Reflections on Executive Coaching

I’m often asked about the areas that executive coaches, such as myself, look at when working with individuals in senior-level positions or on accelerated tracks. The list is long and includes leadership and management skills, interpersonal skills, executive presence, speaking and presentation skills, trust, and, an area to which I attach great significance, emotional intelligence (EI).

Recently, I analyzed my coaching assignments over the past seven years, and the results are interesting:

  • 69% of the coachees were male; 31% female
  • 9% didn’t require coaching in any competencies or behaviors. Instead, these highly competent leaders, all of whom were either CEOs or division presidents, used the coaching time with me as a safe sounding board in discussing complex management or people issues.
  • The percentage of individuals who needed some level of coaching in a specific area broke down as follows:

Management skills – 63%
Emotional intelligence – 60%
Leadership skills – 46%
Interpersonal skills – 29%
Trust – 17%

  • Some individuals needed coaching in one or two of these areas; others required more. The average was 2.5 areas per coachee.
  • Three leaders required coaching in all five areas. In each of these cases, I chose to curtail the assignment. There were too many fundamentals that were out of line to make the significant behavioral changes and competency improvements required for a successful outcome.

It’s not surprising that “management skills” ranked on top since the area encompasses such a broad spectrum of daily operational activities: delegation, participative management, decision-making, managing time and priorities, use of resources, etc. Performance management is also included in the mix, e.g. clarity of goal setting and expectations; actions around reporting and accountability; content and follow-up for one-on-one meetings; the skills in providing feedback and coaching.

Second, and nearly tied on the list, is emotional intelligence (EI). Dr. Daniel Goleman (Working with Emotional Intelligence) regards EI as a “major driver of outstanding performance” and points to self-awareness as the “keystone” for successful leadership.

What is self-awareness? It’s the ability to recognize and understand your emotions and moods, and how they, together with words, actions and behaviors, impact others. Leaders with high emotional quotients (EQ), the measure of EI, know how to exert self-control (stop and think!) and position their messaging with the empathy that ensures the other party will be receptive. They also have the accompanying social skills that help them build relationships, communicate effectively and diffuse conflict.

Of course, the process starts by finding the underlying issues that are causing the dysfunction. For example, micro-managing, the lack of consultative decision-making, low EQ. In my experience, once identified by the coach and successfully addressed by the coachee, many of the related issues begin to diminish.

The result, at its best, is significantly improved management. Direct reports are singularly focused, the team is functioning more effectively as a team, and relationships with peers are enhanced. The other major outcome is psychological safety—an environment where direct reports know they can challenge, speak freely and raise questions without fear of retribution or retaliation. It’s a satisfying moment for an executive coach when that happens.

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