In our ever-changing world of business, we have to take advantage of all the resources available to us. More and more members of management are turning to executive coaches to aid them in decision-making. Many of my coaching engagements are with CEOs who have decided to tap into my experience and judgment in order to help them more quickly develop their skills and capabilities. These ‘fast-track’ executives have ceased to try to advance simply on their ‘natural ability’ and luck – they are following the path that almost every successful executive has followed – they surround themselves with people who are more experienced than themselves – sometimes smarter and more steady in their judgment – and then learn how to become better in their role within the company.
As an executive coach, I play a variety of roles. Here are just a few:
1) A professional leadership development expert with keen knowledge on how to shape performance, leadership styles and personal growth
2) A trusted partner who sets challenges my clients to overcome and strengthen their leadership abilities
3) An adviser on strategic and tactical issues
4) A source of objective judgment
As an executive coach, I regularly perform management and leadership assessments. I help my clients develop and implement leadership developments. These processes define milestones and measure progress for their personal and professional growth. As an executive coach, I help my clients to examine their life much as an investigative reporter would approach a story. I act as a sounding board to help them make good business decisions. One of the most valuable results of the coaching engagements is the training that provides thought provoking questions and important and constructive feedback. I am able to work with clients with their best interest always in clear focus and without competing loyalties. As a result, we can rapid progress and significant results.
One of the most common coaching engagements is with a client who is being asked to take on more and more responsibility. Perhaps they are now expected to handle mergers, acquisitions, downsizing, buyouts or directing changes in a company’s philosophy. These clients generally come to be saying, “I’ve never done this kind of thing before. Can you help me learn how?” As their coach, I serve as a resource to help guide them and to provide that guidance based on my own experience with similar challenges.
In some ways, an executive coach is no different from any other key business adviser such as a stockbroker, legal adviser or even accountant. However, in others they are quite different. My relationship with clients tends to be far closer than ‘normal’ business relationships. I often act as an ‘alter ego’ to them. When people ask me about the process of selecting a coach, here is some of what I tell them. Always keep in mind that a good coach is there to motivate you and guide you through your many decisions. That means that the first thing you should look for is a good comfortable fit with your new coaching adviser. They must be a good listener, great at organizational skills, a clear communicator and interested in aiding you meet and exceeding your goals. But the most important characteristic that a good coach will have is direct experience in the areas that you are looking to be helped.
Avoid two types of coaches. The first is the ‘do as I say not as I have done’ types. These people have generally failed in their attempts to build business, put together successful teams or manage organizations – or , worse, they have never tried – and are now working as ‘consultants’ helping others ‘succeed’. Failure begets failure – not success. The second are the ideologically rigid types who see every problem or challenge through a single lens. To quote Lotfi Zadeah – one of the founders of the science of complexity theory – “when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail”. When all your coach has is a single tool, all advice will be colored by that fact.
When selecting a coach, do not hesitate to ask the hard questions. Find out the details of the results they have helped manage. Dig into the details of the ‘actual results’ of their efforts – not only as a coach but during their ‘pre-coaching’ life. It is vital to conduct a thorough background and screening process. Remember this person will be involved with critical decisions and be in possession of business information. Remember if there isn’t a good comfortable fit then keep looking.
© Dr. Earl R. Smith II