How do you convince leaders to change? How can you optimize their talents and potential? Which best practices in executive coaching programs produce lasting results that drive business performance?
Executive coaching offers a tremendous opportunity to leverage leadership talent and resources, both of which can steer an organization toward sustainable success.
A New Paradigm
Coaching is no longer reserved for problem leaders. It is more frequently sought by top performers whose organizations value their management and growth potential. Today’s CEOs recognize the importance of enabling leaders to achieve critical business objectives in the shortest possible time, so they are hiring coaches to accelerate development.
Hewitt Associates has conducted some interesting research that documents the positive, long-term relationship between investment in leadership development and continuing financial success (Hewitt Associates’ 2003 Top Companies for Leaders study). Its research demonstrates that companies that invest in emerging leaders tend to enjoy greater long-term profits.
Forty-seven percent of companies rated for strong leadership regularly assign coaches to their executives. They know coaching provides a powerful way to boost performance and strengthen leadership. Regular use of executive coaches separates top companies from the mediocre ones.
The coaching profession is expanding rapidly, with coaches from diverse backgrounds who champion varied methodologies. This growth has sparked debate over several issues, including:
Establishing Ground Rules
In the beginning, coaches must clarify the ground rules, calling attention to the following key areas:
It is critical to clarify at the outset who the client is. When the coach and leader understand that the company is the actual client, then the ground rules are easier to accept. This is a vital step for gaining and maintaining trust. Once the ground rules have been established, they cannot be bent along the way. The coaching relationship requires discipline and boundaries for progress to occur.
Measuring Sustainable Success
Success isn’t measured by:
Ultimately, the success of a coaching partnership is not measured by coach-leader chemistry or the leader’s satisfaction level; rather, it is measured only by business results.
Getting Leaders to Change
Marshall Goldsmith has been called America’s foremost executive coach by several leading magazines and newspapers (Fast Company, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review). His model for behavioral coaching outlines a reliable process to help leaders achieve positive, measurable changes in themselves, their staff and their teams.
First, the coach secures an agreement with the client (the organization) and the leader being coached with respect to two key variables:
Goldsmith and his associates work only with leaders who:
Involving Key Stakeholders
In this model of behavioral coaching, the coach asks key people involved in the leader’s performance to participate in the coaching process. The coach requests direct help in four critical arenas:
Steps in the Behavioral Coaching Process
Research indicates that if leaders fail to complete these basic steps, they probably will not improve. Conversely, if they successfully accomplish these steps, growth is assured.
This coaching model has a proven track record with leaders from some of the world’s foremost organizations. When leaders practice these guidelines and work with competent executive coaches, they focus their behavior on what works best for them, their team and the company.
The coach must keep the focus on the specific behaviors selected with the leader, facilitate information collection from key stakeholders and act as a catalyst for “feedforward,” emphasizing positive, measurable progress as noticed by team members and stakeholders.
Why Leaders Give Up
When it comes to change, some leaders lose motivation and fail to “stick with the program.” Regardless of a coach’s competence, failure to achieve goals may occur for several reasons:
1. Ownership: The more leaders feel the process is being imposed upon them or that they are just casually “trying it out,” the less likely the coaching process will work. If leaders are simply “playing games,” with no clear commitment, their bosses must be willing to discontinue the coaching process—for the good of both the company and the coaching profession.
2. Time: Goal setters have a natural tendency to underestimate the time needed to reach targets. Busy, impatient leaders can be even more time-sensitive than the general population. Ordinarily, our behavior changes long before our coworkers perceive any change.
3. Difficulty: Goal setters' optimism applies to difficulty, as well as time. Not only does everything take longer than we think; it also requires hard work! Long-term change in leadership effectiveness takes real effort. For example, it can be challenging for busy, opinionated leaders to have the discipline to stop and listen patiently while others say things they may not want to hear.
4. Distractions: Leaders have a tendency to underestimate the distractions and competing goals that will invariably surface in any given year. By planning for distractions in advance, leaders can set realistic expectations for change and, consequently, will be less likely to renounce the change process.
5. Rewards: Leaders tend to become disappointed when achievement of one goal doesn’t immediately translate into achievement of other goals. If leaders think skills improvement will quickly lead to short-term profits, promotions or recognition, they may become disappointed and give up when these things fail to materialize instantaneously.
6. Maintenance: Once a leader has put forth the effort required to achieve a goal, it can be tough to maintain behaviors that incorporate the new changes. Leaders must recognize that professional development is an ongoing process, with a lifelong commitment. Leadership involves relationships—and relationships and people change. Maintaining positive relationships requires long-term effort.
Coaching can be daunting for some leaders, as they must be willing to be vulnerable and open. It is exhilarating for those who embrace it and commit to change. Unlike management science, academic theory or consulting, coaching is an exciting interpersonal journey. Coaches and their clients form strong bonds built on trust, openness, confidence and achievement.
Resources: Goldsmith, M., Lyons, L. & Freas, A. eds. Coaching for Leadership: How the World’s Greatest Coaches Help Leaders Learn. Jossey Bass/Pfeiffer. San Francisco, CA.
Morgan, H., Harkins, P. & Goldsmith, M. eds. The Art and Practice of Leadership Coaching: 50 Top Executive Coaches Reveal Their Secrets. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ.
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