Coaching has become part of the normal executive experience.
This was not always the case, it is still a relatively new addition to the executive leaders learning processes. Some leaders swear by the coach and can list clearly identifiable and measurable outcomes from the money and time they have spent with a coach.
Others, feel the trend towards executive coaching is akin to the American habit of everyone having a psychologist. Over the years I have had various coaches and as a result of having both excellent and poor experiences have developed the following guidelines that will help ensure your experiences with a coach are successful:
1) Have a very clear goal, tangible and achievable goal – The more concrete and measurable your goal is the more likely you are to gain from the coaching experience. While a coach can help you clarify your needs, in my experience this can be difficult.
2) Keeping you honest – This point is strongly linked to the previous point. Coaches work well with keeping you focussed and accountable. They are not a counsellor, or your best friend. A good coach will be firm and even demanding; they won’t allow you to fudge around not making progress.
3) Choose carefully – It is not hard to declare yourself an executive coach. Do your research and seek referrals from colleagues who have used a coach before committing to them. A coach should be prepared to meet with you so you both can decide if you can work effectively together – and whether they have the appropriate background to assist you with the direction you want to take. This meeting should be before any cost is incurred by you. Treat this meeting as an interview in which you are deciding whether or not you want to hire this person, because this is what you are doing, hiring them. Do they have the skill set, the background and right personal cultural fit for you?
4) Male or female? It is worth thinking through the gender of your coach carefully and weigh you gender decision against what you want them to deliver. Do you work best with men or women? Which gender are you going to be able to be the most honest and/or vulnerable with? If you are a man do you find it difficult to admit to other men you are struggling? Or, do you find yourself needing to impress women with how “together” you are? If you are female, which gender to you work with the best? It is also worth considering what you want to learn and which gender is most appropriate. The first time I worked with a committee of colleagues who were peers and all male and quite “blokesy” in how they operated I chose a male coach (who knew and had worked with this group and understood the male culture that permeated all they did). He helped me understand how they thought and the rules associated with this group of men and what I needed to do in order to be credible, accepted and influential – it was a hard gig!
5) If it is not working. At times with all of the best intentions from both the coach and the executive for various reasons the working relationship doesn’t deliver the outcomes you desire. Firstly, it is useful when you first negotiate your contract with the coach to have a set time for review, for example, after three sessions to decide on whether or not to continue. On at least two occasions I have ended up re-negotiating what the coach delivered for me (when either the sessions weren’t working or because the reason I originally sought out a coach had changed) and arranged for them to work with another staff member or a group of staff – with some excellent results.
Coaching is a commitment. Executives are usually time poor. You cannot afford to squander time, money and effort on coaching that is not delivering for you. Make sure you undertake the necessary thinking ahead of time.