Companies trying to build their leaders’ capabilities must invest in coaches, not cheerleaders
The first rule is making sure that the executive is willing to be coached
According to a 2016 Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study, companies are spending millions of dollars each year on leadership development and talent management programmes that aren’t delivering the desired results. Among the factors that handicap leadership and talent initiatives are fragmented talent management systems, a focus on certification rather than learning, and a disconnect between capabilities and business strategy. Companies rarely manage their talent as rigorously as they manage their balance sheets. This is in part because people development is hard to quantify.
This is especially true of leadership or executive coaching where there is much fuzziness around what the final outcomes look like, the exact nature and scope of the engagement and how coaching progress gets tracked and measured
According to Mukund Rajagopalan, head of BCG’s leadership and talent enablement centre for Asia Pacific: “ Companies are increasingly faced with the challenge of building leaders with new capabilities (think digital) in very short spans of time and are looking for real business impact—a successful transformation, speed to market, or just top and bottom-line results.”
In 2009, the Harvard Business Review conducted a survey of 140 leading coaches and invited five experts to explain the growth in the coaching industry. It was learnt that clients keep coming back because “coaching works”. The survey results, meanwhile, suggested that the coaching industry was fraught with conflicts of interest, and there seemed to be distinct overlaps with what therapists and consultants do. And the mechanisms for monitoring the effectiveness of a coaching engagement continue to be rather subjective.
So, while coaching as a business tool continues to thrive, the fundamentals of the industry are still in flux. The onus is on organizations and executives to select the “right” coach.
So, what should organizations look for in external coaches? According to Julia Lindsay, CEO, iOpener Institute for People and Performance, an Oxford-based international consultancy, the first basic rule is making sure that the executive is ready and willing to be coached. Second, executives should be allowed to choose who they want to work with.
While great chemistry forms the foundation of a good coaching relationship, good credentials, certifications and specific areas of expertise are an important part of the mix. The other key factor is relatability: Leaders want coaches they can relate to at a professional level. Top-tier business schools that run integrated executive leadership programmes now offer services of executive coaches who are often alumnis or have worked in the corporate sector, making them better placed to appreciate business challenges a leader might face. Leadership guru Ram Charan says that as the business environment becomes more complex, leaders will increasingly turn to coaches—and they can do more than just influence behaviours. Coaches can be an essential part of the leader’s learning process, providing knowledge, opinion, and judgement in critical areas.
Dr Robyn Wilson, co-managing partner of Praxis Management Consultancy, a Singapore-based global consulting firm, says while drawing explicit links between coaching and an executive’s performance is difficult, obtaining basic information about improvements in that executive’s managerial behaviour is not. Organizations that hire coaches should insist on getting regular and formal progress reviews, even if they are only qualitative.
Finding a good coach, though, is only one part of the story. In order to grow and change, you have to be willing to change and make concerted efforts to that end. Here are some ways in which you can get the most from your coach:
•Be clear about your coaching goals. Come prepared for your sessions, make sure you know exactly what you want to achieve or which aspects to work on.
•Leave your ego at the door. This is a safe space for you to open up and speak candidly. Don’t get defensive or feel pressured to project yourself in a good light at all times.
•Commit to actions that may not come naturally to you. Be willing to stretch yourself. Go beyond what you already know to expand your leadership capability. If an approach feels new and uncomfortable, getting it right will boost your confidence.
•Take time out of your busy schedule, use your coaching sessions to step back and gain perspective. Consider meeting your coach somewhere quiet with fewer distractions.
Lastly, remember you are hiring a coach not a cheerleader. Don’t gravitate towards a coach who constantly praises you. Recognize you have blind spots and that candid feedback, though harsh, can be a game changer.
Ruchira Chaudhary is an independent strategy professional, an executive coach and adjunct faculty. She divides her time between Singapore and India