At the risk of sounding trendy, there are some excellent reasons why having an executive coach can be beneficial—having an experienced coach who can act as a sounding board that is competent in areas that may not be an area of strength, objectivity from a person who has had significant experience leading organizations and major initiatives, and the ability to confide in a person where there is no conflict of interest.
But what do you need to look for in an executive coach?
While empirical research into the outcomes from leadership coaching as a development intervention has been limited, Feldman and Lankau (2005) provide some excellent insights in reviewing current research and provide an agenda for future research.[i] Two key insights are summarized as:
An executive coach’s background and experience
While some prescribe to the belief that psychologists are most qualified to conduct executive coaching because of their understanding of psychological dynamics, adult development, personality and performance assessments, and the importance of building and maintaining a trusted and confidential relationship, others believe that the most effective executive coaches are those who are knowledgeable about the business context in which executives operate.
The later perspective “views an understanding of leadership, business disciplines, management principles, and organizational politics as the critical core competency of executive coaches.”[ii]
Desired outcomes from executive coaching
Usually, coaching is provided with a two-fold objective – to see positive changes in leadership and managerial behaviors and second, to see an increase in performance and organizational effectiveness. There are three independent variables that impact the ability to measure these objectives effectively:
- The background and experience of the executive coach
- The ability to link the coaching to the organization’s business outcomes, and
- Whether or not the individuals receiving the coaching understand that their development intervention is more about their future than the organizations.
The third variable is perhaps the least obvious to some coaches, and one that some find challenging to navigate.
While an executive coach is contracted by the organization to deliver a key service, if those being coached merely see this as an intervention that is performance related rather than designed to develop and strengthen the individual leader, it is likely that limited outcomes will result. It is always desired that coaching come from an aspirational motivation, not a punitive measure inspired by correction—even if behavioral change is needed.
What’s the bottom-line?
Though it is early days, limited empirical data supports leadership coaching as a construct that can clearly result in improved leadership engagement and recognition, positive behavioral changes, improved moral and stronger performance. Below are some points to reflect on:
- Ensure that the executive coach, you appoint, has the breadth of experience and skill you need to take your team and your organization to another level. Beyond this, you also need to have excellent chemistry. Is the coach a good fit for your organization?
- While coaching may be desired to correct or change leadership behavior, how can I position this in a way that will motivate and inspire those who need coaching?
- How am I going to evaluate the efforts of the coach I appoint? Is there a clear accountability link to business outcomes?
[i] Daniel C. Feldman and Melenie J. Lankau. “Executive Coaching: A Review and Agenda for Future Research”, Journal of Management (2005): 31, 829.
[ii] S. Kampa-Kokesch and M. Z. Anderson. Executive coaching: A comprehensive review of the literature. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, (2001): 53, 205-228.