Are all coaches proficient in their chosen fields? It depends on how you look at it. Coaching is, in itself, a discipline which can be mastered, but that mastery doesn’t necessarily have to fully encompass the discipline being coached. There are many coaches who have been particularly successful as coaches without ever having mastered the material they taught. Bill Struth, for example, is one of the UK’s most successful football managers in history and yet he never played the game of football on any sort of professional basis.
So, if you are an executive coach, or are thinking about a career in the field, it is important to understand that it is absolutely possible to be an effective coach without dictating business moves. The best coaches exhibit a leadership quality in their approach, yet are never domineering, and it is this quality to which executives respond.
Instead of focusing solely on the material with which coaches regularly interact, it is more important to master the ability to inspire creativity, leadership, personal management, positive thought, and the development of strengths. This ability should then be added to the fundamental responsibilities of a good executive coach, which we will now briefly discuss.
The Main Duties of an Executive Coach
If you want to achieve excellence in the field of executive coaching it is important to make a point of constantly improving in the following basic sectors:
- Relationship Building
Many executives seek coaching of their own free will. This is a most welcome improvement experienced by the industry in fairly recent years. Aside from helping to raise the quality of Britain’s business leaders in general, it means that coaches don’t have to break through the defences of executives before they can start helping them. That being said, it is still important for executive coaches to create a sense of trust early on in the relationship.
Given that it is always easier to learn from someone who you trust, building a relationship early on in the coaching experience is extremely important. It is vital to set realistic objectives early on in the relationship, and then work towards these in a way that makes the executive feel most comfortable. Early on, the progress made toward these objectives will demonstrate the coach’s patience, judgment, and proficiency, which are all important for the establishment of trust on the part of the executive.
- Instilling Thought Processes
Many business leaders have natural leadership tendencies, which often consist of the thought necessary to motive and inspire others. That being said, the thought necessary for leadership can take many forms, which can result in difficulties for some leaders. Some might approach a problem from a certain direction, and continue to try this approach even in the face of resistance. This can be detrimental to leaders and the tasks at hand.
Good executive coaches should thus equip themselves with the skills necessary to inspire new thought processes in executives (as well as themselves), as opposed to simply offering alternative solutions. A great deal of attention should be paid to business thinking, and how to best formulate new modes of thought. Executive coaches can accomplish this by encouraging multi-directional thought paths and calculated risks, as well as inspiring creative thought in executives through the use of open-ended questions.
- Support over Guidance
Executive coaching is not about being an advisor for specific matters. It is instead about providing executives with the right tools to be able to better lead in difficult times, as well as make hard decisions. Simply put, executive coaches aren’t crutches, they’re support beams.
Instead of telling executives what they could and should do in certain situations, executive coaches are there to ask the right questions at the right time with a view to helping executives make their own progress. Instead of offering easy answers to difficult questions, this promotes success in executives and allows them to visualise solutions from various perspectives.
- Creating Results
Executive coaching is goal-based, whether referring to the coaching itself or its overall outcome. Executives seek out coaches to assist with building their leadership capabilities and boosting their skill set. They do this both for their own personal growth and the growth of their businesses. But, in either case, the setting of objectives that drive results is the best way to accomplish this.
A great coach should help an executive set objectives for the coaching itself by identifying its ideal outcomes and then creating strategies which are best suited to their realisation. This same model can, and should, be used for the future growth of the executive’s company. Objectives are not only important for the motivation necessary for forward motion, but also for the measurement of success.
Here again, evaluation is important for the coaching itself, but it is also an important skill to strengthen in executives. Executive coaches have to monitor and assess the progress made by executives during the coaching in order to work towards their desired outcomes. But it is equally important for coaches to nurture the ability of executives to monitor and assess their own progress. Providing an executive with self-awareness is an integral part of executive coaching.
By nurturing personal insight, coaches empower executives to weigh their progress against their objectives. It causes them to ask themselves where they are in their progress versus where they would like to be. By applying evaluative procedures to both themselves and their companies, executives can identify inconsistencies between the ideal and the reality and formulate the necessary strategies for change.
How to Think Like an Executive Coach
The ability to strengthen the above factors in others is certainly important for effective coaching. But, how do the best coaches manage the mastery of these factors? The instinctive ability to reinforce leadership qualities in others is certainly helpful, but it is not an absolute necessity. Fortunately, this is something that can be learned. Here are some tips on how to best support executives in a coaching environment:
- Ask, Don’t Tell
Executives don’t require coaches to tell them how to run their businesses. They are often natural leaders with more than enough experience. The goal of a coach is to help executives explore and strengthen their lesser-used skills, and refine their strongest skills. Thus, adopting a condescending attitude will harm the coaching experience as opposed to help it. It is better to support the executive along the road to self-discovery through the use of questions which promote action.
The best questions to ask in order to promote action are open questions. These are questions which require more than a simple yes/no response. These questions should be aimed at reaching a specific outcome, but worded in such a way that the executive is able to reach it without much prompting. Questions like, ‘What are your thoughts on x?’ or, ‘What can be done about y?’ are good for this task.
- Focus on the Executive, Not the Company
Executive coaches are not necessarily business consultants. Instead of being brought in to help a business reach its goals, coaches are brought in to assist executives with strengthening their own leadership qualities with a view to helping the company. It is thus important to avoid getting involved in the direct management of the company and rather identify the parts which need attention and then build the necessary skills in the executive for the effective management of these parts.
Always remember the fact that executive coaching is about developing individuals. Through this development, the companies which they head will then develop as a result of your progress.
- Remember Executive Coaching is not Rehabilitative
Executive coaching is not about trying to fix the faults in company leaders, but rather about addressing their current skills in a way that will make them even more effective. Never approach a coaching situation as if the executive needs rehabilitation. Not only does this make it difficult to establish a relationship of trust, but it has the unfortunate effect of painting the entire process in a negative light. As you well know, negativity is not conducive to effective learning. It is only when the entire process is seen as being something positive that the best results can be achieved.
- Don’t Rely on a Rigid Structure
It is important to have desired outcomes when coaching, and these can often be made more attainable if considered against a time-frame. However, failing to deviate from this structure under any circumstances can often result in many missed opportunities.
Executive coaching does not take place before executives are in their leadership positions, so they are almost always running their companies during the coaching process. This presents many opportunities to address certain issues as they arise and require practical attention. This may not fall into your schedule of objectives, but learning is always easier as a result of experience rather than discussion.
Master Coaching as Its Own Business
Trying to be an effective teacher by having all of the answers to business leadership situations has many pitfalls. As you will no doubt make clear to your executives, being an effective leader doesn’t mean you have to be cleverer than everyone else. Leadership is about discovering the best qualities in the people around you and using those to create forward momentum.
So, instead of focusing solely on business practices, aim at mastering the art of executive coaching. Granted, expertise in modern business practices is certainly required to be an effective coach, but it shouldn’t overshadow the importance of the coaching itself.
The above tips should help you along the road to perfecting the art of coaching, but remember that the road surface is always changing. Thus, your idea of perfection should always be changing, too. If you can apply the above tips to your own objectives, you’ll already be ahead of the curve when it comes to mastering executive coaching.
This article was contributed by Shirish Agarwal from Flow20, who offer web design, SEO and other digital marketing solutions.