development, because “deep down, (leaders) do not believe that it is they who need to change...” and that “the real bottleneck...is knowing what to change at a personal level.” Self-awareness also expands the capacity to know what not to pursue, not just what to go after, as Greg McKeown, CEO of THIS, Inc., described regarding what he learned from an Apple executive.

Coaching can provide several ways to enhance self-awareness. Here are a few I’ve found helpful to C-level and other senior executives.

Learn From Your Personal Time-Line: Describe key turning points in both your career and personal life, with an eye to what shaped your values, attitudes and behavior; how your career decisions and experiences have affected your personal development. Identify the consequences, both positive and negative. What does this knowledge point you towards, in terms of reclaiming and growing dormant or neglected parts of yourself?

The Capacities-Gap Exercise: List what you believe are your most positive personal strengths, qualities and personality capacities. Describe how each one has become stunted, blocked or deformed in their expression, in daily life. It happens to everyone. For each gap, describe what steps you could commit to taking, to enlarge those capacities and reduce the gaps in your role as a leader as well as in your overall life.

Identify Your Personal Vulnerabilities: All of us tend to develop a “cover story” along the course of our lives - what I called the narrower, “false” self in a previous post - beneath which is our “secret plot” - the real story, including our emotional blind spots, fears and pockets of dysfunctional behavior that can become hidden drivers of our lives. How can you rectify and grow through them?

Needless to say, effective leadership must also include necessary skills, vision and perspectives. For example, sustainable practices for long-term success, as business executive and sustainability thought-leader John Friedman regularly writes about, here. Another is the movement towards joining business success with addressing social needs, as Richard Branson has described, where “taking care of people and the planet are at the very core of all businesses everywhere in the world.” Adding that our current world of transparency and social media demands that “business reinvents itself and becomes a force for good in the world,” he’s leading a new effort in that direction, called The B Team.

Self-awareness and the growth it supports, combined with such business perspectives and practices, can and should be the heart of executive coaching and leadership programs.

Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., a business psychologist and psychotherapist, is director of the Center for Progressive Development in Washington, D.C. and writes the blogProgressiveImpact.org. You may contact him at dlabier@CenterProgressive.org. To learn more about him, click here.