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Executive Coaching: A Leadership Development Tool for Top Performers

"Coaching" used to be a popular approach for derailing executives or professionals whose performance needed a lot of work. Got a problem? Get a coach. However, increasingly, coaching is being sought by some of the most successful executives in their field – those who want to get even better at their business game. So the new thinking is…Got a goal? Get a coach.

Executive coaching has evolved quickly over the years. Some consider it a field in itself; others consider it a form of consulting. There are many interpretations for “executive coaching”. No matter how you define it, coaching can be a useful tool for executives who want to develop as leaders.

Rather than debate the definition of coaching, it’s more important to consider the type of coach and approach that’s most appropriate for you given the results you want to achieve. Some executives have difficulty articulating concrete desired results, but a skilled coach can help. Often executives simply haven’t taken the time to slow down and think things through.

Coaches come in the form of business professionals, psychologists, trainers, consultants, authors, etc. They come from all walks of life. Some are tough, challenging and direct. Some are sensitive, encouraging and indirect in their style. Some impose a particular process. Some are more flexible.

A consultant with expertise in communication may focus on executive coaching that emphasizes presentation skills. A fashion consultant may offer executive coaching with an emphasis on professional appearance. Other executive coaches focus on leadership skills or business strategy. The approaches are as varied as the professionals who deliver coaching services.

Selecting a Coach

Ultimately the most important factor in selecting a coach is the coach’s track record and his/her ability to establish the kind of relationship with you that helps you achieve results.

Senior leaders who have few peers seek out coaches to discuss business and professional goals. It’s a decision that should not be made lightly.

Coaching relationships can be structured a variety of ways. Consider whether you want to work with a coach in person, by phone or both. Know what’s most important to you in selecting a good coach.

Finding the right fit is everything. You’ll know you have the wrong fit if you feel you’re wasting your time, dread your coaching conversations, or focus on issues that aren’t directly relevant to your goals. Listen to your instincts and find the best fit.

Coaching Issues

With the complexity of issues that challenge executives, there is never a loss for discussion topics between a coach and client. Below are a few of the issues that many of today’s top-performing leaders discuss with their executive coaches:

• Staying focused on top priorities
• Increasing accountability for follow-through
• Building skills in particular areas (such as communication or decision making)
• Dealing with organizational politics
• Thinking strategically
• Handling stress & avoiding burnout
• Managing teams & dealing with sensitive personnel situations
• Influencing others
• Negotiating
• Brainstorming new ideas/creative thinking
• Personal career planning
• Life-work balance issues
• Establishing clear goals and action plans

Success Factors

In addition to finding the right coach, here are a few success factors to keep in mind for those who engage in a coaching process.

• Establish clear guidelines for the relationship and coaching process on the front end. Don’t make assumptions.

• Share feedback. If something is not working, discuss it.

• Acknowledge progress and successes along the way. This helps build momentum.

• Involve other stakeholders if necessary. In some cases, others in the organization can participate in the process to share input and feedback.

Executive coaching is not for everyone. It’s only for those executives who are highly motivated, who are committed to leadership development and who want to engage in the process. Expect a minimum commitment of six months to a year.

Company Sponsored Coaching Programs

Many more companies now recognize the importance of promoting coaching within their organizations. Many have formal coaching programs that include internal and external coaches. Organizations that sponsor coaching programs need to be diligent about connecting the benefits of coaching with business results in their organizations. Without a results focus, organizations run the risk of promoting coaching for its own sake – a “campaign for coaches,” instead of solutions for executives. Coaching is simply a means.

Corporate initiatives that mandate or roll out a coaching program too broadly jeopardize the effectiveness of the program. Often those who need coaching most are least likely to be open to the process, but top performers are always looking for a leading edge. Finding the right coach can be the leading edge you need to succeed professionally.

About the Author: Gayle Lantz,, Founder of WorkMatters®, is an organizational development consultant and executive coach who works with organizations that want to develop their people, and with individuals who want to achieve important business and personal goals. For more tips on how to make the most of your work, sign up for “WorkMatters Tips” at

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