Do You Need A Business Coach? (Part 2)

By December 21, 2011 Leadership No Comments

by Paul Michelman

Do you need an executive coach? Do your managers? Here is a useful framework for thinking about the role of business coaching, adapted from Harvard Management Update.

Executive Coaching is effective for executives who can say, “I want to get over there, but I’m not sure how to do it,” says James Hunt, an associate professor of management at Babson College and coauthor of The Coaching Manager (Sage Publications, 2002). “Business Coaching works best when you know what you want to get done.” Perhaps, in spite of your outstanding track record, you haven’t yet gained the full interpersonal dexterity required of senior managers—for example, you’re not yet a black belt in the art of influence, which is so important in the modern networked organization. Honing such a skill might be an appropriate goal for a executive coaching assignment.

But simply having a clear purpose won’t guarantee business coaching value, says Michael Goldberg. “You have to be open to feedback and willing to create positive change. If not, business coaching may not be the answer.” There are certain times when executives are most likely to benefit from leadership coaching. Executives should seek leadership development coaching “when they feel that a change in behaviour — either for themselves or their team members — can make a significant difference in the long term success of the organization,” says Marshall Goldsmith, a high-profile executive coach and author of eighteen books, including The Leader of the Future (Jossey-Bass, 1996).

More specifically, the experts say, business coaching can be particularly effective in times of change for an executive. That includes promotions, stretch assignments, and other new challenges. While you may be confident in your abilities to take on new tasks, you may feel that an independent sounding board would be beneficial in helping you achieve a new level of performance, especially if close confidants are now reporting to you. More so, you may recognize that succeeding in a new role requires skills that you have not needed to rely on in the past; leadership development programs may help sharpen those skills, particularly when you need to do so on the fly.

But executive coaching is not just for tackling new assignments. It can also play an invigorating role. Coaches can help executives “develop new ways to attack old problems,” says Vicky Gordon, CEO of the Gordon Group coaching practice in Chicago. “When efforts to change yourself, your team, or your company have failed — you are frustrated or burned out — a business coach can be the outside expert to help you get to the root cause and make fundamental changes.”

One increasingly common use of executive coaching for senior executives focuses on the challenges of managing younger workers, and on helping executives better understand and lead a new generation of employees whose work ethics and values are different, says Stephen Fairley, president of Chicago-based Today’s Leadership Coaching and coauthor of Getting Started in Personal and Executive Coaching (Wiley, 2003).

Business coaching engagements should be part of a larger initiative “Business coaching works when it’s systematic,” says Babson’s Hunt, and many organizations use coaching as an integrated part of a larger leadership development program. Increasingly, firms incorporate “360 degree” feedback, using the results to indicate areas in which an executive might benefit from working with a coach. Has your feedback revealed an area in which you would like to improve? Is it a skill you need to refine in order to advance through the organization? Would you benefit from an outside perspective? The answers to these questions help gauge the potential value of business coaching.

Business coaching can provide benefits not available elsewhere “One of the big benefits of a coach is that they aren’t tied to the organization, your friends, or anyone else,” says Washington, D.C.-based executive coaching professional Linda Finkle. “They are tied to you only, so they support what you want and where you want to go.”

“Even our families, who want the best for us, can’t be unbiased or totally objective. What you do or do not do impacts them, whether it’s positive or negative. A leadership coach is not impacted by your decisions, your wins or losses, or anything else.”

As Finkle notes, this doesn’t mean that company goals aren’t supported by executive coaching — indeed, the business coach was most likely hired by the company to support the executive’s efforts to achieve those goals. Even so, the role of the leadership coach is not to represent specific company needs or interests. “The perspectives they provide, the alternatives discussed, and everything else has no agenda except to support the participant,” she says.

For better or worse, many executives can’t find this type of conversation partner — what Harvard Business School professor Thomas DeLong calls a “truth speaker” — elsewhere in their companies.

From: Harvard Management Update, Vol. 9, No. 12, December 2004.

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