Now there’s a word to scare off many small business owners; ‘executive’. It smacks of corporatism and suits. But it is a word used by many in the coaching industry to define the target of this type of coaching as the ‘top people in a business’. So, if you are a CEO, VP, or an owner or senior manager in a small business, this article is for you.
Executive coaching is a process between an individual senior manager and a coach in which the coach helps the manager in a series of meetings to think through key issues at work, and then to take decisive, confident and reasoned action. The process can be more or less formal, with more or less structure and focus, and more or fewer meeting s.
Executive coaching is different from other forms of coaching. Top managers deal with the business as a whole. With their ‘helicopter thinking’ they have to look down from on high to see how everything in the business links together. And from that height, they can see further ahead and guide the business along the right route.
But what is the ‘right route?’ Top managers have a lot of power to make decisions about which route they want the company to choose. And as we all know, a lot of decisions are not made on a purely rational basis but on the decision maker’s intuition and experience. Top managers influence the decisions they make as much as the outside world.
So, top managers need a set of cognitive skills not always needed by others, skills that are not easy to learn in the classroom. And they need to reflect objectively on the way they do things and make decisions, since their own experiences and motivations have such a great influence on the success or failure of the business.
This is where executive coaching comes in:
Every top manager has their own unique work environment, personal history, capabilities, values and personality. Only executive coaching can be organized to accommodate each individual’s needs and preferences.
2) Work (and learn at the same time) on actual issues
Executive coaching is based on actual issues relevant to the manager. The coach may bring in case studies of other companies as examples of good (and bad) practice, but the core case study is the business being run by the manager. In practice, the role of coach and consultant are often intertwined.
3) Flexible in time and place
With a bit of give and take between manager and executive coach, times and location for coaching can be arranged to suit both sides. And some executive coaches use Skype as one of their options for meetings.
An executive coach is an outsider to the business. Sure, the coach gets to know the business in due course, but they don’t have an executive role inside the company and so can avoid all the politics that goes on. A coach from outside the company can therefore be more objective. And often, because they work for other clients, they can bring in an outside view and help the client benchmark themselves more accurately.
A (good) executive coach, like professional therapists or consultants, will always agree to a confidentiality clause in their contract.
6) Professional knowledge
A professional executive coach, with significant work experience at a high level in business, will often also be qualified with a reputable coaching diploma and perhaps a master’s level business qualification. A good coach will be experienced and will also know the theory of business, so that when they offer ideas you can sure they are based on good academic research. (Please don’t get sniffy about ‘theory’ – there is an old saying, “There is nothing so practical as a sound theory.”)
Top managers often get to where they are not just because of their knowledge, skills and drive (and a dollop of luck!), but despite their deficiencies. An executive coach will not only help a manager grow their skills, they will also help identify gaps and to fill them. Often, gaps have complex and deep personal causes that only in-depth 1:1 executive coaching can address.
You go to school to learn, that is, to add building blocks of knowledge and skills. One problem for top managers is that a lot of those building blocks have actually come through ‘learning from experience’, accidentally, and the learning has not been managed. So, in the mish-mash of daily life, a lot of bad practice gets learned as well as good. Before an experienced person can add more knowledge and skills to their personal repertoire therefore, sometimes bad habits and bad thinking need to be unlearned. In executive coaching, the coach helps the manager question and challenge the way they normally do things and think, getting them to look at things from different perspectives, so making it easier to develop something better.
Executive coaching, like any good coaching, has a core aim to empower the individual client. It gives the manager time to think. It helps the manager to think objectively and holistically, it generates solutions. All these are skills that the executive can continue to use when dealing with new issues in the future.
10) Cost effective
You get more bang for your buck with executive coaching. Real problems get solved. It often leads to ‘breakthrough’ thinking, where blocks that have lain there for years get blown away. It is often immediate as it deals with the here and now.
Article credit: David Thompson, owner of Bquested