It seems that everywhere you turn these days, there are coaches looking to help managers grow. The topic is timely, with so many people having to reevaluate their work and careers. In organizations, coaching can be an effective way of tailoring and accelerating growth and learning for executives.
Coaches help executives bring clarity and performance to levels that would not have been possible on their own. Just as athletic coaches help athletes reach new levels of achievement in their sport, executive coaches help managers gain clarity about their objectives and improve their ability to make strategic decisions, influence and persuade.
The role of the coach has changed in recent years. In the late 1990s, when a human resources (HR) team called me in for a coaching engagement, it was typically for a problem in senior level management — a “derailment.” My job was to help the executive address a specific difficulty and learn the skills that had been deemed missing. Over the years, however, coaching has become a way to accelerate and customize personal growth and professional development for high-potential leaders. Focused coaching improves self-awareness and often jumpstarts performance.
The higher leaders progress in their career, the more limited the options are for leadership training and professional development. As a result, many senior leaders feel increasingly isolated and have few trusted advisers with whom they can have “bare-all” conversations in a safe environment. With entrepreneurs, who are often flying solo, thought partners who ask the important questions can be even rarer. As one senior vice president at a chemical engineering company said, “We all want to be ahead of the curve in our roles, but input on performance and on ways to grow is very rare at our level.”
A great coach acts as a trusted adviser, but there is quite a bit of skepticism on the value of coaching. Part of the problem has been the explosive growth in the industry, with hundreds turning to coaching as a career possibility. The quality of the certification process has varied, with some “academies” offering a coaching certificate in alarmingly short periods of time.
Furthermore, certification is not enough. To make a difference with high-level executives, coaches must have both the ability to understand complex business issues on a practical and strategic level and the professional training on methodologies that help people look within themselves in order to change and grow. Luckily, there are many great coaches out there who have solid grounding in both.
As business leaders face increasing and rapidly volatile pressures on their time, attention and skills, access to an outside source to help them update and adapt their capabilities while acquiring and growing new mindsets and skills is critical. So, as a learning and development (L&D) professional, how can you help your executives select the right coach? Here are four tips:
1. Research Their Training, Background and Experience
What kind of preparation do they have? Are they continuing to update their skills? How do they learn and grow? Look for coaches who have invested well and deeply in their training.
2. Find the Right Fit
Fit is a key element in creating successful coaching outcomes. “Fit” does not necessarily mean that the coach and client are like each other; rather, it means that they can work together. Does the coach have the right type of energy, skills, language and experience to help reach the goals of both the leader and the organization?
Observe the coach’s ability to listen, clarify and understand the specific needs of the leader and to move forward in a manner that is motivating and credible. Personal growth is an emotionally charged area for anyone, so it’s important that the coach is a person whom the executive feels he or she can trust.
3. Examine Their Track Record
Ensure that they have a track record in developing the specific skills or mindset that your leader needs — for example, building emotional intelligence, leading through a crisis, change management, or building influence and persuasion skills.
Ask potential coaches to share their experiences with other leaders and/organizations in similar situations. Don’t just rely on a good “gut feeling”; gather evidence to make a decision.
4. Look for Skills in Understanding Complex Issues
Look for coaches’ ability to navigate difficult and multi-factorial issues. Ask which frameworks they use; they should be well versed in a variety of tools and methodologies. Ensuring a broad tool kit that’s consistent with your organization’s culture is important.
Finally, it can be an added bonus to find a coach with a deep level of achievement and understanding in your industry. Increasingly, organizations are opting to work with coaches who have strong business experience; the key is to make sure they are also trained and expert coaches.
One HR director in the energy sector said it well: She looks for someone who “truly can understand the strategic business problems our managers face and help them develop practical and immediate abilities — but also help shape long-term personal and professional development plans.”
The bottom line is that even the best coach cannot make much of an impact if the client is not motivated to learn, grow and change. The first investment should be making sure the coachee is committed and determined. Then, with the right coach, things will fall into place.