What makes an executive coaching assignment succeed or fail? The short answer to this question is that the Coach must have a willing and honest coachee who is open to taking a critical look at himself or herself. Coaching is a partnership between the Coach and the coachee and both hold equal responsibility for success or failure. This article takes a look at what it takes for a coaching assignment to produce positive change and outstanding results.
A good Executive Coach needs to have the skills and tools of his profession as well as a good degree of experience in order to have credible impact on the senior managers that he coaches. He has to be a first class listener and the courage to directly challenge his coachee’s thinking in order to bring about positive shifts in leadership behaviour. He is responsible for creating a safe and trusting relationship such that his coachee is comfortable to talk about his innermost doubts, fears, hopes, aspirations and anxieties. The Coach must also be fearless in the way that he gives behavioural feedback to the coachee to bring about self-awareness, a prerequisite for any behavioural change.
Recently some prospective clients have asked me about some of my most successful coachees and the reasons why they were successful in making the transition from competent manager to outstanding leader. Others have asked what makes a coaching assignment unsuccessful. This set me thinking about the difference between those clients who have made massive transformational shifts that elevated them to their maximum leadership potential and those who made changes but still needed to do more to reach their full potential.
The key to a successful coaching engagement is the quality of the partnership between the Coach, the coachee and stakeholders. First, the coaching intervention must have the enthusiastic support of the hiring organisation and the coachee’s boss or bosses. Without that support it is difficult to establish specific outcomes expected from the intervention. Without some clear cut goals from the stakeholders it is incumbent on the Coach and coachee to come up with goals, which may or may not be aligned with the organisation’s needs.
Second, the coachee must grasp that he or she shares equal responsibility with the Coach for a positive outcome from the coaching programme in which his organisation has invested. The Coach brings the skills, art and science of coaching to the partnership. However, there is also an art to being a coachee. He or she needs to be totally committed to the process, willing to take honest behavioural feedback and treat it as helpful rather than critical. Most of all he needs to be open to change and prepared to do things outside of his comfort zone, to experiment with different behaviours and discover how others react to the change.
Third, the coachee must recognise that it is he who does the work, not the Coach. He must be prepared to sit and think carefully about the challenging questions posed by the Coach before answering. He must commit to those uncomfortable behavioural changes and take action once he has decided what needs to change to increase his leadership effectiveness.
There are often early signs of a coachee that is going to excel and dramatically up their game as a leader. Right from the first coaching session they are hungry for honest feedback, take time to think long and hard about the most challenging questions and jot down copious notes during their coaching sessions. They come up with behavioural changes they need to make and more importantly they commit to doing things outside their comfort zone. This is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak. They appreciate that what happens in a coaching session is important but it is what happens between coaching sessions that matters.