Executive coaching: How to get it right

Nearly two out of three CEOs do not receive outside leadership advice, though nearly all of them want it.  That’s the headline of a study onducted by the Center for Leadership Development and Research at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.  The study also found that:

With so much at stake, why aren’t more CEOs and senior executives participating in coaching or other effective leadership development programs?  In short, executive coaching is not easy – for the coach or the participant.  If you’re considering implementing an executive coaching program within your company, here are a few helpful hints to keep in mind for those who are participating:

Be ready to work

Development of so-called “soft skills” through executive coaching takes a lot of work and is not for the faint of heart.  CEO respondents in the Stanford survey admitted that their top areas for improvement were:

  • Sharing leadership / delegation
  • Conflict management
  • Team building
  • Mentoring

Improving these particular skills is tough work.  It requires executives to be vulnerable, honest with themselves, and open to feedback. Additionally, leaders may need to shed old habits after considering new employee attitudes and workplace norms.

Be patient. Real behavioral change takes time

Unlike leadership training, effective leadership development through executive coaching often requires significant shifts in behavior.  For a successful senior executive, changes may appear more slowly than with younger leaders.  Be patient as those being coached work to “unlearn” old behaviors as much as they learn new ones.

Link coaching results to measurable behaviors

When possible, organizational learning and development teams should tie executive coaching outcomes to tangible goals.  Because coaching often focuses squarely on soft skills, some opponents may argue measurement is impossible.  However, there are several ways to assess and benchmark behaviors and results at all stages during an executive coaching program.

Looking at things like promotion rates, productivity increases, and employee engagement scores can provide insight into the return on your investment.  Remember to also ask participants for their thoughts and feedback on any executive coaching programs as an additional way to measure results.

Combine coaching with other development methods

Recent research has shown that combining executive coaching with other methods of effective leadership development can increase the success of each of these efforts.  Taking a more comprehensive approach to coaching can provide more value to the company than individual coaching efforts that occur in silos.

Additionally, if several leaders within the company share the same coach, the coach will be able to spot common trends and challenges among the group, and address those areas as needed.

Businesses stand to gain a lot as executive coaching increases in popularity, but only if they get it right.

Read more on this topic: The role of cognitive diversity in decision-making

Category: Leadership

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About the Author: Vistage Staff

Vistage facilitates confidential peer advisory groups for CEOs and other senior leaders, focusing on solving challenges, accelerating growth and improving business performance. Over 45,000 high-caliber execu

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