Who Benefits From Executive Coaching? You Must Have These 6 Personality Traits
Is it those dubious of learning new skills or others who understand that change is often for the good?
James Turner (not his real name) is the head accountant for a large financial firm. Over the last two years, his responsibilities have increased exponentially — so, too, his anxiety. Not only did he need to perform work for his clients, but also manage a staff of thirteen. His direct reports were a revolving door: turnover was high and the average worker duration in his group was slightly over one year. James was often impulsive, given his level of anxiety. He was occasionally dictatorial and punished himself for it. His company recently merged with a much larger firm, which also created angst.
James had the good sense, though, to speak with his manager. He confessed that his own work — along with his managerial duties — was suffering, and he asked for another assistant. The CEO, a savvy individual who was thriving in the merger, did not respond right away. She had been observing James acutely for the last several months. She knew he was struggling but denied his request. "You don't need another assistant," she said. "I want to hire an executive coach for you."
At first, he and his coach disagreed about everything. But being smart enough to know he must give his coach a chance, James decided to comply with whatever his mentor asked. A mere three months into the arrangement and James began to realize that he must change to survive. And his coach had given him the blueprint.
Fundamentally, his coach asked that James step away from himself and look as objectively as possible at his toxic behaviors. One of James' more egregious mistakes was in believing he had to micromanage his staff and monitor them daily. Slowly at first, then more quickly, James learned to rely on his direct reports. They in turn sensed that James was trusting them to a degree unlike anything in the past. They responded by going the proverbial extra mile, and the productivity of his unit jumped conspicuously. His home life became happier, and James was as well. He now comes to rely on his coach and often uses him as a sounding board for new ideas. He also praises executive coaching to anyone who'll listen.
When executive coaching works, as it so often does, this kind of change, James's change, is routine. Everyone wins, not least of all the entire organization.
James was set in his ways, to be sure, but his ego was strong enough to accept that his approach was not working. He could, in fact, learn new and better ways to perform his job and manage his staff. James was the perfect candidate for executive coaching. Before long, James was willing to give his coach a chance. Absent that, James was staring straight away at burnout and failure.
At bottom, James' temperament allowed his relationship with his coach to succeed. James is, notably:
- Confident but not arrogant
- Honest with himself
- Able to accept and learn from criticism
For James, executive coaching worked. Had he not possessed all, or most, of these attributes, he would likely not have benefited from the experience.
Despite what some may believe, executive coaching has existed for years, for decades even. If you expand the use of the term to include C-Suite teaching or mentoring, then the expression harkens back to Socratic learning. Challenge assumptions, create ambiguity, propose multiple solutions, arrive at more accurate and effective methodologies for any corporate undertaking. This kind of coaching was once the province of leaders and high-level executives only. But now it is increasingly offered to less-senior personnel — partly as professional development and partly as employee benefit.
What exactly are the benefits of executive coaching and, more importantly, what set of personality characteristics responds best to it? Is it the hide-bound leader who is dubious of learning new skills, new modes of perception? Or is it James and others like him who understand that change is often for the good and that old assumptions must always be tested?
The answer is that both can benefit, the latter personality of course. The old-school leader can benefit from executive coaching as well. As long as there is even the slightest willingness on his or her part to accept it for what it is. That it's a non-threat that could propel their work and the company forward, perhaps in a dramatic way.
Here's a good working definition of the concept: Executive coaching is an experiential, individualized, leadership development process that builds a leader's capability to achieve short- and long-term organizational goals. It is conducted through one-on-one interactions, driven by data from multiple perspectives and based on mutual trust and respect. The organization, an executive and the executive coach work in partnership to achieve maximum learning and impact.
Note here that executive coaching ideally involves the entire organization. Without this level of support, an executive coach will struggle to help students implement new company initiatives. Also note that rebranding executive coaching as life coaching allows the process to work outside of the corporate world. But the individual benefits are the same as those in the corporate domain.
Whatever claims one may make about the profession, the International Coaching Federation (ICF), addressing growth in the business, says: "Back in 2019, the estimated market size of the coaching industry in the U.S. was $15 billion USD. If the predictions are correct, with the average yearly growth rate of 6.7 percent, the value can grow to $20 billion USD in just three years." The ICF is the primary organization representing and training executive coaches.
According to Ryan Bonnici, writing for Executiv.co, seven key benefits of executive coaching are: 1) heightened self-awareness, 2) improved self-regulation, 3) higher levels of empathy, 4) an increase in cognition, 5) higher levels of motivation, 6) enhanced social skills and 7) improved leadership abilities.
These are clearly desirable outcomes, but they beg questions. Chiefly, how can you assist the hard-charging personality in relenting to the coaching process? And how, or whether, a company supports executive coaching in any continuous way? What makes these questions doubly interesting is that most senior corporate or small business leaders tend to have healthy egos. Plus, an executive coach is not inexpensive. Coaches charge between $200 and $3,000 an hour, with an average rate of $350 an hour.
Credentials and experience
The greater the experience, the greater one's credentials tend to pile up — more positive references, additional clients, greater confidence. In an obvious way, the website Vistage.com sets forth the qualities of a great executive coach. These include: great listener, confident, goal-setter, life-long commitment to professional development.These would seem to be the absolute minimum attributes to enter the profession. As for credentials, the most-valued certification, beyond general education, is the ICF's Professional Certified Coach (PCC).
So, the question remains: looking again at James' attributes, what other personality and behavioral characteristics make a leadership audience best able to take the knowledge and wisdom from an effective coach? And, incorporate them into action that drives the business to new heights? Each coach and his or her client will need to find this out for the relationship to work.
The literature on executive coaching is extensive. It covers the coaching side and the client's. And it poses many questions. Should the coach have a grounding in psychology, specifically psychotherapy? To what extent is specialization in the industry a good thing? What are ideal terms of engagement? Should executive coaching be part of a leader's continuing education? How far down a company's organizational chart should executive coaching extend? While these are significant questions, they are for future discourse. It's clear executive coaching is here to stay.
According to the ICF, "86% of organizations saw an ROI on their coaching engagements, and 96% of those who had an executive coach said they would repeat the process again."
The executive coaching industry is clearly growing. and it's destined to benefit more clients like James Turner.
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