As an entrepreneur or a C-Suite leader, there is a ton of data to suggest that working with a coach — an executive coach, a business coach, a strategic coach, a leadership coach or a personal development coach — can be a game changer for you and your business.
Numerous articles have been written in Forbes Magazine, Inc. Magazine and Entrepreneur.com about the relationship between coaching and profitability. The relationship is linear and it’s one that should not be ignored.
Unfortunately, many leaders overlook the value of coaching as a key strategic resource or instead perceive it as a solution for problem employees when things are going horribly wrong and an intervention is needed. It is not always seen as a strategic advantage that leads to substantial growth.
The best athletes have coaches to help them hone their expertise and perfect their game, so why wouldn’t the best leaders have coaches too? While it is easy for us to conceptualize what an athletic coach does, it seems that leaders struggle to really understand the role (and the benefits) of an executive coach.
The Role of an Executive Coach
An executive coach has many roles, however not all coaches are created equally. What does a great coach do?
A Talented Executive Coach Will:
- Show you how to leverage your strengths while finding ways to minimize your weaknesses.
- Examine your behavioral tendencies and the results they generate and use this data to help you adjust some of the behaviors that are not leading to the outcomes you are seeking.
- Help you line up your actions with your goals.
- Take a close look at your communication style, your intentions and your desires to help you build rewarding and successful relationships in all areas of your life.
- Pinpoint your thinking patterns and help you release the thinking traps that keep you stuck.
- Identify your limiting beliefs, challenge them in a gentle yet direct manner and show you how to trade them up for beliefs that support your aspirations.
- Provide a third party perspective that will enable you to clear up murky areas and make smart decisions that align with your mission and values.
- Help you strengthen your leadership skills and build an effective strategy for your business.
Essentially, an executive coach is someone who partners with you for the sole purpose of helping you live an extraordinary life. An effective coach has no other agenda than standing in your corner to cheer you on, help you see when your blind spots get in the way and help you through rough patches when they arise. It’s kind of like having an angel on your shoulder just when you need them, keeping you on your path and constantly reminding you where you are heading and what your goals are.
Should an Executive Coach Hold you Accountable?
It’s not uncommon to think that the role of an executive coach is to help you reach your goals by working with you to create a plan, breaking that plan into manageable components and holding you accountable to that plan. In fact, many coaches do exactly that; they create a system of accountability in order to help you attain a specific goal. The question is, does this approach really create the kind of outcomes that executives are looking for?
While the accountability model of coaching may at times yield good short-term results, it is laden with challenges in the long run.
When an individual reaches out to a coach for assistance, it’s typically fuelled by both a desire to reach a specific goal and a frustration that comes from the struggle to reach that goal independently. Clients come into coaching feeling somewhat badly that they have not been able to succeed on their own. So when accountability is implemented as the primary format for goal attainment, two risks are triggered. The first is potentially unethical and the second is clearly detrimental. Let’s take a closer look…
Risks of Accountability
Risk #1 — Dependence
If a coaching client manages to make progress toward their goals when a coach holds them accountable, the coach has inadvertently created a relationship of dependence, which is not particularly healthy or empowering. What happens to the client’s progress when the coach’s term comes to an end? The risk is that they find themselves lost and unable to maintain the same level of momentum and progress without their coach.
One of the most important responsibilities of an executive coach is to help their clients become independent and the accountability model of coaching clashes with this fundamental goal.
Risk #2 — Exacerbating the Core Problem
This risk is even more significant than the risk of dependence. Imagine that the client does not respond effectively to being held accountable and does not actually make progress toward their goals. It’s not too hard to imagine that highly driven executives might be resistant to answering to someone else and being held accountable to deadlines and tasks.
So if the client came into coaching feeling badly because they struggled to reach their goals independently, this coaching approach will make matters worse. Not only did the client feel ineffective on their own, but now they feel even worse because they made a massive investment and are still stuck in the same spot. This can be extremely detrimental.
The Alternative to Accountability
In an ideal world, the relationship between a coach and a client is built on the foundation of partnership as opposed to accountability. In a true partnership, the coach helps the client identify core personal goals and then helps them adjust their thoughts, beliefs, expectations and behaviors so that achieving their goals comes with greater ease. The coach’s job in a partnership-based relationship is not to ensure that tasks are completed but to ensure the client is aligned with their goals from the inside out. If there is a lack of alignment, goals will be hard to reach. If there is complete alignment, goal attainment is natural and easy.
The Ideal Coach-Client Partnership
What does an ideal coach-client partnership look like?
- The coach holds a vision of the client that is far bigger, brighter and more advanced than the client has of themselves.
- The coach AND the client have an agenda for each call designed to move the client forward. The coach ensures that the client’s agenda is addressed first but also comes in prepared with a roadmap for the conversation.
- The coach takes on a leadership role to provide structure, guidance and vision to the client. The coach challenges, reflects, probes and looks for patterns to truly understand the client and how they are wired at a deep level. The coach takes time to understand what the client truly wants and helps them remove the internal and external obstacles on their journey so they can reach goals that they never could have imagined reaching on their own.
- Once a relationship is established and the client is making visible progress, the coach then slowly positions themselves beside the client, allowing their client to take the wheel while the coach becomes the passenger who ensures that the client is always heading in the right direction.
- The coach does not hold the client at a comfortable distance but brings the client in closely, building a personal relationship based on MUTUAL trust and confidentiality.
- The coach and the client share the client’s wins and challenges together. Over time, the client takes an interest in sharing the coach’s wins and struggles too.
Criteria for Choosing an Executive Coach
Working with an executive coach can be a sizable investment and choosing the right one, let alone a phenomenal one, can be challenging. Here is a list of factors to consider when looking for an extraordinary coach:
Is there a connection?
How well you’re able to connect with your coach will impact your results. Do you feel like they understand you? When you speak to each other, do you feel a rapport? Do you feel that your coach is a good listener and that they get where you’re coming from? Feeling a connection is probably the single most important factor in choosing a coach. If there is no connection right off the bat, the experience is doomed from the start.
Do they have experience?
Hiring a coach who has solid experience coaching other people who are like you will go a long way in accelerating your progress. When you speak with this coach, do you feel like you’re in good hands? Do they have relevant experience that you can leverage? Do you feel like they have natural talent as a coach? Do they demonstrate an ability to take you from where you are to where you want to be? And do they have a measure of success in their own right that you can benefit from and lean into?
How do they collect data?
In order for your coach to deliver a powerful coaching experience, it is crucial for them to find a way to collect data about you consistently that will allow them to get to know you at a deep and personal level. This data will help them understand who you are, how you are wired, what’s important to you, your strengths, your weaknesses, your triggers, your patterns of behavior and your deepest desires. It’s not enough to rely on calls or meetings alone to gather this type of critical information.
What method does your coach use to gather data in between calls? Assessments? Assignments? Journaling? In addition to the added value this information provides to the coaching process, this data will also equip you to learn about your own patterns of thought, your beliefs and behaviors while allowing you to track your progress over time.
What is their coaching philosophy?
What is their coaching point of view? Are they an accountability coach? A business coach? A marketing coach? Or do they focus on your thinking and how it impacts all of your results? Do they dig deep to get to the core of your challenges, addressing your self-doubt and limiting beliefs? Or do they focus on helping you change your behaviors?
Make sure that their approach is what you’re looking for. Also make sure that their approach has a lasting impact and doesn’t just address a short-term need. It’s important to ensure that your coach is able to get to the root of your challenges and help you achieve a sustainable outcome.
Is there a process?
Is there a system in place for coaching? Is this system clear? Does it make sense? Is it a structure that will enable you to thrive or will it bog you down? It’s important to walk into a coaching relationship that has a structure that allows you to clearly see the journey ahead and one where you can envision your own success. What kind of structure will work best for you? What kind of environment will allow you to thrive? Which process do you feel will be most effective in helping you reach your goals?
Does the coach have a track record?
Look into the coach’s history. Do they have testimonials? Client evaluations? What have they helped their clients achieve? Who have they coached in the past? Are they anything like you? Do they receive referrals from past clients? Is the coach comfortable with you speaking to a current or past client? When you speak to those clients, are they raving fans?
How accessible is your coach?
How frequently will you be in contact with your coach? What are the ways that you can connect? Is your coach open to being available during emergencies? Would you be comfortable reaching out if you had an emergency?
A great coach brings out the best in you and helps you move forward with clarity and assurance.
A great coach focuses on your strengths and guides you to success.
Are all coaches alike? Not a chance.