Click here for mentoring and coaching.Barriers to Executive Coaching

The following article is based on the book Your Executive Coaching Solution: Getting Maximum Benefit from the Coaching Experience, by Joan Kofodimos, Davies-Black Publishing, 2007.

Too many executives receive poor or
no coaching. They miss opportunities to become more effective in their positions of influence and are often denied promotions they deserve. Hiring an executive coach can help them enormously. It's the right tool to alleviate common leadership problems.

What Is Executive Coaching?

Broadly defined, executive coaching is a one-on-one consulting relationship dedicated to improving high-level managers' leadership capabilities and performance. Close to 60 percent of U.S. corporations employ coaches, and approximately 10,000 executive coaches are practicing today.

Coaching helps conquer ingrained leadership behaviors in ways that few other developmental approaches can muster.
Senior executives value the privacy the experience affords, while managers appreciate learning how to coach their reports.

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Self-coaching helps you develop your leadership skills, clarify your values and guiding principles and build your reputation. Self-knowledge provides the personal integrity to engage in productive and authentic relationships.

Risky Business

Despite the explosion in coaching services, working with coaches can be risky. There are no generally accepted standards for membership in the profession. A few organizations purport to screen and train coaches, but their authority is not universally accepted.

Many of the great executive coaches lack official credentials or membership in a trade organization. Many come from related fields like psychology, human resources or management. And there are experienced coaches, with good track records, who come from sports, real estate and unorthodox backgrounds.

The more you know about what goes on in the coaching process, the better you'll be able to make a good choice of coach.

As an active participant in the coaching process, you are required to:

Understand executive coaching, what it can accomplish and its limitations

· Realize why specific strategies are necessary to overcome special barriers to executive development

· Decide whether and how coaching is likely to help you become more effective

· Discover how to assess potential coaches and choose the best fit for your particular needs

· Recognize the critical steps in the coaching process and learn how to manage them with the aid of your coach

· Learn not only how coaching can help you change your own behavior, but also how it can help you influence colleagues to perceive you in the way you want to be perceived

The Road to Enlightenment

Executive coaching is designed to effect sustained behavioral changes to improve performance. To achieve this goal, the coaching program must deliver on these prerequisites:

Provide insight into your leadership behavior and style: Executives often assume their current approach is the right one and are blind to its downside. You aren't likely to change if you embrace this idea. You must request feedback on the effects of your style and actions. While this may be difficult to hear, your coach can facilitate the feedback process.

Clarify your purpose and interests: The way you lead is intimately connected to who you are as a person. To improve your skills, you must strengthen the connections between your inner self and external actions.

Improve interpersonal relationships: People's previous experiences with you and their preexisting judgments should be addressed. Involving colleagues in your development process can help change their perceptions of you. This will make it easier for you to alter patterns of interaction with them.

Broaden your perspective: Executives succeed because of their strong abilities to conceptualize and think strategically, but they can sometimes become too attached to being right. In most real-life situations, there are multiple correct answers. The ability to see and understand increasing complexity is essential. Coaching helps develop this perspective.

Develop new leadership skills: What are the key activities in a new role? Where should a newly appointed leader focus attention and energy? A skilled coach can help with role expectations and skills-building.

Identify and overcome barriers to change: Change should occur over time, with assistance from your coach. A coach helps you practice new behaviors in ways that gradually build skills.

Improve your ability to learn: One of coaching's most important goals is to teach you to internalize the ability to question, learn and continually grow. You must be able to modify your style and behavior as situations demand.

Coaching Tip

Boulders Along the Road

Here are five potential hurdles to developing executives and convincing them to change their behaviors:

1. Lack of authentic feedback: The more authority you have, the less likely you are to seek and receive authentic feedback. You may present an air of confidence and dominance that discourages meaningful interactions.

2. Lack of time or value placed on reflection: Most executives face enormous, continuous and widely varying demands on their time. The likelihood of having time to reflect on behavior is minimal. Furthermore, it's not in the nature of most hard-driving, results-oriented personalities to be introspective.

3. Reluctance to reveal weaknesses to others: Leaders strive to continually project an aura of confidence and competence. Complicating matters, the organization and your peers may discourage you from appearing vulnerable.

4. Reluctance to acknowledge weaknesses to oneself: Executives often steer clear of acknowledging their personal weaknesses. When your behaviors lead to positive business results, you may rationalize weaknesses in interpersonal style. But denial works for only so long before complexity, stress and challenges take their toll.

5. Fear of letting go of a previously successful style: If your leadership style has been working just fine for a few years, you may fear that modifying it puts your effectiveness at risk.

No coach, no matter how talented, can effect change and development in a leader who fails to understand how barriers can sabotage one's efforts. When executives agree to change and improve, coaching works. When they see themselves as responsible for making change, coaching once again works.
The return on investment for organizations is exponential.

"I'm most effective with one-on-one coaching. I would guess I coach 100 to 200 employees in a given month. I don't really think you can do the kind of leadership I do on a formal basis. It has to be genuine. I don't think you can force a human connection." Brad Anderson, CEO of Best Buy

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Does Executive Leadership Education Work?

Although the executive education debate still rages on whether leadership is learned or innate, there is no doubt that the subject is being taught.

In October 2003, BusinessWeek reported that 134 companies from 20 nations spent $210 million to enroll 21,000 employees in executive leadership programs. Since leadership development is not an event, that's a significant investment in classroom activities that may or may not produce company leaders or even better managers.

Beginning in October 2005, the University of Michigan Executive Education Program (rated third in open enrollment behind Harvard and Pennsylvania's Wharton programs) is offering a 3-day "Becoming an Exceptional Coach" for $4,350. Compare that classroom training with six-months of weekly personal executive coaching for only $7,200 to create a positive leadership mindset and a positive work environment.

A survey of 3,000 leaders and associates in 117 organizations reports that 63% plan to increase spending on leadership development programs that 75% of HR executives surveyed don't give a high quality rating to.

The paradox of spending more on what's not working is due to leadership development being seen as a classroom event. Yet, you don't fix people by sending them off to training. Managers need ongoing coaching to get in the habit of being good leaders.

The survey reported that two-thirds of the respondents said leaders at their company exhibited at least one potentially fatal flaw or "derailer"--a personality attribute that interferes with leadership effectiveness. Derailers are more personality-oriented than skill-based and are more difficult to change than teaching someone a new skill.

For all the money spent on them, we still don't know if leadership programs work.

Bottom Line: Leadership development is self-development. Learning how to not micromanage, not be overly concrete, not fail to explicitly state expectations and other unproductive inter-personal behavior only happens through the increased self-awareness gained in a personal coaching or mentoring relationship.

“The crux of leadership development that works is self-directed learning: intentionally developing or strengthening an aspect of who you are or who you want to be, or both.” Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis & Annie McKee (Harvard Business School Press)

Sources: Leadership Paradox by Warren Bennis in October 1, 2004, CIO/Insight and Assessment of the state of corporate leadership by Bridgeville, PA-based Development Dimensions International

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