When considering on whom your organization should spend its precious executive coaching dollars (euros, yen or any other currency), there are two screening categories to apply.
The first screen is to ask, “What individual(s) do we want to stay at the organization who could be contributing significantly more if they were to develop in one or two key areas?” To be clear, this screen is not about damage control, like getting a toxic individual to change his or her ways. Remedial coaching rarely works. This question is about leaders who are typically very good at what they do functionally but are facing new challenges, perhaps due to changes in their role or change in the business. It could also be someone the organization wants to support to cross a promotion threshold or because of succession planning efforts.
Once this first screen is applied, the second screen involves several elements. Make sure the individual(s) you are considering for executive coaching has each of the following.
A Track Record of Learning
The individual has previously demonstrated an ability to receive and act on improvement feedback and made progress in other development areas. Coworkers can point to where he or she has applied some type of learning – whether through direct feedback, training or other experience – and has demonstrated positive change.
The potential coachee is a willing participant, eager to develop further and work on him or herself, and not signing up for coaching begrudgingly. You can’t coach someone who doesn’t want to be coached.
The people around the individual (in all directions) want to see him or her succeed. Early in my career, I did a 360 assessment for a leader at a nonprofit and asked her team members, “What one thing, if improved, would make the biggest difference in her performance?” The answer was a resounding, “Nothing! We just want her to leave.” They ended up firing her before we even finished a development plan, wasting a lot of time and resources.
Likewise, I worked with a client who was an individual contributor who needed to get out of the weeds and be more strategic, yet her firm wouldn’t let her hire someone who could handle the details. This type of organizational constraint limited her ability to make sustainable progress, because she was still responsible for the details.
Some Level of Self-Awareness
The individual has demonstrated an ability to notice and reflect on his or her thoughts, feelings and behaviors and is generally aware of his or her impact on others. Any potential blind spots are revealed in the 360 assessment process. The main development areas tend not to be a big surprise to most people, but the detail provided is usually very enlightening. My colleagues and I use qualitative interviews instead of an online tool. We find it provides the most useful, actionable feedback, since we are able to ask probing questions to identify specific behaviors and impacts.
Willingness to Participate in Self-Reflection
The coachee is willing to look inward and go beyond surface issues to examine the root causes of identified issues or challenges. At least 95 percent of our coaching engagements involve adaptive challenges – that is, limiting beliefs or mindsets at the core of what’s getting in the client’s way of improving in a certain area (i.e., they are getting in their own way). Those beliefs are usually grounded in some type of fear. This fear is the one thing we all have in common as human beings. It might be the fear of failing (or succeeding), the fear of being outshined, or the fear of looking stupid.
Being willing to look openly and honestly at what lies beneath the presenting issues and share that with the coach is key to achieving long-term, sustainable results. When I have had coaching engagements go sideways (or south), it was typically because the individual was very “buttoned up” and wanted to present an appearance that “everything’s great” when, in fact, it wasn’t.
Ability to Take the Time
Senior leaders are busy people. Things come up, and meetings are rescheduled. It happens. However, when it happens two, three or more times in a row, and the individual hasn’t met with his or her coach in two months or more, the coaching loses momentum and, therefore, its power.
Some people are uncomfortable focusing on themselves or feel selfish for taking the time required for coaching – even if it’s only an hour every one to two weeks – especially when they have so many priorities. I ask my clients to treat their coaching appointments like any other business commitment. If someone is traveling three weeks per month or is in the middle of a product launch, it may not be the right time for coaching.
The individual’s behavior is not driven by deep psychological wounds. Depression, narcissism and other psychological conditions are certainly present in the workplace. According to a recent study, 16 million American adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2012, and about 6 percent of the U.S. population has experienced narcissistic personality disorder. Issues related to any mental health condition should be handled by mental health professionals. I know the limits of my expertise and have made the occasional referral when appropriate.