Leadership and executive coaching has become increasingly popular over the past two decades, largely because it’s the most effective form of professional development for people in leadership positions. Unlike off-site training programs and workshops, leadership coaching is highly customized because it focuses on improving your leadership impact and effectiveness in addressing specific challenges and opportunities within your current work environment. Furthermore, coaching occurs on a ongoing basis, usually twice a month, until you achieve your specific goals. This embedded approach allows you to incorporate new behavior, perspectives and insights from coaching over time and adjust coaching goals as you evolve and your needs change.
Increasingly, progressive employers realize that leadership coaching also has several organizational advantages when it comes to attracting, promoting and retaining talent. Employers often use the offer of coaching as an incentive for potential hires. In a number of organizations, coaching is also seen as an valuable approach for successful onboarding of new hires and helping those recently promoted to adjust to increased responsibilities and new roles. Likewise, providing coaching to people in leadership positions also serves as an important perk that increases the retention of good talent. And finally, leadership coaching lets a client share and sort through challenges and opportunities in a confidential setting, allowing for earlier and better responses to both.
For these reasons, many employers will pay for and even encourage coaching of people in leadership positions. Sometimes coaching is used to address a shortcoming or gap in skills, perspective or behavior. More often coaching is used to help people who are already high-functioning leaders to further improve their leadership impact and effectiveness. Some organizations, notably those in public sector and K-college education, have yet to value leadership coaching and are unwilling to pay for it. Fortunately, for those who work in such organizations, coaching, like job-related education, can be a tax deductible non-reimbursed employee expense.
The actual process of leadership coaching involves regular sessions with a coach, in-person or by phone call, usually twice a month. Individual sessions are aimed at discussing how to move forward on a client’s goals and always conclude with an agreement as to the client’s next steps. The following session begins with a review of how the next steps worked out, and then discussion leading to another set of next steps. In this way, the regular sessions help provide the client with a framework of accountability for continuing to move ahead to achieve specific goals.
Organizations that are supportive of leadership coaching often encourage or even require a coaching client to engage in a 360 assessment to establish pragmatic goals for coaching. This assessment is usually based on 10-14 interviews with a client’s direct reports, peers, boss(es), and board members. The interviews focus on what the client does well and what two or three things the client could do to improve his or her leadership effectiveness and impact. A report summarizing the results highlights a client’s strengths and identifies developmental opportunities for the client to work on in coaching
The specific topics addressed in leadership coaching tend to fall into two categories: challenges and opportunities. While leadership coaching initially began as a problem-solving form of counseling, over time it has evolved to a have much more positive framing, focusing on leveraging a client’s strengths to work on developmental opportunities.
If you are thinking about looking for a leadership coach, make sure to find out first whether your organization will pay for a coach and if so, on what terms. Some organizations used pre-approved lists of coaches, while others will let you find a coach on our own but will likely want to review your choice. There are also situations where workplace politics or conflict might make paying for your own leadership coach the wiser option. If you do decide to have your organization pay for a leadership coach, make sure that you make the decision about which coach to choose.
Finally, you want to invest time and effort in finding and vetting an appropriate leadership coach. Most coaches are also concerned about finding clients who are good match for them, and usually offer a complimentary session so that both parties can assess if the fit seems like a good one. And if you end up with a coach you find especially helpful, be sure to recommend this coach to your friends and colleagues.