About Executive Coaching
What Is Executive Coaching?
- Executive coaching is a confidential process that helps people quicken their growth and fulfil their potential at work. “That’s it in a nutshell,” says James Scouller (pictured right).
- You could also say it’s a working partnership between coach and client. It’s not training, where there’s a teacher-pupil relationship. It’s coaching. And that means both client and coach have to work at it.
- In action, executive coaching looks just like a conversation. But a conversation with a difference. A conversation that allows clients to discover, release, direct and realise their potential in pursuit of goals they care about.
- Coaching is more about learning than teaching as it helps clients learn at a faster rate by drawing out what lies within. Tim Gallwey, a leading figure in the coaching world, once wrote that “Performance = Potential minus Interference”. Although he was talking about sport when he said this, it neatly sums up the challenge of executive coaching.
The Art of Executive Coaching
- The executive coach’s task is to enable clients to change in line with their goals by helping them:
- Become more aware of what they habitually think, feel and do around people – and the effects they have on others;
- Understand what’s limiting their leadership skill, flexibility and presence;
- Use their emotions as information;
- Strengthen their will to try new thinking and behaviour, usually by removing psychological blocks and building a stronger connection with their highest values.
- So the art of executive coaching relies on empathy, trust, insightful questions, skilled listening, observation, applied psychology and the impact of the coach’s personal presence.
- To repeat an earlier point: the coaching relationship is confidential. So an executive coach doesn’t reveal the sensitive contents of meetings without the client’s permission.
Executive Coaching & Mentoring
- Mentoring is different to coaching. It’s based on the idea of an experienced person guiding someone younger or less experienced as they grow and face new challenges. It’s an over-simplification, but you could say it’s more about advice than questions.
- James Scouller applies coaching more than mentoring for two reasons. First, it leads to more lasting change as it works more deeply on inner issues. Second, the power of mentoring is, by definition, limited by what the mentor knows about the client’s field of work, whereas coaching isn’t. However, the two approaches are valuable and he uses both in his work.
- Top executive coaches can combine coaching and mentoring at will if they’ve had professional training and know from experience what it feels like to lead an organisation. They can sense which role to play to best effect at each moment.
Is Executive Coaching Effective?
Various studies show that the return on investment (ROI) of executive coaching averages more than 5 times the cost of the coaching. See the Resources section for more on the ROI of coaching.
Why Is Coaching So Effective?
It’s because the best executive coaches can:
- Tailor the coaching process to the client’s specific agenda and needs — both overall and minute by minute.
- Work on both an outside-in and an inside-out basis, which makes coaching especially powerful.
- Outside-in coaching focuses on practising new behaviours or learning new skills. Sometimes it’s just what’s needed. But often it doesn’t help clients control their inner state or choose their behaviour wisely under pressure. Why? Usually because there are unconscious psychological blocks preventing the new skills and behaviours coming through. This is often the case with more senior, experienced leaders.
- This is where inside-out coaching comes in. It can enable change by addressing these subtle, powerful blocks (above all, limiting beliefs and their associated emotional patterns).
- Provide a confidential and safe – yet challenging – environment in which clients are:
- Safe to explore the possibility and means of change and progress.
- Safe to learn, knowing the coach will offer nothing but unconditional respect, without judgement.
- Safe enough also to recognise their distinctive strengths, admit fears, vulnerabilities and deeply held values… and to touch on sensitive issues… sometimes for the first time.
- And, finally, safe enough to give and receive straight and occasionally tough feedback.
What Is It Like To Be Coached?
The overwhelming experience during coaching is of feeling safe, appreciated… and yet challenged. So there may be uncomfortable moments because to grow we have to step outside our comfort zone. The executive coaching experience therefore combines safety, stretch and honesty in a way most leaders have rarely known in their lives. Having worked with an executive coach when I was a CEO, I found it an affirming, enjoyable experience that made a big difference to me and my business.
Typical Executive Coaching Arrangements
We tailor everything to clients’ needs, so there’s no set format. But here are some guidelines:
- Location – We’re flexible on this. Often it works well at your place of work, but sometimes we recommend coaching away from your office. The final choice is yours.
- Face-to-face, phone or email – The heart of the coaching is face-to-face work. This is nearly always physically face-to-face, but sometimes it’s via Skype.
- Duration of sessions — Face-to-face and Skype meetings are usually 3½ hours.
- Frequency – This is up to you. Nearly all clients choose to meet monthly because of their schedules, but sometimes they choose to meet fortnightly.
- Level of service – The basic service is the coaching meeting plus a confidential letter (for your eyes only) afterwards. However, many clients want a full service between meetings so we support them with extra ad hoc Skype, telephone or email coaching.
- Length of process – It depends on your coaching goals. But typically, it’s a 12 month process because our clients set demanding change goals for themselves. But it can be longer than 12 months. Or on occasions it can be shorter.
- Termination without penalty – We always agree the intended duration of our coaching relationship at the start, but you can end it earlier if you wish, without penalty. Our client relationships rely on mutual trust and respect, so we believe our commercial arrangements must reflect this and give you freedom of choice, not lock you in.
All top executive coaches are required by their professional associations to have regular supervision. The aim is to apply quality control over the coaching and ensure the coach never stops learning.
James Scouller meets this standard by working regularly with an experienced, accredited supervisor.