By Noel Brady (United Kingdom)
Today executive coaching is widely used by a broad spectrum of businesses across the world. Many of the original concepts came from the field of sports coaching aimed at improving individual and team performance. Good sports coaching focuses as much on mindset as on technique and peak physical fitness. Sports coaches such as Timothy Gallway started to focus on the corporate sector from the early 80’s in order to help business executives develop the mindset of a peak performer.
In the past coaching has often been used in a remedial way to help executives that are failing. Today, coaching is usually used when business leaders transition into a new role or face a new challenge. It can help leaders quickly develop the right mindset and behaviours to ensure success. A good coach creates an environment for their client to deepen self-awareness, stretch thinking and form sustainable breakthroughs in work performance for themselves and their teams. Although there is general consensus that good executive coaching can really accelerate personal growth and performance, it is not uncommon for the board to question whether this type of investment actually delivers worthwhile results. Unfortunately, this is because sometimes coaching just doesn’t deliver what’s promised or expected. Here are some of the very common causal factors:
The coach is just not suitable for the organisation or the executive’s needs. All too often coaches are chosen following a chemistry session because “I liked them”. I make no apology for saying that this is simply not good enough. Executive coaches should be selected more objectively, using criteria such as – fit with the organisation; breadth of coaching skills; business experience; credibility; quality of references, track record of results etc. Chemistry is important, but should not be the primary deciding factor. Only once in 12 years of coaching has anyone actually checked my references. My advice is to set and demand high standards in both selection and outcomes of coaching.
The client has six or seven great conversations, but by the end of the programme there is little or no real evidence of change. Who wouldn’t enjoy talking at length about themselves to an attentive listener? It’s really important that the client has a clear vision of the change they seek, are fully bought into it and commit to take the often uncomfortable actions required to achieve change. Holding oneself accountable and being able to measure progress is very important. The role of the coach is to question, observe and feedback evidence of change (or lack of it) and challenge any limiting beliefs or blockages that are getting in the way. Change is hard and it takes courage and determination on behalf of both client and coach.
A coaching programme undertaken in isolation of any organisational input can sometimes work well, but often the client can find their organisation is resistant or indifferent to the behavioural changes they have worked hard to make. This can be frustrating and demotivating causing the client to revert back to type. The best practice is to create a defined coaching process and to introduce an internal coaching sponsor, who will agree tangible outcomes at the start and also be available to provide support and challenge acting as the organisational representative.
The Emerging Future
Having been involved in corporate, team and individual change for 20 years, I believe that we are now starting to see a revolution in the approach to executive development. We are learning the inner detail of how the brain actually works and this is being put to good use in coaching. Some of the important developments in executive coaching that we will see in 2016 and beyond are:
Neuroscience tells us the brain is made up of arrays of brain cells interconnected by synapses through which electrical signals transverse. This structure has a plastic like quality with new interconnections being made and degraded all the time. By taking advantage of this knowledge we can accelerate positive changes in unconscious habits of thinking, feeling and behaving. Consciously engaging areas of the brain that develop to support our behavioural goals in a focused way is now becoming possible.
Although there is a lot of hype about mindfulness, it does prove the benefits in helping to bring attention to our thoughts giving us back the ability to make conscious choices and not be controlled by past experiences that have been imprinted into our unconscious mind. The Search Inside Yourself leadership initiative at Google was a great corporate example of using the latest understanding of neuroscience combined with mindfulness to positively change employee behaviours. Google’s aspirations were to encourage the growth of emotional intelligence abilities in their engineers and the development of a habit mindfulness to allow them to notice their old conditioned patterns of thinking and move into more choiceful, empathetic behaviours when interacting with colleagues.
Innovation and Creativity
The latest research and understanding of how the creative process of the brain works is being incorporated into the executive development and leadership programmes of our most prestigious universities. We are also now starting to see how the illusive process of innovation and creativity can be encouraged in individuals and teams. Leading academics such as Dr Otto Scharmer, a senior lecturer at MIT, are doing pioneering work in this field. Scharmer’s work on learning from the ‘emerging future’ is helping executives and organisations transform in exciting ways.
Meaning and Purpose
In the modern business world work has changed more rapidly in the last 10 years than in the previous thousand. Technology and globalisation have dramatically increased the round the clock demands on the human brain and body. Work is often highly stressful, relentless and unfulfilling. Today, however, the millennium generation is seeking more meaning and purpose to life in both work and play. Increasingly, executives want to explore and surface their deep internal motivations and higher purpose within a coaching conversation so that they can achieve greater fulfilment and enjoyment at work. The accumulation of wealth and power is rarely found to be truly motivating. Rather, finding alignment between personal, business and global motivations can be personally rewarding on many levels.
About Noel Brady
Noel Brady is the Managing Director of Inside Out®, a global executive coaching firm established in 1991 that works with senior executives in many leading companies across the world.