Why is executive coaching helpful?

Executive coaching helps leaders assess the collective and individual strengths and weaknesses of their company. This allows them to challenge themselves and their employees to better improve and support the organization's weaknesses.

Why is executive coaching helpful?

Executive coaching helps leaders assess the collective and individual strengths and weaknesses of their company. This allows them to challenge themselves and their employees to better improve and support the organization's weaknesses. To understand what they do to deserve that money, HBR conducted a survey of 140 outstanding coaches and invited five experts to comment on the findings. As you will see, commentators have conflicting views on the direction the field is taking and where it should go, reflecting the contradictions that emerged among the respondents.

Both commentators and coaches considered that it is necessary to raise the level in several areas for the industry to mature, but there was no consensus on how to do so. However, they generally agreed that the reasons why companies hire coaches have changed. Ten years ago, most companies hired a coach to help them correct toxic behavior at the top. Nowadays, most training consists of developing the capacities of high-potential actors.

As a result of this broader mission, there is much more confusion surrounding issues such as how coaches define the scope of hiring, how they measure and report on progress, and the credentials that a company should use to select a coach. Is the executive highly motivated to change? Clearly, this is not a description of what most coaches do today, as demonstrated by the survey results. What we consider coaching is generally a service to middle management provided by entrepreneurs with experience in consulting, psychology or human resources. This type of training became popular in the last five years because companies faced a shortage of talent and were concerned about the turnover of key employees.

Companies wanted to demonstrate their commitment to developing their high-potential executives, so they hired coaches. At the same time, entrepreneurs needed to develop not only quantitative capabilities, but also people-oriented skills, and many coaches are useful for this. As coaching has become more common, any stigma associated with receiving it on an individual level has disappeared. Now, it's often considered a badge of honor.

The coaching industry will remain fragmented until a few associations build a brand, bring together outstanding people, eliminate those who aren't so good, and build a reputation for their excellent work. Some coaching groups are evolving in this direction, but most are still boutique firms that specialize, for example, in managing and interpreting 360-degree evaluations. To overcome this level, the industry urgently needs a leader who can define the profession and create a serious company, as did Marvin Bower when he invented modern professional management consulting in the form of McKinsey & Company. A big problem that the professional coaching firm of tomorrow must solve is the difficulty of measuring performance, as the coaches themselves point out in the survey.

I'm not aware of any research that has followed trained executives for extended periods; most of the evidence on effectiveness remains anecdotal. I have the impression that positive stories outnumber negative stories, but as the industry matures, coaching firms should be able to demonstrate how they generate change, as well as offer a clear methodology for measuring results. Despite the recession, I agree with most of the respondents that the demand for coaching will not decrease in the long term. The big developing economies (Brazil, China, India and Russia) are going to have an enormous appetite for it because the administration there is so young.

University graduates start working at 23 and realize that their bosses are all 25, with the experience to match. Forty years ago, nobody talked about executive coaching. Twenty years ago, coaching was primarily aimed at talented but aggressive executives who would likely be fired if something didn't change. Nowadays, coaching is a popular and powerful solution for ensuring the maximum performance of an organization's most important talent.

Nearly half of the coaches surveyed in this study reported that they are hired primarily to work with executives, as they have the positive side of training, developing high-potential talent and facilitating the transition to or from the top. Another 26% said that most of the time they are called upon to act as a sounding board on organizational dynamics or strategic issues. Relatively few coaches said that organizations hire them more frequently to address derailing behavior. The problem is when organizations ask for one thing and get another.

Often, companies have no idea what coaches are actually doing. All coaches recognize that they should make you more competent and self-sufficient. If the coaching relationship isn't doing that, it's very likely that you're becoming too dependent. Dependency isn't always bad, of course, having friends depend on each other, for example, is a good thing.

But we all know people who can't make a decision without talking to their psychotherapists first, and some executives turn to their coaches in the same way. They have conversations with the coach that they should have with other senior management executives or with their teams. The data from this survey shows that more than half of the respondents think that their customers are not too dependent on them. Coaches have an economic incentive to ignore the problem of dependency, which creates a potential conflict of interest.

It's natural that they want to expand their business, but the best coaches, like the best therapists, put the interests of their clients first. Harry Levinson, the father of coaching, worked with the top executives of his time. He said that if a coach wasn't aware of the dynamics of dependency, then he didn't have the right to be a coach. What this means for you is that before hiring a coach, you should ask him how he handles dependency in relationships.

However, there are two particular types of change of approach that are dangerous and should be avoided. One is when a behavioral coach (my term for someone who monitors your behavior) seduces you with a form of psychotherapy without making it explicit. For example, he or she may say that he or she is now ready to explore deeper issues that prevent him or her from developing his or her full potential. The other is when personal trainers become business advisors.

In these cases, your coach becomes a kind of interlocutor, someone with whom you can exchange strategic ideas. That can be just as dangerous because it's rare for a coach to have in-depth knowledge about your business. The coaches surveyed agreed for the most part that companies should look for someone who has experience coaching in a similar situation, but who hasn't necessarily worked in that environment. Organizations should also consider whether the coach has a clear methodology.

According to the survey data, different coaches value different methodologies. Some coaches start with 360-degree feedback, for example, while others rely more on psychological commentary and in-depth interviews. From an organization's perspective, methodology is a good way to gain ground. If a potential coach can't tell you exactly what methodology they use, what they do and what results you can expect, show them the door.

The best business coaches are as clear about what they don't do as what they can offer. For example, a good coach will be able to tell you from the start if she is willing or not to serve as a sounding board on strategic issues. 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) don't value training as psychologists very much; they ranked it second from the bottom in a list of possible credentials. That's surprising; some of the organizations I've worked with only hire psychologists as coaches.

It may be that most of the respondents see little connection between formal training as a psychologist and business vision, which, in my experience as a coach trainer, is the most important factor in the success of coaching. That's according to most of the coaches in our survey, who cite distinctions such as training focusing on the future, while therapy focuses on the past. The majority of respondents said that executive clients tend to be mentally “healthy”, while therapy clients have psychological problems. In the opinion of the respondents, coaching does not seek to treat psychological problems, such as depression or anxiety.

It is true that coaching does not and should not aim to cure mental health problems. However, the idea that coaching candidates are often mentally sound goes against academic research. Studies conducted by the University of Sydney, for example, have found that between 25 and 50% of people who seek counseling have clinically significant levels of anxiety, stress or depression. I'm not suggesting that most executives who hire coaches have mental health disorders.

However, some might, and counseling people who have unrecognized mental health problems can be counterproductive and even dangerous. The vast majority of executives are unlikely to seek treatment or therapy and may not even know that they have problems needing it. That's worrying because, contrary to popular belief, it's not always easy to recognize depression or anxiety without proper training. An executive is much more likely to complain about difficulties related to time management, interpersonal communication, or lack of commitment in the workplace than of anxiety.

This raises important questions for companies that hire coaches, such as whether a coach other than a psychologist can work ethically with an executive who has an anxiety disorder. Since some executives will have mental health problems, companies should require that coaches have some training in mental health issues, for example, that they know when to refer clients to professional therapists for help. In fact, companies that do not require such training from the coaches they hire do not meet their ethical obligations to care for their executives. Leaders work with executive coaches for a variety of reasons.

Some executives work with coaches to learn more about their own competencies, objectives and values, becoming better leaders in the process. Others partner with coaches to better understand the pillars of effective leadership. Others are looking for personal support, encouragement and confirmation that they are making the best possible decisions for their teams. In all cases, the benefits of effective executive coaching include better emotional intelligence, better ego control and a better outlook.

Executives who work with coaches also develop leadership coaching skills to bring to their organizations. Executive coaching can help leaders through the process of strategic planning and setting directions, as well as developing a communication strategy that achieves acceptance and aligns stakeholders. Peer coaching doesn't require anyone to be an executive coach and is often a by-product of creating a coaching culture that instills coaching principles in employees. One of the reasons seems to be that coaches can be very lax in evaluating the impact of their work and communicating the results to executives and stakeholders.

The most common application of executive coaching is for CEOs, chief operating officers, chief technology officers, and other key members of senior management. The high-quality executive coach training component of Columbia Business School's Advanced Executive Education Management Program can provide you with the individualized professional support you need to continue to grow personally and professionally for years to come. These studies show that executive coaching is a powerful tool with tangible and intangible results that can transform leadership and its organizations. However, the main mission of the executive coach is to help leaders create and execute action plans, identify professional goals, and develop self-awareness.

Many years ago, I trained an executive director who had a real gift for imagining products and services that would attract customers in the future. Finally, and most importantly, your coach can teach you new ways of thinking and operating, new skills that will allow you to better achieve your goals and create the career you want. Of the groups described in this section, executive coaching for first-time leaders may have the greatest organizational impact over time. .

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