Coaching Demystified

Business coaching has gone from fashion to fundamental. According to the 2010 Executive Coaching Survey, conducted by the Conference Board, 63% of organizations use some form of internal coaching, and half of the rest plan to.

Yet there is still confusion between consultants and coaches.   While both consultants and coaches add value, they do it in very different ways.

Consultants are usually hired when an organization needs answers it cannot find on its own.  That doesn’t mean the organization has failed.  It simply means it needs skilled and experienced people to view challenges from different perspectives and offer solutions that have been successfully implemented elsewhere.

Coaches don’t have answers.  Their work is based on the assumption that executives have what it takes to effectively lead and manage.  A coach works with an executive to find and unleash that “it.”

How does a coach do this?

First and most important, a coach listens.  They ask focused questions to help the executive reflect on their career, personality, values, goals and management style.  Together they develop specific goals for the coaching engagement.

Often developing more effective leadership involves recognizing that what worked in an earlier stage of a career is not necessarily as effective as it could be in the current stage. This can be the result of numerous self-imposed blocks.  These include outdated self-narratives, the stores we tell themselves about ourselves—especially successes.  Successes, and how those become part of one’s self-understanding, can be a stumbling block when faced with new circumstances.

Other self-imposed blocks include an overreliance on dominant personality traits. For instance, those who seek harmony often avoid conflict.  But conflict—regulated, channeled and well-intentioned disagreement—can be necessary to achieve certain organizational goals.  Coaches help executives become aware of their management styles and tendencies and to be mindful how their actions contribute or distract from their performance and that of their teams.

Overcoming these blocks and implementing new approaches requires awareness and sustained commitment.  It cannot be achieved simply through a set number of coaching sessions, no matter how productive.  That’s why coach and executive co-create work assignments between sessions.  This can include journaling and other forms of reflection; reading; consciously attempting different behaviors; and more.

This work, useful in and of itself, also promotes coaching main objective:  Helping an executive actively develop his or her own resources.   Coaching is, by design, temporary support.   Executives have it within them to take their leadership effectiveness to the next level.   They can only achieve that—and maintain it—on their own.

It’s a natural human tendency to want answers.  This is especially true of leaders, who rely on others to develop solutions to challenges large and small. But when it comes to a particular person effectively leading others in a particular place at a particular time, the only one with the answers is the leader herself.   A good coach will help her find and effectively apply these answers in a way that enhances performance and effectiveness.

The American Management Association found organizations that use coaching do in fact report stronger market performance. A global survey of coaching clients by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Association Resource Center concluded that the mean ROI for companies investing in coaching was seven times that of the initial investment. A quarter of the companies in the survey reported an ROI of 10 to 49 times investment.

There is one answer when it comes to coaching.

It works.

Ron Flaming

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