June 24, 2018

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Taking the Mystery Out of Executive Coaching

Tips for when, and how, to use an executive coach

Is your organization considering the use of an outside executive coach? This trend has spread across the country faster than a fire in a wind storm. And if youíve seen a master coach in action, you know whyóa key executive can significantly improve performance.

An executive coach is an outside consultant who works with an executive who has a specific problem. A specific issue is identifiedóoften by the personís boss--and the coach and executive work to resolve it. Where a management training session is a spray of solutions and techniques, the coaching process is aimed at the bullís-eye. Itís designed to be fast and focused.

In my executive coaching practice, I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of working one-on-one with individuals who are motivated to change their behavior. In the right circumstances, itís an intense, stimulating experience. But it isnít the answer to every problem.

Here are some of the basics to help you decide if using an executive coach is right for someone in your organization...

When should you consider using an executive coach? Here are some typical situations where an executive coach can add value.

A talented executive who is valuable to the business but who:

  • Is a poor people manager
  • Canít communicate his ideas effectively
  • Has an abrasive personal style
  • Has behaviors that are getting in the way of his or her effectiveness

A new manager/executive who:

  • Was promoted into a job that is much larger than her past job
  • Was promoted into a job that has high visibility and risk
  • Never managed a large group of people before
  • Never managed multiple departments before

A valuable contributor, who the company wants to "save" from outplacement or termination:

    The individual hasnít been told the truth about his performance by past managers and the company feels a sense of responsibility for the employeeís predicament

A star employee who:

  • Adds great value but who is difficult to work with.
  • Needs to become more politically astute
  • Has to grow quickly to replace someone who has left, died or retired

Because choosing the right coach is so critical to success, you need to know what pitfalls to avoid. The coach must not only be able to tunnel down quickly and get to the root of the problem and help the person with fast behavior changes; he or she must be a good cultural and political fit.

Before you hire an external coach, here are some words to the wise:

  • Check referencesóspeak to people the person has actually coached, as well as to their managers
  • Choose a coach with executive experience, especially if the person will be working with a senior manager or executive. A coach who has never worked at this level will not have the necessary insight.
  • Choose a coach with a successful track record of managing people, if she will be working with an executive on people issues.
  • Coaching certificates, from "coaching universities" donít guarantee the person will be a good fit, or have the necessary skills.
  • Match the coach to the person. A coach, who was great with one person, may not fit someone else.
  • Beware of the coach who overuses instruments because they lack the experience or skills themselves.
  • Be cautious of a coach who doesnít have a sense of urgency and professes to need a long, expensive relationship.
  • Be careful of the coach who seems too eager to take on any assignment, without thoroughly probing into the desired outcomes, to see if he or she can deliver results.
  • Be wary of the person who is a "coach" between jobs.
  • Be cautious about someone who doesnít have any past success stories to share.
  • Avoid someone who canít articulate his or her consulting philosophies and principles.

As you begin the relationship, here are some tips that will help you - and the coach - get results:

  • Identify measurable outcomes in a three-way dialogue with the coach, the person to be coached and his/her manager. There may be others involved as well, such as an internal HR professional or the managerís manager.
  • Agreed upon how the progress will be monitored and feedback provided, to all parties.
  • Thoroughly discuss confidentiality. For example, the coach will frequently use a 360-degree process to gather feedback and write a report that will be the foundation of the coaching. Will that be a part of the permanent file? Who will see it?
  • Clarify roles of all parties. For instance, a good coach will want to actively engage the personís manager in the process.

Hiring the right coach for the right reasons can yield excellent results if the relationship is managed well. These tips should get you started in the right direction.

-Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd has a solid track record of excellent results. Her firm, Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding. This includes executive coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized leadership training, conflict resolution between teams or individuals, internal consulting skills training for HR professionals and retreat facilitation. Clients report results such as: behavior change in leaders, improved team performance and a more committed workforce.

Joan Lloyd has earned her C.S.P. (certified speaking professional) designation from the National Speakers Association and speaks to corporate audiences, as well as trade & professional associations across the country. Reach her at (800) 348-1944,, or
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