Business coaching has been around for decades, but the number of executive coaches for hire has skyrocketed since the '90s.
That's due, at least in part, to the changing nature of executive coaches and what they do. Traditionally, companies hired executive coaches to help resolve a crisis in the workplace, such as a clash of personalities or a decline in customer retention.
But within the past two decades, executive coaches have evolved from corporate fixers to guides. Rather than hastily patching up glaring problems, they're tasked with helping present and future leaders improve their behavior and step up their game. Enhance the quality of leadership, and the interpersonal or business problems will vastly improve as a result.
Whether you're a rising executive or a business owner, coaching can contribute to your growth as a leader by providing you with the guidance you need to improve crucial components of your career, from business planning to time management skills to your relationships with colleagues and clients.
The following are four ways that hiring an executive coach can help propel your career.
Mark Thompson, a senior executive coach, keynote speaker and bestselling author, begins every coaching relationship with a 360-degree assessment of the client's performance, from innovation to task management to interpersonal skills. This entails collecting anonymous feedback from the executive's direct reports, stakeholders, vendors, partners and customers, sharing the results with the executive in question, and working with that executive and his or her team to fix any trouble spots that surface.
Those problem areas might include shoddy listening skills, poor planning and organization (think constant Friday afternoon "fire drills") or failure to nurture or advocate for direct reports. Likewise, executives sometimes find that the MBA they earned did little to prepare them for collaborating well with others, making sound hiring decisions or mentoring their direct reports.
Let's say you've painstakingly built your company from startup to formidable market contender. Business has gone so well that you're now expanding internationally, merging with a leading competitor or redesigning your business model.
You should be celebrating, but instead you're overwhelmed — buried under the workload, struggling to get up-to-speed on new hires and processes and navigating major change that requires experience and skills that you might not necessarily possess. However, as a leader within the organization, you don't have many places to turn for a pep talk.
Navigating through major change is one reason executives call on coaches — for help with pinpointing new goals, determining which tasks to delegate and navigating a sea of new managerial relationships. This shouldn't come as a surprise, noted Thompson. Today's rapid technological advancements mean that business leaders must adapt faster than ever before.
“It's very different to run a $1 million business versus a $10 million business or a $1 billion business," Thompson, whose books include "Admired: 21 Ways to Double Your Value," said. “And a leader really can't scale their business any faster than they scale themselves."
With the business environment continuously changing, it's not inconceivable that you'd need constant coaching to thrive during these changes. For this type of support, it's helpful to seek out coaches who are retired CEOs or experts from universities or think tanks. Someone who has experienced and overcome challenges similar to the ones you're facing is better equipped to offer savvy opinions and provide constructive feedback in critical areas.
You're probably familiar with the 2017 Gallup report stating that two-thirds of U.S. employees are “not engaged" at work. Not surprisingly, executive coaches often get hired by leaders having difficulty getting the results they want from their people. Whether you're not inspiring your team, you're butting heads with your board of directors or people flat-out aren't listening to you, a coach can help you get to the bottom of the problem.
In this situation, Steven Berglas, an executive coach and management consultant, will shadow the executive in question for a day to observe how they interact with their employees. He watches for any off-putting habits the person might not be aware of: condescending to direct reports, repeatedly interrupting in meetings or micromanaging.
“Usually the person isn't picking up on social cues," said Berglas, author of the forthcoming book "Stay Hungry and Kick Burnout in the Butt." “They say or do something and everyone grimaces."
Besides pointing out blind spots and offering strategies for improvement, Berglas teaches his clients to work with the various personalities on their teams. CEOs aren't effective when they're trying to turn everyone into clones of themselves, which happens often, Berglas said. Instead, leaders need to learn to manage a variety of different temperaments and skill-sets.
If you're a high-achiever with your eye on a promotion or a raise, a coach can help you level up. Coaches can help you turn decision-makers into your champions by teaching you to promote yourself within the company more effectively, said Cherry Collier, a leadership coach and organizational and social psychologist.
“You have your identity, and you have your reputation," Collier said. “Coaching helps you understand both. Nobody gets promoted based on what they think of themselves. We want to make sure that other people in the organization are waving your flag."
There's no one single path to becoming an executive coach. A number of professional coaching associations and certifications exist, but the profession does not require any credentials. Although many coaches have a background in psychology, human resources or business management, they are not substitute therapists, headhunters, job hunters, business advisors or financial advisors. If that's the type of counsel you need, find a professional who fits the bill.
Many coaching engagements last at least six months. It's not a forever relationship, though. The idea is to acquire the self-reliance, awareness and leadership tools to stand on your own as soon as possible, Collier said.
Like physicians and therapists, different coaches have different communication styles. Choosing a coach you click with and feel confident in is essential.
Expect a coach to deliver some tough truths about your professional demeanor, capabilities and the way others perceive you. “The higher up on the totem pole we get, the less authentic feedback we get," Collier said. But, she added, a good coach will be honest with you and hold you accountable for your decisions and actions.
Of course, there's no point in hiring a coach unless you're willing to make yourself vulnerable and do the hard job of improving your management skills. “What got you here won't get you to the next level," Thompson said. “There's always a new step to take in your life and work."
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