Leveraging Leadership/Executive Coaching for Career and Organization Success

By Bob Corbett

In this article we’ll consider the value of coaching in helping current and future leaders maximize strengths, shore up areas for development and commit to continuous learning by answering seven questions:

  1. What is coaching?
  2. Who are the partners and their roles in a coaching relationship?
  3. What do coachees need to know to prepare for greater responsibility?
  4. What level of commitment is required by coachees?
  5. How can a coach be most helpful to coachees?
  6. What’s required for a successful coaching relationship?
  7. Why is coaching important?

1. What is leadership or executive coaching?

Coaching typically reflects an organization’s decision to invest in and prepare current leaders and high potential employees for greater responsibility. Coaching is a relationship between a coachee and a trained, certified third party consultant who helps a coachee plan for and achieve his or her organization and/or career goals. Coaches can be internal to the organization or external consultants. Typically the initial duration of coaching engagements is three to six months to provide sufficient time to track and measure progress.

Examples of organizational goals include, improving job performance, developing skills and behaviors required for organizational success, developing higher performing leadership teams, and improving collaboration among team members. Examples of career goals include, identifying career objectives, identifying development opportunities to grow critical skills, and developing action plans to ensure continuous learning and growth.

2. Who are the key members of a coaching partnership and what are their roles?

When sponsored by an organization, the partnership is a three-way relationship between the coachee’s manager, the coachee and the coach. Alternatively, a coachee may decide to enlist a coach directly resulting in a two-way coaching relationship.

The roles of the coaching partnership members must be clearly defined and agreed upon. The principal role of the sponsoring manager/executive is to identify and communicate the developmental needs of the coachee to the coachee and the coach.

The principal role of the coachee is to own, i.e., accept, the developmental feedback and bring the energy, commitment and interpersonal collaboration necessary to improve.

Finally, the principal role of the coach is to help the coachee understand the developmental feedback, identify specific goals and actions to be accomplished, and hold him or her accountable to achieve intermediate and long term goals.

3. What does a coachee need to know to prepare for greater responsibility?

He or she needs to genuinely understand the organization’s agenda, i.e., its vision, strategy and operational goals. The coachee must understand how his or her organizational role aligns with and contributes to the achievement of the organization’s agenda. To be successful he or she must know the critical skills and behaviors the organization values. He or she should seek feedback from their manager, direct reports, peers, and customers on the compatibility of their skills and behaviors with those the organization values. The coachee must know what it will take to improve his or her existing skill set and behaviors to align them with those valued by the organization.

4. What actions must the coachee be committed to take to improve?

Ideally, the coachee should periodically solicit feedback on his or her performance in terms of skills and behaviors from direct reports, peers and customers using a validated and reliable assessment tool. At a minimum, a coachee should solicit performance, skill set and behavioral feedback from his or her manager. The coachee should identify his or her critical skills and behaviors that are strengths and can be leveraged to achieve organization goals. He or she should also identify skill sets and behaviors that need development; and should create an action plan with a time line to shift development needs to strengths. The action plan should include metrics to measure progress. Finally, going forward he or she should periodically share progress with the manager, direct reports, peers and customers and solicit additional feedback from them to sustain progress.

5. What are ways in which a coach can help a coachee improve and prepare to take on greater responsibility?

Initially a coach will meet with the coachee to begin to understand the coachee’s situation, i.e., his or her organization role and challenges, leadership style, values, and life purpose (life compass), and to formally agree on the coaching services to be provided. Through direct observation the coach will assess coachee skills and development needs; challenge coachee actions and thought processes; and help him or her reconcile observed tendencies, skills and behaviors against performance feedback. The coach will help the coachee interpret multi-rater feedback, i.e., from the manager, direct reports, peers and customers, and develop action plans and measures to maximize strengths and address development needs. The coach will help the coachee identify interim goals and actions to be accomplished and holds him or her accountable for their completion. The coach will help the coachee identify the developmental experiences that will best address their development needs and prepare him or her to take on greater responsibility. The coach will help the coachee measure and plan the communication of progress against the goals of their improvement plan. The coach will identify and offer additional information and resources to help the coachee learn and progress. Finally, the coach serves as a confidant to the coachee – the specifics of what’s said between coach and coachee are confidential.

6. What are the critical elements required for a successful coaching relationship?

First, a successful relationship requires a certified coach who’s knowledgeable of organizations including, their strategy, structure and general operations. Second, if sponsored by a manager, a successful relationship requires a manager who is actively involved and committed to the success of the coachee. Finally, success requires a coachee who proactively solicits and owns the multi-rater feedback received about his or her performance, skills and behaviors; who wants to be coached; who is committed to improvement; and who is committed to personal development through continuous learning.

7. Why is coaching important?

A coach helps the coachee make the requisite improvements in the skills and behaviors valued by the organization and prepare for greater organizational responsibility. Through the coaching process the coachee will develop and execute an improvement plan that demonstrates confidence, improved performance and command of the skills and behaviors required for organizational success.