Why Executive Coaching Works

 By Carl Robinson, Ph.D.

Failure rates for senior executives have been pegged at up to 33 percent. More recent research shows that executives who are rated high on Interpersonal Effectiveness (Emotional Intelligence) outperform low rated executives by 15 – 20% on yearly revenue targets. In this fast paced highly competitive business environment the value of capitalizing on that kind of edge is obvious. Executive coaching is "the" method to provide enduring results for executives who want to play at the top of their game.

Coaching provides the right training needs (individually tailored) at the right time for extremely busy executives working in this fast-paced business environment characterized as “permanent whitewater.” What does it take to build an effective executive coaching process? The following key elements:

  • Assessment
  • Debriefing (feedback)
  • Action Planning
  • Action
  • Reassessment/Refinement

The essential first step of any executive coaching process is the assessment phase. It’s impossible to develop a top-notch coaching plan for anyone without first assessing who they are and what they need. The assessment phase generally consists of three components:

  1. An in-depth assessment interview
  2. Conduct developmental feedback interviews with key stakeholders
  3. Sophisticated leadership personality assessment using well-validated personality tools

A first rate executive assessment can help any executive more objectively identify his/her own leadership strengths and weaknesses so that they can create a customized development process for him/herself. The same process can be used to help a management team work better together by understanding more clearly how to work more effectively with their differing personalities, etc. The components of the assessment process are:

An in-depth assessment interview by a trained professional (e.g., consulting psychologist) will help clarify strengths to build upon and uncover hidden roadblocks from early and more recent learning experiences that often derail an executive. Humans, no matter how much they want to grow often run up against barriers to personal change to which they may be oblivious, but are all too well seen by others. Detecting and understanding roadblocks is the first step to developing new more effective skills.

Developmental feedback from key stakeholders:  It’s imperative to solicit input from peers, direct reports and other trusted stakeholders that is then collated and analyzed by an objective third-party (coach) who protects the confidentiality of the raters. Without the guarantee of anonymity – people rarely give honest answers.  The feedback helps discover any disconnects between self-perception and the perception of others (our blind spots) and zero in on important areas for development.

Leadership Personality Assessment tools are used to identify and compare an executive’s leadership personality profile to validated personality traits of effective executives. Typical well-validated assessment tools used by consulting business psychologists include: ASSESS, 16PF, Firo-B, Myers Briggs, etc. Using these tools will help the executive identify and understand more objectively their strengths and weaknesses so that they can capitalize on the strengths and develop the weaker points. Understanding your basic underlying personality can help you know what you can improve and what you need to work around. 

The Second Step: Debriefing

The debriefing by the executive coach is both a continuation of the assessment phase and the preliminary ground laying for action planning. The debriefing is a two-way process where the executive interacts with the coach regarding the results of the assessment process. Often, the reactions of the executive e.g., defensiveness, denials, embellishments, etc., provide further data for developing action plans and for use by the coach to help motivate an executive to stretch and grow.

With the additional data gathered during the debriefing you are ready to proceed to the next step of Executive Coaching: Action planning and behavior change - Putting knowledge into action to achieve enduring results not possible through the classic cookie cutter weekend workshop or university post-graduate course.

Third Step: Action Planning

After the executive and coach come to an agreement on what developmental needs take priority (identifying which are truly achievable and most important) the executive develops an action plan. The coach helps the executive understand the benefits to change and the consequences if he/she doesn’t. This then becomes a powerful motivational tool.

Then they look for real-time situations where the executive can practice new behavior that he/she has learned through the coaching process. A time frame for completion of specific tasks is developed (without firm dates for completion people tend to put off practicing difficult new behaviors), and implementation begins. The action plan becomes the tool to compare what is wished for to what is achieved. When I am asked “how will I know if I changing,” I tell the candidate to refer to the action plan.  Are you meeting your objectives?

Fourth: Act

Now the executive practices his/her newly learned or refined skills keeping track of the results: successes, failures and resistances and any other factors that might derail the development process. The executive then meets periodically with the coach to reassess and refine the developmental process.

Fifth: Reassess/Refinement:

Reporting back to the coach and reviewing his/her progress is the next phase. Reassessment and refinement then becomes an ongoing process between the executive and the coach to help refine their stroke, so to speak. Hence the analogy with sports coaching. The golf pro, for example, assesses the golfer’s swing, gives the golfer some advice, sends the golfer out to play a few rounds then comes back in for tuning up. Once the executive is satisfied with the results and her/his individual progress the coaching process is put on hold until needed again when the executive want to advance her/his game some more.

When striving for personal excellence, a continuous development process becomes a part of daily living for high-performing executives, just as it is for professional athletes. A first class executive coaching process can help you accelerate your professional development.