Executive coaching can make the difference between filling a leadership chair and being a leader. Between simply building a great resume and experiencing the true energy, meaning and inspiration of leadership in all areas of life. Executive coaching is transformative process that, if pursued with full engagement, has the potential to change everything.
The rise to leadership
The path to becoming a leader varies. Some leaders are identified early on in their careers and groomed to take the helm. Even as fledglings, they are fed a well-rounded curriculum of business skills and people management. As they become mature professionals, their knowledge and experience provide a breadth of understanding of what it means to not only get results, but to engage the workforce. To make their employees love their work and the company. This is not the norm, however.
Far more common is the rise to leadership through excellent performance as an individual contributor. An employee is a star accountant or salesperson, and in recognition of the above average contribution, is promoted into a supervisory or management role. With the bump generally comes training on new processes and procedural steps to keep the key business metrics in line, but leadership skills are often assumed. The newly minted manager muddles through complex relationship and dynamic issues, learning on the job.
The leadership training gap expands as that same manager rises through the ranks. With each level of promotion, leadership prowess is assumed more and trained less. But this is the very point at which executive coaching can be pivotal to the progressing leader and the organization.
In-house or external executive coaching?
This is a debate that need not be a debate. Both in-house and external executive coaching are fundamentally important to the continuous development of leaders. Each type offers exclusive variables that together form a complementary program.
Some companies are lucky enough to count among their headcount an executive coach role or department. The coach may work as part of a team with a mentor and an executive sponsor, but should not replace them. Experienced and humble leaders ask and accept assistance from any and all available resources with gratitude.
The mentor is both a coach and guide, identifying opportunities for learning within the company they share, appropriate to the culture. The mentor is a sounding board and advisor when difficult situations arise and require decisive action, as he/she has an understanding of how the results may be perceived by other employees and leaders within the company. In short, the mentor helps build and preserve a good internal reputation.
The internal executive sponsor makes up the remainder of the internal coaching program. This is generally a colleague in a higher level position, with extensive visibility to company strategy with the ability to identify opportunities for the developing leader and recommend him/her. The executive sponsor is both a scout and an agent, opening doors for further exposure and advancement. It is crucial that the developing leader's performance exceed all expectations in acceptance of those opportunities. She must reflect well on her sponsor.
The external coach should be chosen by the developing leader. Their personalities and energy levels should be well-matched, creating a safe and comfortable relationship. Discussions will progress into deeply personal and sometimes difficult territory, so it is imperative for both to maintain complete honesty, free of embarrassment or judgement. Sessions will focus on the whole person, which, in addition to career, could include home life, love relationships, values and dreams.
As an outsider, the external coach does not view situations exclusively through the company's visor. He/she knows how the business world works, however, and that any challenges the coachee or the company are experiencing are not unique to them. Executive coaches are trained specifically for these situations, by accredited programs such as iPEC and IFC. They learn and practice administering various tools to identify gaps and assist the leader to close them, often challenging their beliefs at the most primal level.
Finally, perhaps most importantly, external coaches have the ability to deliver a strong dose of reality. There may be personal limitations or situational limitations that individuals just cannot see, and therefore cannot overcome. Coaches help identify the sometimes hidden hurdles, establish plans to jump them, or help find ways around them. Or they suggest another track altogether.
Individuals interested in receiving coaching should start by exploring internal company resources, including mentors and sponsors. If the company offers paid external coaching resources or options, try them out! If alternatives are preferred, find your own resource who understands your situation, needs and clicks with your energy. Then stick with it... coaching is not an event... it is a journey.
Misty Smalley is an HR leader and writer who actively pursues interests in executive coaching, organizational development and training design. A life-long learner, she joyfully strives to help others to explore the meaning in their own journeys, then to express it authentically.