Coaching at the Executive Level:
How to Coach the Coach
use only, not to be reproduced or used in any way without permission)
by Fred Friend
In our work with organizations to train leaders to be
effective coaches, we are almost always targeted to the first line supervision up through
middle management and at best senior managers. Typically, we have to address the issue of
"rolling up" this training to the executive and senior management levels. There
are some noteworthy exceptions, but many of our clients training departments are not
focusing on the senior levels for this type of training and support.
A survey of consultants and upper-level executives reported
in Training and Development magazine, found that 90% of executives resist coaching.
The reasons why fell into three categories:
||They did not feel comfortable
with their skills.
||They have too many demands on
their time and felt development was a low priority, or not even their job.
||They did not value the
development of others - "They should be able to figure things out for
|Our own experience,
and the experience of clients we interviewed, supports and amplifies these findings. Here
is a more detailed table of barriers and possible strategies to address them:
|Some perceived issues that act as
barriers to executives being coaches
||Some possible strategies to
address these issues.
senior managers are just too busy to spend time on development and coaching.
- These are competitive and successful people, their nature guides them to be successful
at those activities that are valued, and rewarded, by the organization.
- Development and coaching must be positioned as an important, if not critical, leadership
responsibility that is formally part of their own performance assessment.
- This will the most difficult issue to deal with unless the very top person is willing to
clearly, unequivocally, make it a leadership priority.
- Unless it is a clear expectation and priority it will not survive the competition for
their time and attention.
feedback is not wanted or needed by senior managers, so it is not critical to spend time
- Almost every executive and senior manager we have interviewed said that they DID want to
know if what they were doing was working. Again, these are competitive and successful
people and they want to know that they are on the right track.
- The feedback must clearly be positioned as an asset to the executive so they can make
their own self-corrections to be successful.
blind spots concerning their ability to coach others, or find it too revealing to admit to
a need in this area.
- You must find an objective, non-threatening way to assess their effectiveness.
- The most likely method is to survey their current and past direct reports, and current
and past supervisors about the leaders developmental contribution. To be successful,
these need to be objective and candid. Often they are most valuable when supported by a
skilled developmental resource person (coach-consultant) who can also interview the
respondents, then coach the executive in evaluating, interpreting and responding to the
- Another method would be critical incident analysis by a skilled interviewer, but
this depends upon a worthy incident existing that would be meaningful to re-visit and
highlight success / non-success factors.
- Leadership assessments instruments are another method to assess their interpersonal
dynamics, but these need to also show a connection between their "style" and
real-world results and often need a resource person to help interpret the results into
- Leadership assessment centers and scenarios are another approach. Again the key is to
produce insights that clearly translate to success in their real world environment.
senior managers dont want to attend formal training on coaching.
- One strategy for addressing this is to gird up and do battle on the issue of leadership
responsibility; of "walk-the-talk", "leading the way", and
"its got to start at the top!". Buenos Sortie, Don Quixote.
Sometimes it works, but usually the windmills win.
- Here is another approach. The senior levels need to experience this process because:
(1.) they need to know what to expect from the people who report to them (the ones they
think really need this training); (2.) it will also help lead the way if they role modeled
the process themselves; (3.) and, they may find it helps them be personally more
successful in certain leadership areas.
and senior managers, formal group training is too uncomfortable, perhaps unsafe, and takes
too big a chunk of time.
- Many of their concerns can be dispelled by giving them a pre-training briefing on the
workshop process and content. By discussing what the training does and does-not do and
answering their questions so they feel informed (senior levels hate feeling
"unknowing"), you increase the chances of them actively enrolling.
- An alternative to formal workshop training is assigning them a resource person for
one-on-one coaching and support to learn this process. We, and some of our clients, have
had good success with this option - especially where the senior person is not likely to
attend formal training.
|A lot of what
senior managers do (use of intuition, dealing with ambiguity, etc.) is hard to capture via
formal performance appraisals so developmental coaching doesnt happen.
- The production and financial records information systems usually generate adequate
"bottom line" information to assess the actual results. The nature of their
work, (often unstructured, uncertain, and ill-defined) means they can usually benefit most
from feedback and coaching on their leadership process and behaviors they use to produce
- In a classic study by the Center for Creative Leadership, four enduring themes for why
executives derail reoccurred over time and across countries: (1.) they have problems with
interpersonal relationships; (2.) they fail to meet business objectives; (3.) they fail to
build and lead a team; and, (4.) their inability to change or adapt during a transition.
In the Center for Creative Leadership study, three out of
four of these reasons for derailment deal with leadership style and personal behavior, not
with making their numbers.
Okay, making the numbers is a critical priority in any organization. But relying solely
on these numbers to evaluate executive success is ignoring the rich developmental
opportunities for communicating, team building, mentoring, coaching, visioning and leading
change. As one of our executive clients said, "results evaluation is easy; its
also a cop-out".
Jack Welch, CEO of General Electric, perhaps one of the most numbers driven CEOs of the
decade, is quoted in Built to Last as recognizing the need for balance
between numbers and values. "People who make the numbers and share our values go
onward and upward. People who miss the numbers and share our values get a second chance.
People with no values and no numbers - easy call. The problem is with those who make the
numbers but dont share the values . . . we agonize over these people."
Coaching is a critical processes to address this need for balance.
Development and coaching are critical leadership skills that can easily take a back
seat to "making the numbers" unless a conscious effort is made to position them
as a priority. It is needed and beneficial and achievable if you will adjust your strategy
to address the particular barriers at the senior levels.
There are several key factors that need to be addressed to get more coaching at the
senior levels. The strategy and approaches for making this happen must be adjusted to
their specific concerns.
The approach taken must use a proven, successful process that focuses real-world
One-on-one coaching and support is a valuable alternative to formal training at the
senior levels if you have skilled, experienced, resource people.