Executive coaching – making it work for you
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Executive coaching – making it work for you

Executive coaching is a growing global business.  50 years ago, coaching was almost unheard-of outside sport.  Yet, in 2019, the estimated global total revenue from coaching was over US$2.8 billion, a 21% increase over the 2015 estimate.  The pandemic has altered trends in coaching.  Overall, however, business coaching seems likely to grow.  Here we look briefly about how a person might choose and then use a coach.   

Background

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) estimates that there were approximately 71,000coaches globally in 2019, an increase of 33% on 2015.   The number of managers and leaders using coaching has risen by almost half.   Why is this?  What has changed so much that more of us feel we need a coach?

Coaching takes many forms.  Chatting to a friend on the sofa about your boy or girlfriend and asking their opinion is a form of coaching.  Many of the world’s religions provide coaching for parishioners who need it.  ‘Spiritual guides’ have been important in religious orders for centuries.  Their role is to help clergy overcome their own problems for them to help others.  In most businesses there have always been those whose job it is to provide feedback and help staff improve performance.

Management Today believes that aspiring leaders have less time to think than they did 50 years ago. 

But it might also be that we’re simply more willing to ask for help than our predecessors were. Stiff upper lips are becoming distinctly old hat, while the idea of the hero leader who does it all themselves is plain out-of-date.

People are everywhere, but friends are in short supply.  What a coach provides is, quite simply, someone to speak to, someone impartial in whom to confide.

Coaching or therapy?

Coaches differentiate themselves from therapists and psychoanalysts. Coaches work with the future; therapists work with the past. Coaches help healthy clients become better; therapists work with pathology and illness. Coaches work with the conscious mind; therapists work with the unconscious mind.  

One of the reasons why coaches try to avoid being seen as therapists is that anyone can market themselves as a coach with no formal qualification.  Even coaches trained and certified by an organisation such as The Coaching Academy are unlikely to spend more than a year, part-time, on their training.  Therapists need at least a degree or a doctorate before getting qualified, a three or four-year training.

At least one therapist believes these are false distinctions.  They are, however, commonly acknowledged.  One critic of coaching believes that a coach without a qualification in psychology can even be dangerous.  

Executive coaching – making it work for you

A well-known and respected coach and therapist in the UK, Jacqueline Hurst, helps clients learn how to change negative thinking patterns and self-limiting behaviours. She says:

Coaching is a form of therapy whereby the coach will help a client solve problems and achieve goals or outcomes in a quick and effective way. A life coach doesn’t deal with psychological issues or trauma. That would be the work for psychologists who usually start with the client’s childhood and go back into their past using analysis.

This is clearly a tricky area.  

In another life, this author was coaching a young lady to help her find a job.  It quickly became clear that she was troubled by issues going back to her childhood.  With no background in psychology or therapy, it would have been ineffective, and possibly dangerous, to continue to coach her.  She therefore transferred her coaching to someone who was better qualified to help.  

The Executive Coaching Centre of New Zealand writes of a client who came to them worried about his performance at work.  The Centre diagnosed a schema.

A schema, or life trap, is a persistent pattern of thought and behaviour that is self-defeating and dysfunctional. The schema develops during childhood or adolescence and can impact an individual throughout his or her life.

In other words – negative thinking brought about by childhood traumas limits a person’s functionality.  By helping the client deal with his past life, the coach was able to improve his performance.  The client also became a happier and more balanced person outside work.

Choosing a coach

Whether you feel you need a psychologist or simply someone to talk to, talking about yourself to a stranger is easier than you think.  For doctors or lawyers to help, you need to be open and unembarrassed.  It is the same with coaching.  An experienced coach has heard about problems like yours many times.  It is his or her job to strike up rapport with you and help you express yourself frankly.  But just as a doctor or lawyer may be well qualified and somehow you do not get along, so it is with coaching.  At the very least you must respect and trust your coach.

ICL has excellent guidelines to help you choose a coach.   Friends and colleagues too may have suggestions.  Whatever tools you use or questions you ask, listen to your instincts.  You will be sharing personal details at times and difficult issues.  You need to know you are in good hands.

Making the most of your coaching sessions

Executive coaching – making it work for you

Again, there is a lot of help available.  Antoinette Oglethorpe has wise advice not only about the sessions themselves but also what to do in between them.  

Michelle Braden, writing in Forbes Magazine, gives insights into what you may expect as the person being coached.

Coaching works best when the coachee is fully invested in the engagement. You don’t want to waste your time or finances with coaching but use it as a time to set and achieve goals, create self-awareness, critically think, gain new perspectives, be supported, challenged, inspired, encouraged and ready to change and reach new levels.

I would add two vitally important points being both a coach and a coachee:

  • Your coach only knows what you tell them.  They cannot give advice about your circumstances, however carefully and objectively you explain them.  They will ask you questions and test your answers so you can take the decisions.  Coaches cannot make decisions for you.
  • Being coached successfully involves changing what you do and how you do it.  You cannot change your personality or values.  However, you can modify your behaviour.  The coach is there to help you do that.  But you must be patient with yourself.  However obvious the need to change may be to you, doing so in real life can be very hard.  You will fail at times.  You will revert to sub-optimal habits.  And you may think that coaching is not working for you.  Take comfort that it works for everyone who wants to change enough and can see the benefits of doing so.  Your coach will help you get over the bumps.

Conclusion

Coaching happens all day and every day.  It has done ever since humans began to think and organise into groups. Coaching as a profession is relatively new.  As with all new trends, practitioners are trying out different theories, learning from experience, and developing different specialisations.  

None of us can coach ourselves.  We need an outside, dispassionate, view of what may seem to us to be emotional and complex problems.  Coaches cannot solve our problems.  By encouraging us to look at ourselves, we can learn to solve our own problems.

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