Choosing a coach for a senior executive

In last week’s post, we looked at how to go about choosing a coach for yourself.  This week’s post is particularly aimed at human resources managers, who are deciding whether and how to choose an executive coach for a CEO or senior executive.

Executive Coach Exchange wocintechchat meeting
Photo: wocintechchat

Choosing a coach for someone else can be a difficult task. Not only do you need to find someone who will be a good fit for your executive, by challenging them in the right ways and helping them find their own solutions, but sometimes you need to decide whether engaging a coach is the right solution for this client.

Henna Inam suggests you consider a series of questions before deciding whether to engage a coach.

One area that Inam suggests you consider is the seniority of the person to be coached and if they are in a high potential or high impact role. “As individuals get promoted to executive levels, developmental feedback becomes even more important, more infrequent, and less reliable. After all, who wants to tell the emperor they have no clothes?” She points out that a coach can provide an impartial and truthful perspective when others in the organisation may be reluctant to do so.

Another aspect to consider is whether the executive is prepared to make the necessary commitment to coaching, both in terms of time and in terms of being open to the experience. While we agree that these are both important considerations, we think they are different in kind. Being prepared to find the time for coaching is essentially a matter of prioritisation by the executive.

Being prepared for “being vulnerable or open to developmental feedback”, as Inam puts it, requires a commitment of a completely different kind. We believe an HR manager needs to consider whether a prospective coach has the skills to help the executive respond positively to coaching in this way. We have written previously about the way in which a coach, having earned the trust of a client, can provide a safe and confidential place for the client to explore approaches to difficult problems, including ones of their own making.

Other aspects Inam considers to be important are when sustained change and a step-change are required in the leader’s behaviour. “Coaching helps them become self-aware about both the strengths they will bring to being successful in this new environment as well as what can derail them. It also helps them develop new skill sets required and become more agile to change.”

Two of our coaches at Executive Coach Exchange were formerly senior HR personnel, with responsibility for choosing coaches for other senior staff.

Marg Lennon was Vice President of HR and Organisational Development in an ASX 100 company. In considering a coach, she looked into the prospective coach’s qualifications, methodology, experience and their method for involving the client’s manager, where appropriate, because in most instances, the manager should be involved in helping set the goals for coaching.

Trish Kelly was General Manager HR in a huge public sector agency. Her first step was to ensure that both the executive and their manager were committed to coaching. She also ascertained their reasons for pursuing coaching, to enable her to make an appropriate short list of possible coaches. She had an initial discussion with potential coaches to assess whether their style and approach was likely to suit the executive, and then made sure the executive had an introductory meeting with the coach to check they were a good fit before formalising the arrangement.

Finally, from an HR perspective, it’s essential to undertake an evaluation of the coaching process and outcomes, using inputs from the coach, the executive’s manager and, most of all, from the executive. In this way, you can build up a set of criteria to help you choose the right coach for the right person at the right time.

How to handle conflict – a high area of concern for CEOs

Office with peopleIn 2013, Stanford University, working with The Miles Group, undertook a survey on Executive Coaching for CEOs, with results that are just as pertinent today.

The study found, “When you are in the CEO role, most things that come to your desk only get there because there is a difficult decision to be made — which often has some level of conflict associated with it.  ‘Stakeholder overload’ is a real burden for today’s CEO, who must deftly learn how to negotiate often conflicting agendas.”

“What’s interesting is that nearly 100% of CEOs in the survey responded that they actually enjoy the process of receiving coaching and leadership advice, so there is real opportunity for companies to fill in that gap,” said David F. Larcker, who led the research team.

A great executive coach can provide sound advice which assists CEOs and aspiring leaders to formulate good decisions through solid decision-making processes.

Stephen Miles, CEO of The Miles Group, said “Even the best-of-the-best CEOs have their blind spots and can dramatically improve their performance with an outside perspective weighing in.”