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‘Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.’ – Sir John Whitmore.
An Executive Coach is a professional who specialises in enhancing performance specifically in the workplace. In this respect they are different from life coaches who tend to look at all aspects of your life. They often work with teams to help them work more effectively together or on a one-to-one basis with senior individuals. Coaching has its roots in sports and takes many of its core concepts from enhancing performance and awareness in elite sports people. As a buyer of coaching it is worth thinking about whether you want to enhance the performance of a single player (think athletics) or a whole team (like in football). Most Executive Coaches can work with both but being clear on your own objectives in engaging a coach will strongly predict whether it is successful.
On a one-to-one basis, a coach can be a critical friend.
They provide an external, objective view and, because they have worked with several people who face similar issues to you in other organisations, they can help give a wider context to the issues you face and to your ongoing development. They can offer a non-judgmental and safe place to discuss your role, your aspirations, your vulnerabilities and help to strengthen your confidence even in situations where you have previously doubted yourself.
Some people engage a Coach for a single issue – a specific difficult relationship with a team member or a big change they are needing to make in the workplace. For this they may engage a coach for one or two sessions and assess progress as they go. Most coaching relationships though, run over a period of 6 months or so. This gives you and the Coach an opportunity to put a longer-term plan in place to help you sustain progress over a period of time. At the end of a coaching relationship you will have a much clearer sense of what you are like at your best and how you can be this more of the time. You will have a plan of how to move forward and the skills, confidence and motivation to make things happen. The mindset change that occurs with coaching often stays with us for life.
If a coach works with the whole team, they will be focused on what a great outcome for you as a team would be. They will tend to help facilitate communication amongst team members and give you frameworks for understanding your individual differences and how to combine your unique approaches and skills so that the team as a whole is at peak performance.
To get the most from Team Development, it helps if every member of the team is keen to take part rather than attending grudgingly. A good coach will work with you to help you talk about the event beforehand in a positive and engaging way and to get everyone “on board”.
Coaches tend to engage you in a more open-ended process than mentors or professional advisors. Mentors tend to have “done your job before” so they are able to give you the benefit of their experience. Professional advisors will bring expertise from their industry and apply it to provide you with applicable solutions for you. Coaches, rather than providing the solutions, will work with you to explore options and potential solutions. They work from the assumption that you have the skill to find the best solution yourself. By asking questions that allow you to challenge your assumptions and explore new ways of thinking; by providing you with feedback on your blind spots; by listening carefully to what you have to say; they are able to help you discover answers for yourself and, in so doing, you will build the confidence that you are able to solve your own problems long term.
A professional Coach will start with a session that discusses ways of working so that you are in control of how they work with you. You should outline what you want from the coach and, importantly, what you don’t want. You should establish boundaries about what you will discuss. Whilst some coaches are also psychologists and therapists, that should not be their remit as an Executive Coach. Ground rules are key at the start so that you can refer back to them if needed. Think of it as your “verbal contract” with them.
Once you have established trust with your Coach, you will get the most from coaching by being as open and honest as you feel able to be. A willingness to step outside of your comfort zone and see things from new and different perspectives will greatly enhance your experience and the potential rewards on offer.
Being coached is not always a comfortable process. A good coach knows that change is not easy and should support you with appropriate levels of support and challenge. “As I tell my clients – I will sometimes give you tough messages but I am always absolutely on your side!”
If you feel they are not giving you what you need or are straying into territory that you don’t want to discuss – tell them directly. If you have established clear ground rules this should be easier. A good coach will listen carefully to your concerns and adapt accordingly.
The fees you might expect to pay for a coach will vary according to their experience, professional qualifications and good old demand and supply. Busy coaches tend to be the best coaches but they have less availability and, therefore, can charge more. Some will offer packages whilst others will charge on a session by session basis. As a rule of thumb expect to pay somewhere between 500 and 1800 per session for a qualified, professional coach. It is always worth asking if they offer discounts to the Caring Professions as many do.
Word of mouth is the best way to start looking. Reputation is the best indicator as it says a lot not just about the results they create but the relationship they build with their clients. However, if you are starting from scratch the professional organisations such as ICF and EMMC are a good place to start or consult your local list of Chartered Psychologists who specialise in Business/ Executive Coaching.
Once you have a few names a good coach would expect you to meet with two or three coaches for an initial session or “chemistry conversation” so that you can decide who you feel you click with best. This should be free. Ask lots of questions about their approach during this session – remember you are interviewing them not the other way around.
In most instances it is helpful for coaching to be fully supported by, and integrated into, your day-to-day work. The full support of at least one “sponsor” helps the integration of your development. Ideally this would be your manager as they can help to refine and develop the coaching objectives and scope and can support you and give you feedback “on the job”.
If your coaching will directly impact how effectively you do your job then there is a strong case to say that your organisation should pay for the coaching. This may require you to prepare some arguments to present to your HR contact or manager to explain what you want from the coaching and how you think the organisation will benefit from their investment. If, however, the requirement is personal and only loosely tied to your performance at work, you will probably need to self-fund or share the cost with your organisation. Some coaches will charge less if they know that you are self-funding so do ask!
Best of luck – being coached can be a self-affirming, confidence-building and even life-changing process if you choose the right coach and enter with a positive, open mindset. Enjoy it…
Nicola Lincoln has been an Executive Coach and Leadership Development Consultant for over 20 years. She is a Chartered Psychologist with a PhD in Organisational Behaviour and believes that the best way to operate in a complex world is with a practical and uncomplicated attitude.
She works globally with CEOs; Directors and Senior Managers as well as with Graduates and High-Potential Managers in a number of industries and functions. Her approach to her work is based around her core values of simplicity; honesty; and unconditional support.