8 Ways to Use Executive Coaching

by Emily Barnes

Executive coaching is one of the latest status symbols to make the rounds in corporate America. Like the Palm Pilot, it is yet another cutting edge development designed to ease the way we work and make us more effective. The problem is, despite all the hype the Palm Pilot gets, many highly intelligent people still wonder what it is. For instance, an accountant for a university recently remarked, “it’s easier to write with pen and paper than with a stick on a slippery screen! The president of a well-known national organization quipped, “My V.P. said I should get one but what on earth would I do with an executive coach?” The fact is that the pace of change around us is so swift that it takes a highly determined effort to discover how new products and services can truly benefit us.

The relatively new field of executive coaching is gaining popularity for the wide range of ways that it can be used to help leaders and organizations. Since it can be tailored to meet so many different needs, let’s begin with eight ways to use executive coaching:

  1. Succession grooming: Coaching can accelerate the development of high performing mid-level managers. In the course of an organization’s life there is a natural ebb and flow of old and new talent in and out of the organization and its leadership ranks. To ensure the continued success of the organization, succession coaching ensures that sufficient attention is given to future leadership development.
  2. Leadership team development: Combine individual and team coaching for the senior leadership team. The combined approach allows senior executives to identify their own growth goals, but also to implement a process which supports their responsibility for developing their subordinate managers.
  3. Performance coaching: Pre-empt the need for expensive executive search and outplacement processes. In many cases, the cost of a new hire can be two or three times more expensive than an executive coach. A good executive coach certainly can help narrow the gap between the actual and desired performance of a borderline manager.
  4. Interpersonal skills development: Pre-empt the loss of high performers who are abusive to peers or subordinates. There are many stories to be shared about former successful executives whose careers were derailed because of a “personality clash.” One such story involves an executive who was forced to confront his abusive personality only after his entire staff walked out on him during one of his “name-calling” meetings. When they refused to return until he changed his approach, he screamed like a baby! Not every case mirrors this extreme, but some high performers come pretty close to it.
  5. Business etiquette grooming: Offer personalized coaching for highly talented individuals with underdeveloped social skills. It is noticed more often than it is discussed, but the lack of business or social etiquette can derail a career as quickly as a harsh or lackluster personality. Since 80% of communication occurs through body language and the subtlest gestures, we know that success in business requires a combination of technical know-how and personal presentation skills. Executive coaching can offer a safe approach to developing those skills and confidently using them in demanding situations.
  6. Promotion support: Give just-in-time support for newly promoted senior managers. Executive coaching can help the manager build a strong foundation to support his or her goals, identify the critical success factors involved in achieving and sustaining those goals, and serve as a sounding board for decision making early on in the new job. Coaching support at the initial stage of a job promotion accelerates the manager’s learning curve and self-confidence.
  7. Transition management: Facilitate individual and team efforts to make the transition to new cultural expectations. Transitions are opportunities for great strides forward but also pose significant dangers. Transitions can include a new management team taking over an organization or division, or an existing management team dramatically refocusing and restructuring its operation. Having a skilled, loyal transition team to support you while you are forming or rebuilding your permanent team can make a critical difference to the success of the endeavor.
  8. Conflict resolution: Help key performers who are clashing with each other develop mutual understanding and trust. It makes sense that intelligent people will disagree from time to time about how certain missions will be accomplished. However, when the conflict threatens the collaborative efforts of a team, the situation must be addressed before ongoing resentments destroy the team. Executive coaching can be structured to ameliorate the differences that create conflict between people who need to work together and strengthen the team for continued success.

Executive coaching, like the Palm Pilot, has a purpose and many functions. Its use is driven by the specific needs of the user. It is not a one-style fits all tool to be purchased because it’s the latest gadget. It can be highly effective when tailored to an individual; but, the results can be further leveraged when extended to all key players in a leadership group. Once its purpose and function is understood, intelligent decisions can be made about how executive coaching can be used to answer your organization’s needs.

© Emily Barnes 2004