Should you get an executive coach or not? “Well, we don’t have enough money in the budget to do executive coaching, so perhaps a training program may work” I heard an HR colleague say recently. Executive coaching is a significant investment for organizations relative to other options to grow leaders. Organizations also offer less costly mentoring, training, and leadership programs. When is the right time to invest in executive coaching for yourself or someone on your team, and when will training or mentoring be enough?
Here are eight questions I advise my clients to ask themselves to decide whether executive coaching is the right option:
Is the leader someone who is considered high potential or in a high-impact role? Generally, organizations offer executive coaching selectively at the director, VP-level and above. As individuals get promoted to executive levels, developmental feedback becomes even more important, more infrequent, and less reliable. After all, who wants to tell the emperor they have no clothes? An executive coach can provide much needed truth-telling and impartial perspective that has no agenda other than the growth of the leader to fulfill their mission in the organization.
Does the leader need customized development? Executive coaching offers the opportunity to work one-on-one on issues that are unique to a leader. Each leader has a different set of growth opportunities that will make them more effective in their role. The one-on-one conversations allow for deeper discovery of unique strengths and derailers and development customized to the leader.
Is the leader coachable? At higher levels in organizations, leaders are often stretched for time. They may have a hard time being vulnerable or open to developmental feedback. It’s important to have the conversation with the leader about whether they are willing to be coachable before making the investment in an executive coach.
Does the development need require a sustained change in behaviors? Executive coaching is highly recommended when sustained behavior change is required. Sustained behavior change requires a shift in self-awareness, taking responsibility for your impact as a leader (vs. blaming others), experimentation with new leadership behaviors, and eventually the creation of new neural pathways in the brain that create new leadership habits and different results. This process takes time. A skills-based training course or mentoring does not offer the deeper self-awareness or accountability that a coaching engagement can.
Is the leader’s environment changing significantly to require a step-change in leadership? When there is significant organizational change (restructuring, merger or acquisition, significant market changes or competitive threats, significant changes in peers or manager), the leader can benefit from coaching. They need to step back and reflect on what success looks like in this new environment, and discover the key stakeholders they need to connect with, learn from, and influence. Coaching helps them become self-aware about both the strengths they will bring to being successful in this new environment as well as what can derail them. It also helps them develop new skill sets required and become more agile to change.
Is the leader going through or being prepared for a significant change in responsibilities? Coaching can be helpful if there is a significant shift in responsibilities (people, budget, geographic scope etc.) where new competencies need to be developed. Often, the greater the scope of a leader’s responsibility, the greater the complexity of stakeholders that need to be managed. Strong vision setting, alignment of people and resources, listening, delegating and influencing skills are required.
Is the leader new to the organization or function? Failure to anticipate and adapt to a new culture is the number one reason why otherwise smart leaders derail in new roles. Executive coaching is useful when leaders are going through a stretching transition to a different organization or function. In this case, coaching can help them create a systematic plan to assimilate to the different culture, people, and context they will need to lead in. Often these leaders are brought in to create change in organizations. They may need to develop new skill sets in listening and influencing, or become mindful to the pace of change the organization can absorb.
Is the leader at risk of derailing? Sometimes otherwise high-performing leaders can be at risk of derailing because of a change in their personal circumstances or the business context. In this situation, this leader may not even accept the fact that they are failing because they are used to being a high performer. They may have been given feedback but have been unable to change their behaviors. Executive coaching can help the leader gain self-awareness of their derailers in a new context. It can help them to take responsibility, manage their stress behaviors, or as a last resort, make and own their choice to leave the organization. The leader’s act of taking responsibility from a place of self-awareness can ultimately be useful to the organization and the individual leader.