When to drink the “executive coaching” lemonade


How would you feel if your manager suggested executive coaching for you? If he or she added that the coaching was being offered because your career is on an upswing and you’re being groomed for even more responsibility, you’d probably see it as a status symbol. In fact, that’s just how it’s regarded in corporate executive circles.

Particularly at the CEO level, it’s fashionable these days to have an executive coach or “personal advisor” sit in on board meetings, attend key staff meetings, help strategize approaches, and review plans. Some company leaders maintain a personal, ongoing relationship with their coach that endures for many years while others hire a mentor only to help during periods of organizational change or upheaval.

On the flip side, executive coaching too often is mandated to “spruce up” the performance of a struggling executive manager. It is a seductive way for the company to buy time between a manager’s lackluster performance review and an eventual firing, to “do everything possible” before terminating employment.

Why was your coach hired? If you don’t know, find out. Successful executive coaching greatly depends on the recipient’s receptivity to undergo a formative learning experience, both cognitive and emotional. Odds slide toward “favorable” when the beneficiary enters a coaching environment with an enthusiastic mindset. That is a difficult proposition if the assistance is presented as a punishment rather than as a bonus opportunity.

So a key question is this: Was your coach hired to augment a behavioral skillset or to correct an emotional or attitudinal deficiency? What is the specific behavioral result the boss expects from your training? If the desired outcome is to add dimension or depth to an already stable skillset, relax. That result is achievable. The more specific everyone can be, the greater the odds of your success. But let’s say you have a nonspecific goal. Your boss wants the coach to help you change from being perceived as “a non-empathetic manager”, into a new you, “a more likable people person.” That’s the only thing, your supervisor assures you, holding you back from being considered for an upcoming promotion.

Forget arguing; the die has been cast. Instead, focus on turning your lemons into lemonade. We now know you are being coached for advancement. The company is willing to invest in your career. That should give you lots of motivation to succeed. A coach can’t wave a wand to transform your personality, you can definitely learn (and exhibit) more favorable leadership qualities. Help identify what the coach’s target behaviors are. You can be coached to improve empathetic listening behaviors. Likewise, you can be taught how to elicit feedback and acknowledge the contributions of others. You can, in other words, learn compensatory skills.

Likewise, an executive coach could help Ann, who lacks the ability to give a great presentation, and Alan, who lacks the confidence to express dissenting views. John struggles with supervising former colleagues; Susan isn’t comfortable delegating responsibility — a skilled executive coach could make significant strides with all four.

Communication of expectations is key to the outcome. Is the coaching a carrot or a stick? In either case, the experience is best offered as an “opt in” experience or it truly will be a waste of company resources. And the goal should be transparent — you should be told whether it is a pathway to a better situation or part of a performance correction plan to keep a job. Hidden agendas sabotage coaching results.

If your company offers executive coaching as part of a performance improvement plan, perhaps the words of Richelle Goodrich can help frame the experience: “Many times what we perceive as an error or failure is actually a gift. And eventually we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove to be of great worth.” You can resist (and dust off the resume) or accept the training. If you enter into training as a partner, help set realistic behavioral goals or go along passively. If you agree to partner, you’re agreeing to work with the coach and to commit to the work required to move forward.

Feeling passive? Polish the resume.

Have you ever had or been assigned an executive coach? What was that experience like. Let us know leaving a comment below or reaching out to us on Facebook and Twitter.

About Jody Glynn Patrick

Jody is President of Glynn Patrick & Associates, which provides management consulting, executive coaching and strategic planning services. She is Publisher Emeritus of In Business magazine, which she published for 17 years. Selected as the “U.S. Business Journalist of the Year” in 2007 in Washington, DC, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Jody has been a business reporter, editor, radio talk show host , and has won other state and national journalism awards. At the same time, she has helped corporate clients grow their businesses -- the basis for her practical coaching advice here. She also was the 2005 Athena Award recipient for her leadership role in mentoring other professional women. Jody will be talking with you weekly on TDS’ blog to share her insights and tips from the C-Suite perspective. Follow on G+.

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