Coaching for Results

Coaching for Results

What to look for in a good executive coaching relationship.

The project had hit the wall. The harder the team pushed the less the wall moved. In fact, it seemed to be tipping backwards, threatening to crush everyone underneath. The wall is of course a metaphor for the intractable forces that so many teams find themselves up against when developing a new product, initiating a new release or implementing a process upgrade.

Teams do not like to confront walls; managers like it even less. Obstacles are factors that all managers face and how you face them is a measure of who you are as a leader. Most managers deal with the external obstacles very well - the assembly of a team, the marshalling of resources and the lobbying for support - however, many managers fare less well on the internal side - dealing with difficult people, sudden challenges or even personal setbacks.

These obstacles exact a toll on the psyche. While commitment to the enterprise is laudatory, managers must be careful not to take things too personally. Internalization leads to a build up of stress as well as the formation of another wall - one between manager and staff. Instead of reaching out, managers under duress either lash out at others, or seal themselves off. Either instance can be costly, not only to the project, but to the manager himself.

Call in a Coach

When this happens - and it does every day in every kind of organization - what can you do? More and more companies are turning to executive coaches to help their managers not only deal with challenges, as described, but more importantly to develop their talents and skills so they can become better contributors and improved leaders. Management today is coaching; it is about bringing out the best in others, but managers, too, may need assistance.

Some managers may be resistant to coaching from an outside source because they feel as if they are being called on the carpet for some deficiency. Actually the opposite is true. Companies invest in coaches because they believe so strongly in their people they want them to succeed. Few organizations will hire a coach for someone who is on his way out the door; they invest in coaches to help people move up the ladder and most importantly stay there!

The question of when to hire a coach arises first. Executive coach Mark Sobol employs the "5 when's" approach. According to Sobol, who specializes in global strategic change issues, coaching is indicated by one or more of the following: "one, when executives believe they need the insights and objectivity of someone 'outside the system'; two, when they are seeking new pathways to success; three, when they are questioning their definition of success; four, when they are transitioning to a new role of increased responsibility; or five, when the skills that have served them so well in the past are increasingly less effective in the present environment."

"Coaching is fundamentally about change," says Marsha Connolly of Conscious Learning. "You should consider hiring an executive coach when you want a disciplined process that will provide you with the opportunity to create a detailed strategy for change, gain ongoing feedback, make corrections and measure your progress." Connolly adds, "A good coach will set up a structure that works for you and can keep you on track." Knowing when and how to use an executive coach is important. Here are some suggestions for what you can expect a good coach to do and how you can leverage the experience for lasting impact.

Know the organization. Executive coaches help managers address and improve behaviours that will increase compatibility as well as productivity. Communication is a frequent topic of coaching, as are delegation, recognition and even motivation. However, coaches must understand the organization in which the manager is working. What is appropriate for one organization may not be appropriate for another. For example, asking a manager to delegate more is fine but if the people in the organization are not prepared to assume authority, an issue of responsibility arises. The coach must help the manager prepare her people to assume more leadership roles. Thus knowledge of the culture is essential. The manager may be the client but the coach works for the organization; he is helping the manager perform better for her own sake as well as the sake of the organization.

Click together. Coaching is a relationship. There must be chemistry between a coach and manager. The coach must be open, approachable and empathetic. If the manager does not feel this connection, then stop. To work toward performance improvement you need to trust your coach, and trust begins with an ability to connect with someone.

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