Executive Coaching from the Executive’s Perspective

Not long ago I invited several CEOs and Presidents to share what executive coaching is as they experience it and define it. To continue this Series, here are their thoughts and commentary to Question 10.

Q 10:  How important (or relevant) is it that an executive coach be trained in business? …in psychology? …in human resources? …in some other discipline?  Why?

“I think that executive coaches could be trained in any number of things, but they need to have a solid theoretical framework for and an interest in the psychology of organizations and the psychology of people.”

“Anyone who has a theoretically sound framework for understanding human beings in relationship could potentially offer something useful because business organizations are social systems with a business agenda.

“I think that it is very difficult for most human resources people to have a full picture; they mostly get to view only a very thin slice of an organization. That would hamper them as executive coaches. They could coach around specific issues, though, like handling a problem employee.”

“I think the training should be in psychology, sociology, anthropology, OD…those disciplines. I can even imagine that if you were well trained in theology and clergy, you could probably figure out how to do EC within reason, provided you were familiar with business-type organizations.”

“Behavioral science is where the foundations need to be because this is about human beings and social systems, not about business per se. But they need to understand what a business organization is about, and the demands on the business organization leadership.”

“If they understand human development and how people evolve and adapt as conditions change they’d be in a good place for this type of work. I don’t think an MBA helps you much with this stuff.”

“There are enough people in every industry that have been trained up the whah-zoo on the specific aspects of a business or industry…full of answers for both good questions and bad questions. But EC is not about delivering answers…it’s about figuring out what are the right questions, and how do they get asked, and of whom. And it’s about how do we best engage in dialogue around those questions. That’s the mindset needed for this kind of work for EC to be most helpful.”.

“Being trained in people dynamics is good, but if you only see the interactional, people-side of an issue, you may miss the possibility that the more salient and more important issue is the poorly conceived or dysfunctional organizational design…the structure people are working in may need fixing.”

“The professional discipline matters, but so does having an understanding of real world issues. I can tell you about people who have PhDs that still don’t understand how to change a flat tire. The executive coach should have his or her own track record of experience in a real-world environment.”

“One’s formal training is a lesser issue, in my view. The perspective the coach has, his or her philosophical make-up, and the moral and social skills of that person are the more important issues. Relative to being trained in business…one needs to have exposure or understanding, not of a particular industry, but of what the business environment is like.”

Next K&S: Leadership Alchemy blog entry Q 11:  How critical (or essential) is it that an executive coach be someone from ‘outside’ the organization versus someone from ‘inside’ the organization?  Why?

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