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 3.

Q 3: What are 2-3 essential ‘ingredients’ that underlie an effective executive coaching  relationship? 

“I think the executive coaching relationship is a helping relationship, but the executive really has to want to be helped to go beyond what he or she thinks already. The executive can’t believe that he or she is the only one with a valid or correct view of a situation.”

“The executive coach has to be smart and have enough experience and background to understand the pressures, challenges, and responsibilities we face. And they have to be good listeners…they have to listen really, really well, not only to what I say but to what I mean.”

“There’s the intelligence and demeanor of the coach…but there especially needs to be a mutual interest in the relationship and in the value of the outcome, including a shared belief that the organization and the executive are worthwhile to work with. The coach can’t come in and think,”Oh, this organization stinks, it’s not a sexy place, this guy’s a loser…I’m not too interested.” That doesn’t work.”

“The executive has to be willing to entertain the possibility that their situation is something other than the way that they have defined it. The perception of the executive could be misplaced or distorted. That’s what the coach is there to do…help re-focus that perception so that issues can be looked at and understood in a different light.”

“I’m looking for someone who understands our challenges and barriers and reality, and can work within that reality to help us find answers to our issues. I don’t want someone who idealizes how things should be, and then becomes critical or judgmental, but rather someone who works within our constraints and within our reality, however imperfect our world may be.”

“It would be the ability of the person to present him or herself authentically because it’s the person…their heart, their soul, their spirit…that I’m interested in. While there are a lot of smart people in the world, I’m looking for somebody who can interact with me in that way on that level, and who has the capacity to do that with others in my organization as well.”

“If the lieutenants don’t trust the CEO, then efforts to engage them in an executive coaching relationship are likely to be stonewalled or at least non-productive.”

“There should be a goal-orientation or focus to the discussion to help keep clear what we are trying to do or striving for. For us executives to painfully go through a good helping process, we need to be anchored in, “Here’s where we are, here’s what we are trying to do, and here’s where we’re going”.”

“I think that a previous experience with getting help does influence the executive’s willingness to engage in an executive coaching relationship. Whether it was with a pastor, social worker, or counselor…it makes a difference. If you think you are totally self-sufficient, it’s hard to engage in or get benefit from executive coaching. There is also the possibility that some people may have had a bad experience with getting help, and therefore are unwilling to accept coaching help.”

“I wonder if an important part about effective coaching isn’t also appropriately managing expectations in all directions about what ultimately can be accomplished.”

Next K&S: Leadership Alchemy blog entry:  Q 4: For you, what has been most useful (or valuable) from executive coaching?



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 2.

Q 2: What might prompt an executive to engage in an executive coaching relationship? 

“As President, it is easy to get people to agree with me. To have an ongoing dialogue with someone who can challenge me to ask myself, ‘Do I have the right motives, do I have the right perspective, am I taking into account things I don’t know, am I looking at the issue in the right way, etc.?’ …this what I want from an executive coach.”

“For me, it’s really the recognition that in my role (as CEO), everybody I’m working with has an agenda, and that I too have an agenda. And those agendas can get in the way of clear headed thinking…clear headed thinking that serves the company agenda. The benefit of executive coaching is being in a relationship with somebody where their agenda is to help me gain clarity in my thinking.”

“I am not looking for an ‘expert’ with answers. I’m looking for somebody who has the skill set and capacities to help me focus in a clear and appropriately detached way so that clarity emerges in my own thinking about the work I’m doing, the direction I’m going, and the relationships I have.”

“There has to be the interest and willingness to take a hard, honest look in the mirror and to want to strengthen one’s capacity for the job of leading the company. You can’t believe that you are already the best you’ll ever be.”

“The impetus for executive coaching will most likely come from the governing body or board. Remember…executives have inflated egos and I believe that they will not generally or readily recognize the opportunity for self-improvement. There may be some that will but I don’t think the numbers are large in my view.”

“I just don’t see how anyone can do executive-level work without getting outside help, but I know that executive coaching is not on most people’s radar screens.”

Next K&S: Leadership Alchemy blog entry: Q 3: What are 2-3 essential ‘ingredients’ that underlie an effective executive coaching relationship? 

Executive Coaching from the Executive’s Perspective

Despite the growing popularity of executive coaching, there remains a great deal of confusion and mystery as to what executive coaching is and how it provides value. Not long ago I invited several CEOs and Presidents to share what executive coaching is as they experience it and define it. Each CEO or President was interviewed separately in a manner that was informal, conversational, and guided by eleven pre-constructed questions. Each executive had the questions in advance of the telephone interview, and was encouraged to use the questions to help stimulate and guide their reflections and thoughts but to not be limited by them.

In this series of bog entries, I will share their thoughts and commentary. As much as possible, the actual ‘voice’ of the executive is reflected in the quotations selected and presented for each question, with only minor editing to improve readability. Furthermore, I made an effort to present relevant and representative quotations for each question rather than provide multiple examples of a common theme.

Q 1:  What is your definition of executive coaching?

“Executive coaching should be a voice that brings a perspective different from mine and that of others on my team. Executive coaching should ask me questions I hadn’t thought of as well as help me think about the complexity of what I’m wrestling with as the company’s top leader.”

“What executive coaching focuses on or does should change as the executive matures and develops in his or her role over time.  It may start out as, “I’ve got a problem and I’m not clear on what to do or how to do it?” but should eventually move to a deeper sense of what the executive’s work really is.”

“An executive should at some point begin to realize that how he engages with people, how he solves problems, what he writes, and what he says actually creates an ethos for the organization. Coaching can and should help him think clearly about what he is doing and how he is doing it so that he creates the proper ethos for the organization.”

“Executive coaching can help us be more courageous, do and say the things we know we need to, and to find the right way to do it, even when it’s uncomfortable for us.”

“Executive coaching is not about getting an answer; it’s about getting help to understand what we are dealing with in all of its richness and fullness so that we can make good choices on what to do and how to do it.”

“Executive coaching is not a consultative relationship…it’s a mutually collaborative relationship. My thought is that in a consulting relationship, it’s like “here’s my problem, give me some answers”. In a collaborative relationship, we are mutually exploring ways to look at a problem, considering options together, and developing potential actions to take.”

“Executive coaching can prompt a pattern of reflection so that the voice of the executive coach becomes like a second inner voice that the executive can listen to or use if he or she wants to, but it takes a while for the executive to incorporate the sensibility and voice of the executive coach.”

“I really think executive coaching is about seeing the complexities more clearly, considering other perspectives more fully, and bringing together and solidifying all our thinking on a subject so that we can get a handle on it. We can have a lot of ideas and thoughts about something but need help fashioning a sound bite so that the problem becomes comprehensible without critical omissions.”

“The higher up in an organization one gets, the more executive-level work really, truly becomes two things…exercising good judgment for the sake of the company and interacting with people in a way that is successful…that’s what executive coaching should be focused on…helping me with those two things, my real job, so to speak.” 

Next K&S: Leadership Alchemy blog entry: Q 2: What might prompt an executive to engage in an executive coaching relationship?