Does Executive Coaching Really Work?

April 15, 2021

Written by Angela Hornsby

Principal | Lighthouse Resource Group

Does Executive Coaching Really Work?

Executive coaching gets a bad rap in many situations. Why? Because it is often used as a last resort to deal with difficult performance issues, and not surprisingly, frequently ends with an exit from the organization. Unfortunately, this leads to a perception in some workplaces that getting a coach is “the kiss of death”. What a shame!

In professional sports, employing a coach to take performance to the next level is considered a smart investment. The same is true for other professions. The right coach can be a valuable partner in career and leadership development. Ideal coaching clients are:

  • Seasoned leaders seeking a different way of thinking and behaving to take their leadership to the next level.
  • Executives facing new challenges, new roles, or leading through unprecedented organizational change.
  • Valued contributors in whom the organization is willing to invest.
  • Individuals committed to establishing a strong coaching partnership and to demonstrating trust and candor.
  • Open-minded people willing to try new things that may be uncomfortable at first.

“Chemistry” is critical to a successful coaching relationship. This doesn’t mean that the coach’s job is to make the coachee feel comfortable. Far from it! But there must be trust and a certain amount of personal connection to support the client through the challenges. When I was an HR executive, I looked for coaching providers who offered a number of experienced coaches from diverse backgrounds. This helped ensure we could find the right match for our coaching participants.

Coaching is a process that usually involves goal setting and planning, followed by learning and practice. Based on information gleaned from leadership assessments, 360-degree feedback, and even client interviews, the coach and client partner up to develop a detailed coaching plan.

My clients and I typically schedule weekly 90-minute calls where new skills and concepts are introduced; problems and successes discussed; on-the-job practice is assigned for the week, and upcoming situations are strategized and role-played. Light reading may also be required.

I often follow up with subordinates, supervisors and other stakeholders to solicit feedback on their perceptions of my client’s growth and skill development. In some cases, I am invited to attend team meetings to observe and offer advice. I also feel it is important for the coach to make themselves available for ad hoc calls from the client when necessary. This is often needed to help the client think through a difficult situation or deal with a setback. Finally, a good coach leaves the client with final summations and recommendations for continued learning and growth.

I’ll close by sharing my own personal coaching philosophy:

  • Respect and protect client confidentiality, while encouraging the client to share openly about their leadership journey.
  • Enable clients to discover their own way forward by listening deeply and asking the right questions.
  • Focus on the whole person, not just the job they do.
  • Support clients in building strong and candid work relationships.
  • Build trust by ALWAYS putting the client first.
  • Take the work seriously, but don’t forget to laugh.

In conclusion, coaching, done well, really does work.