The Executive Coaching Handbook defines Executive Coaching this way:
“Executive coaching is an experiential and individualized leader development process that builds a leader’s capability to achieve short- and long-term organizational goals. It is conducted through one-on-one interactions, driven by data from multiple perspectives, and based on mutual trust and respect. The organization, an executive, and the executive coach work in partnership to achieve maximum impact.” (p. 19)
Bringing in a management ‘consultant’ to assess the business situation has long been an accepted and encouraged business practice. The main function of these consultants was to assist executives in nearly all aspects of their business. Whether making strategic decisions based on current and expected business trends, managing their personal and business time, communicating better with others in the organization and outside of it, or simply assessing the organization’s current structure for its efficiency.
The term ‘coach’ is known to be first used in the 1500s to refer to a horse drawn carriage, originating in the small Hungarian town of Kócs (pronounced ‘koach’). In the mid 1850’s the word was then heard in English-speaking universities as referring to a person who helped prepare students for exams and seems to have a connection with the word ‘cramming’ seemingly recalling the multitasking skills associated with controlling the team of the horse-drawn stagecoach or carriage. Coaching has its roots in humanistic psychology in that is focuses on a person’s dignity and intrinsic value.
However, as it applies to the workplace, executive and leadership coaching are a much more recent development. As individualized training in the form of apprenticeships, the earliest form of actual business coaching was called “developmental counseling”. A 2001 report stated that from 1940 to 1979, the company’s consultants carried out coaching. These coaches (a.k.a. consultants) were first and foremost psychologists and professionals who were focused on organizational development issues.
From 1980 to 1994, the field of coaching underwent rapid growth and quickly expanded into different directions such as life coaching, leadership coaching, career coaching, success coaching etc. The coaching field gathered speed by difficulties that were associated with increased downsizing, mergers, acquisitions, and outplacement. The management leader’s role grew to deal with the increasing levels of uncertainty and pressures to perform in a progressively more corporate world. Corporate Chairmen and CEO’s were finding themselves more and more in the position of both strategic decision makers and people managers.
Since 1995, the need for executive and other workforce coaching continues to grow. There has been an increase in the number of publications dedicated to coaching, as well as an increase in the number of new coaching organizations and coach training certification courses.
According to the International Coach Federation, the number of business coaches is around 30,000. However, because the field of coaching is open to anyone who wants to be a coach, it is hard to know the exact number of people who are conducting coaching services of any kind. Unlike more established and regulated professionals, there is a wide range of quality of coaching services and experience of coaches.
Executive Coaching is now synonymous with successful executives the world over and the two compliment each other rather well. However, coaching is also synonymous with hackery. Unlike other professions – like attorneys or accountants – the regulation of coaches is very primitive. Pay attention as you seek out a coach – choosing wisely will yield great benefits – choosing poorly will waste time and money.
People become coaches by following on of three paths. The first is through experience. Most coaches in this category are retired executives who have decided to help the next generation learn more quickly, what it took them years of hard experience to master. The second group is coaches who have taken some sort of certification track. Their capabilities have been honed through seminars and training courses. Many of these are specialists in one or more technical disciplines. The third path is the short-cut group. Unable to make their businesses work, they have decided to become coaches.
Of the first group, I would recommend that you look for such a coach if you need a holistic approach to your development. Their experience and track record will be easy to verify. Remember to ask questions and for references – and check the references. Of the second group, use them only when you are focusing on a narrow set of issues and choose carefully. Remember that their lack of practical experience will be a limitation. They will try to apply their rather provincial skill sets to a wider range of situations than is warranted. Moreover, for the third group, ignore them.
I have been coaching executives for close to two decades. In that time I have had to undo damage done by bad coaches – helped clients unlearn things that they never should have learned in the first place. Choose carefully – after much diligence. Until the field of coaching professionalizes, the reality is caveat emptor.
© Dr. Earl R. Smith II