Using a Coach to Bring Out Your Leadership Best

by Bob Grace, Ph.D., and Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

Executive Coach

The Coach

Look at your calendar. When during the last few months did you take time to think about the following:

  • What can I do to better motivate my team? How can I challenge them to keep them at their peak?
  • How can I recognize and develop my top performers? How do I work with my stragglers?
  • What challenges will my business face over the next six months to a year? How do I get ready for them?
  • Where do I see my career going? Where will I be in five years?  What will I need to do differently to succeed?

These issues are only a few of the things you can discuss with an executive coach. Leaders from every industry and every size company have profited from the time they have spent with coaches. In a 2004 survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 78% of 500 respondents reported that coaching was part of their organizations’ learning and development activities. Just as professional sports teams have trainers and coaches that assess the strengths and weaknesses of every player and work to build their skills to maximize their team’s performance, companies use coaches to become more successful by enhancing the skills of their leaders.

Coaches help leaders in many ways, from providing a sounding board for confidential conversations, to giving the leader a third party perspective, to holding the leader accountable for accomplishing her or his goals. These functions of a coach help leaders more effectively deliver results for the organization. A 2001 study in The Manchester Review found that coaching recipients estimated the return on investment (ROI) from coaching to be about 5.7 times.

Coaching is generally used to address one of two business needs:  developing leaders to meet the challenges of the future, or helping leaders who have gotten off track in their current roles.  In either case, organizations and coaches recognize that leaders are the critical lynch pin in executing the strategy of the organization.  They fill the space where the rubber meets the road, and have the difficult job of engaging and energizing others to move the organization toward success.

Professional coaching relationships follow a generally accepted format: Assessment, Goal Setting, Development Meetings, and Application of learning.

The coaching engagement begins with some form of assessment, which can come from a variety of sources (personality tools, feedback from direct reports and co-workers, work sample exercises, etc.) but they all serve the same purpose: to increase the leader’s self-awareness and to provide a foundation from which goals can be developed.

Goal setting is the next phase in the coaching relationship.  The leader and the coach work together to set goals for the engagement and work to make sure the goals align with the needs of the client organization.  In combination the assessment and the goals provide the baseline against which progress can be judged.

The third phase in the coaching relationship involves regular development meetings between the coach and the leader.  In these meetings, the coach and the leader, identify opportunities and means to develop specific skills and knowledge.  The coach may provide tactical and conceptual suggestions regarding how to develop skills.  The coach may also provide additional feedback and perspectives about how the leader is impacting the business and the people around them.  The coach provides time and space for reflective learning, time and space to think about what has been learned or improved.

In the final phase of the coaching relationship, the coach will challenge the leader to apply and solidify the things they have learned though the coaching engagement to new challenges and situations.

When searching for a coach, look for a personal connection, someone whom you can trust.  An effective coach is also willing to modify his or her approach to meet your needs and your organizations specific challenges. Finally, make sure you are able to articulate the outcomes you are looking for.  This will help you and your coach determine how best to address your particular needs.