By Mark Buchan
1. MYTH: Executive coaching takes up a lot of time
FACT: This is not true, but it does depend on your point of view. Every executive that I coach values their time highly. Executives who are serious about their personal development quickly appreciate that the time spent with their executive coach is valuable and delivers many tangible and intangible benefits. Not only is the coaching of great value to them but it also delivers great improvements to their organisation as the executive becomes more inspired and fulfilled in their role. These effects are felt by the executive's team, their peers, their clients, their stakeholders and their bosses. Also, executive coaching is a form of personal development specifically designed for busy executives who want to become better than they are right now. To attain maximum benefit from the coaching the sessions take place at the client's workplace and last from 90 minutes to two hours, depending on the needs of the executive or the coachee (the person receiving the coaching). Sessions take place every four to six weeks. Again this frequency of meeting is tailored to meet the needs of the executive and organisation. Many other executive coaching practitioners spend an hour a week with their executive clients, but research at Ashridge School of Business has shown that it is more effective to allow four to six weeks between the coaching sessions and to ensure that each session is a maximum of two hours. This is the model we employ at New Thought Leader. After each coaching session the executive will have some follow-on activities to complete. Some coaches call this homework but I like to call it job-work as the assigned tasks usually relate to the work that the executive is currently engaged in. There might be some additional tasks that the executive may not normally perform, such as completing an assessment or a reflective journal that captures their thoughts or feelings as they are engaging in a new behaviour. These activities are designed with the executive's schedule in mind and can usually be completed with a maximum of two hours effort between the sessions. The total time that would be committed by the executive during a typical six month engagement can be achieved within 22 hours. This works out to a little under an hour a week on average. So now I ask you the question - is an hour a week too much time to invest in your professional development?
2. MYTH: It is impossible to measure the outcomes of executive coaching
FACT: This myth is a sort of half truth. Very often organisations fall into the trap of wanting measurable and verifiable outcomes from all of the coaching in which they have invested. Many of the outcomes of coaching are predictable and measurable, especially in a programme of behavioural or skills coaching. Some forms of coaching however are less predictable and are often not measurable or verifiable, such as coaching contracts that are based on exploration and discovery. Contracts such as these are only ever verifiable by the coachee who will know when they have achieved the goals of their coaching. Another point to mention here is not all of the outcomes of coaching are predictable. This is because the business of coaching deals with human nature, which is probably one of the most unpredictable forces on this planet. A coaching engagement will commence with all the best intentions of achieving certain goals but even the most skilled of executive coaches cannot forecast all the possible outcomes of coaching. That is the nature of change and uncertainty involved in the process. As coaches, we are skilled at managing change and the chaos that can arise from the change-work, but we can't say with 100% certainty that the outcomes that we anticipate at the outset of the coaching will transpire. The fact is that many executives who participate in a programme of executive coaching receive more benefit than they bargained for. One final point here is that coaching provides so many intangible benefits that it can be challenging or dare I say it, impossible to measure them all. Where possible the coach and the organisation paying for the coaching should agree in advance which outcomes of the programme can be realistically predicted and quantified and agree the method of measurement and verification.
3. MYTH: Successful executives don't need executive coaching
FACT: This is definitely not true. In fact quite the opposite is true. Some of the most successful executives in top FTSE 100 companies have their own executive coaches. The most savvy of executives knows that there is always room for improvement. We have no way of measuring the maximum potential that anyone can aspire to, but executive coaching provides the keys to unlock the latent talent within an executive while building on the talent that they are consciously aware of.
4. MYTH: Everyone is coachable
FACT: This is not true. Every executive coach would like to believe that it is true, but in reality some people are more coachable than others. Executive coaching works best for executives who are open minded and are willing to change. The type of executive who benefits from coaching is someone who takes responsibility for their own development and knows that they are capable of achieving more. I always recommend to my organisational clients that before we engage in a programme of coaching, an assessment be carried out by the organisation, with some guidance from myself, to determine the level of coachability of the potential coachee. This ensures that the results of the coaching programme are always high and meet the expectations of the sponsor (the organisation paying for the coaching) and the coachee.
5. MYTH: Executive coaching is about the coach telling me what to do and how to run my business
FACT: Absolutely not! An executive coach is in no way qualified to tell you how to run your business. As an executive you may hire an executive coach to streamline your thinking or to provide assistance as a sounding board for your ideas, but an executive coach cannot advise you on how to run your business. The executive coach is qualified to be a coach and as a coach they will also help you overcome obstacles or achieve goals. They are qualified in the art of coaching, not in running their clients' business. As part of the coaching, the coach will be able to offer their coachee a different perspective or new insights into an existing problem or situation. The executive can then choose whether to act on or dismiss that information, so the executive is always fully in control and fully responsible for their actions.
6. MYTH: The executive coach can help take up some of the executive's workload
FACT: It is definitely not the role of the executive coach to do the executives "dirty washing", make his tea or act as his PA. The executive coach may help the executive in reducing their workload by helping them to delegate more effectively. The primary role of the executive coach is to facilitate and assist in the executive's development.
7. MYTH: Executive coaching is the same as life coaching
FACT: Most definitely not! I am quite passionate about this subject as I have witnessed a shocking growth of unregulated, poorly-trained and under-qualified life coaches who are given certificates after a weekend workshop. These people are given such low exposure to the real nature of coaching and little if any practical experience in coaching. Their work is unsupervised and very rarely have they even had the experience of being coached by a skilled coach themselves. These poorly informed life coaches, who may mean well, are giving coaching a bad reputation. Professional coaches on the other hand are very skilled at what they do. They are knowledgeable about the psychology and models that underpin their work. They are very self aware and passionate about their own personal development and understand the value of continual self development. To give you a practical application of this, I undertake supervision on a regular basis. This allows me the time necessary to reflect on my own practice as a coach so that I can continually improve and provide greater value to my clients. I also have my own coach who helps me improve my performance among other things. I walk my talk. So if you are considering hiring an executive coach, make sure that they are accredited by one of the appropriate coaching bodies, the EMCC or the ICF for example. All of New Thought Leader's coaching staff are active members of professional coaching bodies. Also, all of them receive regular supervision and coaching. In summary, I believe in the power and potential that quality coaching can bring to individuals and organisations, so I insist on the very highest standards in the executive coaches that I work with. They need to demonstrate excellence and continual improvement in their art. I settle for nothing less - why should you?
8. MYTH: Executive Coaching is only for use when executives are failing
FACT: Not so! Coaching used to be viewed as a remedial activity to "fix" a problem person in the organisation or as a defence used by HR to say "...well we tried to help the guy....", just before letting them go. Executive coaching can also be used to provide assistance to executives who admit to having challenges, but only they will benefit once they take responsibility for their change and own the issues that they are faced with. Executive coaching has a diverse range of applications for executives including improving their effectiveness and performance, advancing their communication skills, collaborating with them to create a compelling vision, provide assistance in applying their time to strategic issues and so on. Executive coaching is now being offered to top executives as a perk that improves retention within the organisation.
9. MYTH: Executive coaching is the same as therapy and counselling
FACT: Definitely not! The words therapy and counselling may have many meanings for an individual. If therapy means lying on a couch talking about your mother or father while the therapist nods a lot and speaks in Germanic accent, then no - coaching is not therapy. There are many reasons why executive coaching is not therapy. Here are just a few: in therapy the therapist is considered the expert, coaching views the coach and client as co-experts in the relationship. As such the plan for coaching is designed as an alliance by the coach and coachee. In therapy the the therapist plans the treatment. Therapy is problem-oriented and involves spending many hours examining the problem, whereas coaching is solution-oriented with a much smaller amount of time spent examining the problem. Therapy tends to focus on people with major mental or emotional issues. Coaching is about working with a functioning individual with the goal of working to the executives strengths. Having presented these facts, it is only fair to point out that there is some overlap with coaching and therapy. Both the coach and therapist have many skills in common, such as listening and helping the clients find insights. Both the coach and therapist utilise the clients past experience in helping them to make sense and to then move forward taking action while utilising new knowledge. Also the coach and therapist work with emotional material that their client brings as a means to facilitating their growth.
10. MYTH: A successful executive coach needs to have similar experience to the executive being coached
FACT: This is not necessarily so. It may be of help to the executive to know the coach has been through what they have been through, in which case a programme of mentoring may be of value to the executive. However, an executive coach will bring a whole new set of skills that the executive may be unlikely to possess. The executive coaching relationship works best when both the executive and the coach are engaged in the learning process. So the balance of the executive's knowledge coupled with the coach's skill at being able to provide learning strategies to assist them create a powerful alliance.
11. MYTH: Executive coaching is just a management fad
FACT: Certainly not! It is true to say that coaching has been the subject of a remarkable trend since the turn of the millennium but fads come and go - just like corduroy flares or mullets! Executive coaching has been around in many guises (but not under this label) for over twenty years. Popularity and demand for executive coaching has increased in the last ten years or so mainly due to the accelerated rate of business change. This rapid rate of change has forced organisations to reconsider the business paradigms that they have operated within for many years. As a result organisations are now understanding the need for continuous learning that remains adaptive to the current and future needs of the marketplace. This new paradigm shift has also brought about the need for a new type of leadership where emotional intelligence and collaboration are more highly valued. Executive coaching provides these new leaders and organisations with the tools to operate more effectively in the ever changing business environment, something that traditional training or business schools are failing to deliver. Executive coaching is here to stay and will continue to go from strength to strength as more and more executives and organisations discover its power and potential.
12. MYTH: Executive coaching is expensive
FACT: Expensive is a relative term so let's compare the cost of coaching to training. Firstly finding space in the busy executive's diary for training is a task requiring much patience and tenacity on the part of the training organisation. Once the training has been delivered, one of the major challenges facing the executive is they are left to apply the knowledge learned from the training on their own. The result is that little, if any, of the training is applied when the executive returns to their day to day role. Research has shown that potentially up to 90% of an organisation's training budget is wasted because it is rarely applied. Executive Coaching on the other hand, provides a tailored form of continuous education and learning which enables the executive to immediately apply the learnings from the coaching and discuss their observations about the application with the coach at the next session. This ensures value is derived from the coaching. Studies have also shown that coaching can provide as much as 500% return on investment (coachingfederation.org) so coaching can actually make money for your organisation and thereby become less of a cost and more of an investment.
13. MYTH: Mentoring is another word for executive coaching
FACT: This is untrue and arises from a misunderstanding of the differences between an executive coach and a mentor. While there are large overlaps among the skills of a mentor and an executive coach, there are some fundamental differences that you need to be aware of to determine whether mentoring or executive coaching is the most appropriate course of action. The first major difference is that a mentor tends to be someone in-house who is qualified to act as a mentor because they model the ideal work behaviours, attitudes and beliefs that the organisation places value on. A mentor acts as a role models for their mentee (a person being mentored), instructing them on ways to behave and think in certain circumstances. Executive coaching as a process tends to be less directive than mentoring and relies heavily on the executive coach bringing the best out of the coachee, by assisting them in finding the answers within themselves rather than supplying them the answers. Does this mean an executive coach never instructs or provide answers? Preferably not, but in the instances where the coachee has hit a plateau or a brick wall, the executive coach may offer carefully framed suggestions or advice that facilitates the forward movement of the coachee. In mentoring, there are always right or appropriate answers and the mentor knows them. With executive coaching, the only answers are those that the coachee offers and these are not judged by the coach as being right or wrong. The job of the coach, as stated earlier, is to facilitate the coachee's access to their answers from within themselves. In this way, coaching fosters independence in the coachee whereas mentoring can foster dependence on the mentor. Another difference is that mentoring relies heavily on the mentor's expertise of the subject matter, whereas executive coaching relies on the coach facilitating the advanced learning and/or the improved performance of their coachee. The agenda of the mentoring relationship is mainly set by the organisation. The agenda of coaching is mainly set by the coachee, in collaboration with their organisation and coach. In summary, mentoring is a valid tool for directing the learning of individuals so that they behave, think and communicate in a way that is aligned with the mentor. If you require creativity and free thinking to provide an extra edge in performance and effectiveness, then executive coaching is a more appropriate tool for this outcome
Executive coaching is a remarkable trend that continues to grow globally. As a result, many myths have been formed about what it is or isn't and whether it can deliver enough benefits to justify the investment of time and money. This leaves executives and HR professionals wondering if it can bring long lasting and tangible benefits to their organisations.
Mark Buchan is one of Britain's most sought after coaches. He coaches executives and business owners from a wide range of business sectors. His ability to facilitate change, raise awareness, explore context and identify the keys issues with his clients is fast earning him the reputation of Worlds Best Coach.
Mark provides free executive coaching taster sessions to allow people the chance to experience the benefits of coaching for themselves. Click here to find out more: http://www.newthoughtleader.com/free-executive-coaching-session.php
New Thought Leader is a team of professionals dedicated to improving organisational and personal performance. Visit our website today to review other interesting topics around the area of organisational and personal development.
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