29 (124) 2017
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HR & Professional Qualifications

Executive coaching: trendy mumbo-jumbo or a real game-changer?

Ashim Kumar, CEO of AKA Sp.zo.o., a leadership consultancy
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The term ‘coaching’ conjures up various images.

Some visualise the athletic professional at the local tennis club or, the (not so athletic) coach of a football team. Others imagine a senior colleague at the workplace who guides less experienced staff towards improved skills; yet others see a technical expert imparting information on latest best practice.

Executive coaching is none of these! To be clear, it is not about transferring skills and knowledge from expert to learner.

“So, what is it?” you wonder.

Executive coaching is a powerful way of boosting performance through the intelligent use of exploratory questions. It can be thought of as ‘a designed alliance’ in which the parties collaborate to release the coachee’s potential.

And it works; few if any, other processes influence and change behaviour as effectively as coaching. According to a study of Fortune 100 executives conducted by the Manchester Consulting Group, "coaching resulted in a return on investment of almost six times the programme cost as well as a 77% improvement in relationships, 67% improvement in teamwork, 61% improvement in job satisfaction and 48% improvement in quality." Additionally, a study of Fortune 500 telecommunications companies, conducted by Matrix Global, showed that executive coaching resulted in a 529% ROI.

“Impossible!”, I hear you say incredulously, “how can simply asking questions produce such transformative behaviour and results?”

The reason is simple... and complicated! Being asked the right questions, encourages us to dig deep into our unconscious mind; to uncover the complex triggers behind our behaviour (and therefore, our current situation) and start to modify them.

After all, before we can change something, we must first become conscious of its existence.

Coaching invokes thinking in the other person. It is transformational because it makes that which is unconscious, conscious.

“Mumbo jumbo”, you mutter; “I already know how to think!”.

Much as we would like to believe that about ourselves, it simply isn’t true! There is extensive evidence which demonstrates that the vast majority of our behaviours are reflexive; in other words, we respond automatically (and without consideration) to situations that we face daily. There are many good reasons for this, and I would refer you to ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ authored by Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman, for a more detailed explanation.

If we accept the premise that most of the decisions we make in life are arrived at without conscious thought, and that those decisions have resulted in our current situation; then we must conclude that not only are we solely responsible for where we are in life, but that we got here without thinking about it!

A sobering thought that many of us would prefer not to consider.

The American writer on character development, Earl Nightingale put it best when he said:

“If most people were to say what they were thinking, they would be rendered speechless.”

Coaching influences at conscious and sub-conscious levels. It targets unconscious triggers to understand and modify behaviours and change our reality. This is sometimes referred to as the performance gap – the difference between what a person knows and, what they do. In other words, it encourages action to do what we already know to be the right thing!

“Yes, yes, that’s all very well, but how does this magic happen?” you demand.

Before discussing the process and its inherent power, we need to understand some basic principles:

  • The ability to achieve great things resides within us.

  • We must take personal responsibility for our growth.

  • We agree, as part of the coaching process, to be held accountable for our behaviour

Nothing will change unless the coachee truly commits to the process. They are charged with investing effort, energy and time to achieve the results they seek. They cannot delegate responsibility to the coach; change must come from within the client.

“But what does the coach actually do?” you insist.

The coach’s role is to encourage the client to think deeply about their reality and what can be done to improve it. It explores the fundamental drivers of an individual’s behaviour and their impact on outcomes. For example, it examines self-limiting beliefs and how to overcome them. It will also delve into what the coachee really wants in their life and explore actions to get there. Coaching will work on tactical and strategic goals to ensure that there’s coherence between them; our short-term goals become stepping stones towards the desired long-term transformation.

The coach is not a professional advisor, nor is it their role to judge whether an action was right or wrong. The coach will help the coachee evaluate the consequences of an action and modify their approach for the future, generating behaviours that the individual aspires to.

Perhaps most importantly, the coach will be a constant companion on this journey of growth. They will be on hand, even outside formal sessions, to help reinforce the client’s commitment to goals they have set for themselves.

“Can you be more specific? What can I talk to the coach about?” you ask.

At the commencement of the relationship, the coach will help the coachee identify priority areas; this will be the starting point for future interactions. As the process matures, the interventions extend in many directions as we move towards a holistic view of the coachee’s current reality and ambitions.

It is fundamentally important to recognise that the agenda is, at all times, driven by the client.

Areas where coaching can help, include (but are not limited to):

  • How can I set my long-term goals?

  • How can I overcome the obstacles to growth?

  • How can I manage my time better to get everything done?

  • How can I focus on the important stuff rather than fire-fighting all the time?

  • What should I do next in my career?

  • How can I achieve a better balance between work and home life?

  • What skills do I need to grow and develop further?    

  • How can I make my relationships more productive?

A typical coaching session will be 60 minutes in duration. We recommend a minimum of six sessions. Yet most coachees find such interactions so valuable they continue indefinitely.

All coaching interactions are strictly confidential.

“I can find a friend to talk through all this stuff with me. What’s so special about a coach?”

A certified executive coach has undergone rigorous training. They’ll be intimately familiar with the complex methodology necessary for an effective intervention including:

  • Ethical and professional standards

  • Techniques for establishing trust

  • High level communication skills

  • Formulating powerful questions

  • Creating awareness of the coachees reality

  • Designing actions

  • Planning and goal-setting

  • Managing progress and accountability

  • Understanding the stages of the learning journey

The coach will also often be a seasoned business professional. Although they will not (usually) make suggestions, there will be a rapport based on mutual understanding of the commercial reality. Rapport is fundamental to any successful coaching intervention.

“I wouldn’t mind trying it out to see whether it really does work, but how do I find a good coach who practices nearby?” you enquire.

The value that executive coaching adds, has been increasingly recognised for many years. Consequently, there has been an explosion in global supply of these services. I recommend that you select a coach who’s been certified by an internationally recognised body, such as the John Maxwell Group https://johnmaxwellgroup.com/coaches or the International Coaching Federation (there are other reputable certifying bodies). These organisations will have members’ directories which can be accessed on-line to find a local coach.

That said, the availability of video Skype and similar technology, allows effective coaching interventions to be delivered wherever the coach may be. We at AKA Sp.zo.o. regularly participate in cross-border coaching sessions, and find no diminution in value of the process.

“OK, I believe that coaching will add substantial value to me, but what about my teams? Can they benefit from coaching too?” you ask hopefully.

Coaching is often used in a group or team context. Here, individual contribution and learning is orchestrated for the good of the team as whole; to ensure that a shared purpose is recognised and achieved. As with individual coaching, the aim is to raise awareness and develop new skills, but it also allows issues to be communally addressed by drawing out a collective wisdom. This reinforces joint commitment to a unified purpose and can transform the results produced.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will rule your life and you will call it fate”
(Carl Jung).

Ashim Kumar has over 25 years of international business experience in people development and is a John Maxwell-certified coach, consultant and trainer. www.aka-lead.com


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