Executive coaching as a technique for enhancing a leader's skills has grown significantly over the past decades. No longer is it viewed as a sign of trouble if a top executive signs up for coaching. Rather, it is viewed as a perk. A recent book by some of the foremost scholars and practitioners on coaching, Advancing Executive Coaching, edited by Gina Hernez-Broome and Lisa A. Boyce, estimates that 70 to 80 percent of companies are using coaching. The increase in the use of coaching for leaders can be attributed to the greater demands of managing global, more diverse teams in more challenging technological, uncertain environments. Leaders today are expected to quickly deliver results while managing more workers of varied backgrounds and talents all across the world. How can you effectively use an executive coach?
Think about what you want out of a coaching relationship.
Coaches come with all sorts of training and backgrounds. As a result, they can provide varying types of services to you. Most coaches should:
• Support and challenge you.
• Help you better understand your strengths and areas for improvement.
• Talk with you (and possibly assess) your values and purpose.
• Help you create a developmental plan.
• Maintain confidentiality.
• Serve as a sounding board.
• Broaden your perspectives by providing an additional viewpoint and serving as a devil's advocate.
• Provide you with specific tips on how to enhance your skills.
The coach should talk about goals for the sessions, and help you understand his or her approach. Coaches should also let you know what their role will be during the sessions and describe the degree to which they will challenge you.
The coach should also share expectations for you. For example, the coach will want you to be honest in communications, will want you to be open to feedback from others, come prepared for the meetings, be open to new ways of doing things, and to work hard on acting on feedback you get.
Define the scope of the relationship
Talk about how the sessions will be conducted — in person, e-mail, over the phone, etc. Have the coach give you some general idea of how many sessions you will have and how often you will connect. Determine a schedule and discuss "homework." Some coaches have very formal sessions and are not available in between. Others are more flexible and want you to contact them if important issues arise.
What can you do to get the most out of the coaching?
• Periodically provide feedback to your coach about what is, or is not, working.
• Remain open to feedback you get. You may hear new ideas. Ask questions to better understand it.
• Find a buddy who can share your goals and provide honest, timely feedback. This person may be able to provide added support as you try out new behaviors.
• Make sure your coach works with you on crafting a developmental plan. At a minimum, this should outline your key strengths, areas for improvement, obstacles to changing, and action plans along with timetables.
Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.