Executive Coaching: A CEO’s competitive advantage 

What is Executive Coaching? 

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines executive coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”. This definition is simple, but it is packed with many complexities.   Two of those complexities that differentiate the coaching approach targeted to CEOs and other high-level executives are related to the driver and the length of the engagement. 

Executive Coaching for the CEO or High-level Executive. 

Two-thirds of CEOs don’t receive any outside advice on their leadership skills, and yet almost all would be receptive to suggestions from a coach. These stats are from a Stanford University/The Miles Group survey.  The survey also found that CEO talent is getting scarce and for global companies,  developing global talent is paramount to stay competitive.    

In a recent report,  McKinsey and Company identified people as an asset and a challenge for global companies, especially, when it comes to preparing executives to take on global posts. The report makes two very important points.  First executives feel that their companies are not doing a good job at transferring lessons from one market to another.  Second, companies are finding hard to develop talent for global posts at a pace that matches their expected growth.  Interestingly, local competitor’s brands are now stronger, and they are giving global companies real competition. 

Additionally, as executives become more senior, they are less likely to receive constructive performance and strategic feedback. As a result, many top executives become more insular at a time when they must continually be open to new ideas and thinking to advance their performance and global developmental needs of their corporation. They may also become increasingly isolated from constructive criticism—subordinates do not want to offend the boss and may believe that constructive suggestions are unwelcome and unwise.      

What Drives Executive Coaching? 

The term executive coaching is a big umbrella under which there are a few modalities or types.  A way to start differentiating these Executive Coaching “modalities” is to unpack the coaching driver/objective.  

  1. Driven by specific employee developmental needs (leadership development, soft skills, skill building, fix it), this approach is targeted to work thru specific skill, usually identified before the coaching engagement begins.  It is usually short-lived, and this is where the majority of the executive coaching takes now. 
  2. Driven by specific Sponsor/need, e.g., Reactive to specific business needs: Provide structure, clarity, consistency; e.g., sales coaching 
  3. Driven by Companywide need –  Used to address specific company-wide challenges ; e.g., increase the managerial and leadership skills of all first-line supervisors, onboarding, diversity.     
  4. Driven by strategic moves.   Proactively manage critical talent; e.g. top leadership, succession planning, key roles, high-potentials.  This is the type of coaching most practiced by Dr. Gary Ranker. 

How long is an ideal Executive Coaching Intervention?   

Another area of complexity and differentiation of the coaching relationship has to do with the length of the engagement. 

Executive Coaching as a limited-time intervention.  

Whether is three or six months; many coaches present their work as having a distinct period. They clarify that this is an intervention, albeit a very positive one, but an experience that is time-limited.  

Many times, there is a listing of a particular number of sessions between coach and client. Some might be in person, some by video, and much communication by email and telephone.  But the differentiation is that there is an end to the process.   This type of coaching is relevant when the coaching outcomes/objectives are pretty well defined.  

Executive Coaching as a competitive requirement.  

This type of coaching relationship is similar to a relationship with an athletic coach. In athletics as long as you wish to stay in the game, to be at the top of your performance, you continue to appreciate the value of your coach. Consider what people might think about a top athlete if he or she were to say, “I had a great experience with my coach and received many great benefits, but don’t need them anymore as six months or a year has now passed.” It’s almost unthinkable for a world-class athlete to consider coaching as a temporary intervention. Instead, as long as they wish to remain at peak performance and be able to continue to improve, they need to continue receiving the benefit of feedback about style, form and how to best challenge themselves in order to move from good to great – all based on their coach’s constant observation, encouragement and specialized advice. That is the way a top athlete continues to improve in an environment where they know fully well that someone else will run faster or jump higher each year 

Executive Coaching for the CEO or High-level Executive. 

Coaching for the most senior executives in the world, must recognize that the environment is every bit as competitive, perhaps even more so, than any professional sports. Further, not all CEOs arrive at the helm of their companies with the full set of skills to take their companies – or themselves – to the next level.  They have a demanding group of stakeholders who expect performance to continue to increase quarter after quarter and year after year. The only way this can be achieved is to continue to become more efficient, more effective, while constantly growing becoming more strategic individually. One of the best ways to achieve this continual growth and effectiveness is through constant feedback and trusted advice about style and form that a senior executive coach provides. For it to be most successful, like an Olympic Athlete, coaching must be an ongoing relationship based on a continually building trust so that the executive can constantly improve while facing changing circumstances increasing demands and deliverables. 

While there are now thousands and thousands of coaches offering their services with extremely diverse styles and professional backgrounds, there are only a few dozen individuals coaching at the very top levels.  What got them there, and what allows them to continue to advance their clients in such an extremely competitive world is an openness to continual learning and growth.

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