What Exactly is, Executive Coaching

Part of being in the career hot seat is dealing with the ever-so-tenuous transition to management.

Whether right or wrong, most corporate career paths lead to a role in management. However, being prepared for that step up in responsibility can be tough; the move from player to coach is not a natural transition for most people. In fact, it can be slightly traumatizing, particularly when one is elevated to having responsibility over their longtime peers.

Companies are hoping to ease this transition by hiring executive coaches to work with newly-promoted managers. So, this begs the question: What exactly is an executive coach?

First it’s important to note that executive coaches don’t just work with executives per say. Most of those in the executive coaching profession tend to work across the management and executive ranks. Executive coaches typically focus on the issues that come with managing people.

New skills required of managers including evaluating performance, conducting tough conversations, dealing with conflict and motivating teams aren’t necessarily skills that come naturally. Part of the need for coaching is due to the standard for getting promoted in corporate America is being good at what you do, as opposed to having the requisite skills for leading others in doing what you do.

When it comes to defining coaching, the International Coach Federation (ICF) states that coaching is about “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” To find out more about the definition of executive coaching, I reached out to some experts from the industry.

A Coach’s View

Two nationally know executive coaches trained in the field of psychology shared their insight with me: Dr. Relly Nadler and Dr. Marcia Reynolds. Both work with major international client companies, have written books and are active contributors in the media.

In my conversation with Nadler, executive coach and author of Leading with Emotional Intelligence, he told me that coaching is about “bringing more depth and focus to particular challenges.” He went on to say that those in leadership roles often need “a thinking partner for support and guidance” when dealing with complex people issues. Nadler clarified that “coaching is not a makeover” and is not intended as a way for making wholesale changes in one’s character or personality.

Reynolds, executive coach and author of Wander Woman, told me that in her experience, she has “found that coaching is more about defining the goal than finding a solution. People start by telling me what they want. But what they really want is tied to having more of or less of something important or threatening to them.” In other words, their struggle is partly about defining the challenge first. “Once their true goal is on the table, the solution is obvious. The sudden, new and amazing solution to a problem arises when you shine a light on the truth.”

Both Nadler and Reynolds agree that coaching can be boiled down to one simple concept: being a thought partner. As Reynolds points out, “most people already have the answers to their problems. It’s just that the problems are masking what they really need to solve.”

The idea behind working with an executive coach is to bring clarity to the issue and develop a plan of action for tackling it.

The Corporate View

Major companies worldwide are starting to see the value of executive coaching and are even developing in-house stables of coaches.

According to Dr. Kenneth Randall, director of executive talent at Banner Health, “coaching can truly unleash a leader’s hidden potential.”

As one of the largest non-profit integrated health-care systems in the nation, Banner has found a lot of value in providing coaching to its managers and executives. Randall points out that, “from an organizational standpoint, coaching has helped leaders at Banner improve the level of customer service we deliver, which is a key business initiative measured through patient experience scores and national rankings.”

There is no doubt that executive coaching has become mainstream in major domestic companies. Consider the number of coaches on a typical NFL team–nearly every position has a coach dedicated to the specifics of how to perform the position. These coaches review the plays, provide feedback, and jointly develop action plans for improvement. It’s not that different in corporate America.

We are all victims of living in our own heads and at times we all need help getting perspective. It’s not easy to evaluate ourselves, which is why there is so much value in having that thought partner bring perspective to our internal conversations.

Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified professional coach who holds a PhD in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is founder of the consulting firm HCI and author of the new book The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy.

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