Executive coaching is a booming industry that many professionals gain immense value from—while others refuse to allow themselves or team members to use them.

Why coaching matters

The answer to the question ‘Who is your work coach?’ often reveals a lot about senior executives; including their views on skill versus development and their openness to take outside guidance and adapt. Many executives suggest that they don’t have time to have a coach, or that they’re performing well and don’t particularly need one.

The problem with modern coaching

Coaching is considered a dirty word in the minds of many executives. This is often because the concept of coaching is associated with low-performers or executives with ‘issues’ that need to be resolved. Executives with this association see accepting coaching as a sign that they are poor performers, have problems or need help. In a culture like Australia, with high masculinity and individuality (as identified by the Hoefstede Index), this seems like admitting an unacceptable weakness.

Further, the industry has been flooded with so-called coaches—individuals who have done a short course somewhere and have hung their shingle out as a coach. Unfortunately, their lack of depth, breadth or experience in real-world executive environments has led to bad experiences, which leaves a long-lasting negative impression about what coaching can offer.

Great coaching is something different

When we talk about performance, we talk about coaching. Consider every athlete at the Olympics. They are all high performers, but they each have a coach. The very top business people in the world, who seek and demand performance from themselves and others, have executive coaches.

Proper coaching is about providing an alternate view, to provide challenge where appropriate, to decode and fine-tune specific skills and enhance their general application. Great coaching helps high performers speed up their adaptation to circumstances. It is not only about remediation, but about expansion and growth of even the best performers in your organisation.

The errors an executive can make

Even high performers get caught out. They fall into habits of behaving and communicating in certain ways, becoming rigid around specific ideas and processes, creating limiting beliefs and misapplying skills that degrade performance outcomes.

Everyone makes cognitive errors, particularly as they get more comfortable (habits) or get thrown into uncertainty. They will often be slow to adapt to change,and often attempt to employ old skills in new and changing circumstances.

When executives go it alone there are a number of errors they’re likely to make that can dramatically impact upon performance—and that having a great coach can help you avoid.

The value a coach offers

A coach offers an executive a sounding board. They can help the executive test their approach, ensure that they have and are deploying appropriate skills in the circumstances. They can help an executive review the situation, give them alternate views and expand their information sources. The coach can spot when executives are getting stuck in habits that don’t offer the best outcomes, and can help them recast their approach.

The real value of a coach is to help executives adapt behaviours and skills and their application to specific and changing circumstances, to ensure that the highest performance outcome can be efficiently and effectively created by their inputs.

If you don’t have a coach

If you’re an executive without a coach, you could:

  • Consider your strengths and opportunities for development. Where are your blind spots?
  • Consider the things that block performance or frustrate you.
  • Define where and how a coach can assist you.
  • Select a coach that is properly matched to your needs. One that has experience at your particular level, or one that has experience in your field or industry can add additional value a through providing a strong external perspective based on their own experience.
  • Select a coach that you feel comfortable with—that suits your personal style and that you believe will offer you value.

So, as a senior executive, who is your coach?