An executive coaching programme can benefit almost any member of staff, from the most junior of managers, to CEOs of multi-national, highly complex organisations. And, contrary to popular belief, it is sometimes the most senior of managers who can benefit most from coaching.
The more senior a manager becomes, the less feedback they are likely to encounter from within their organisation. This lack of feedback and constructive criticism can lead to blind-spots, and it often takes some external input for these problem areas to be recognised and acted upon.
However, although senior managers often have the most to gain from executive coaching, they are seldom the easiest clients to coach. Much of this is due to the fact that the more nuanced, less tangible, softer skills which are often required at a more senior level, are far more complex to coach. And the fact that senior managers have already proved themselves, by virtue of the positions they hold, means that they take much more convincing.
We’ve helped many C-Suite executives improve their performance and increase the output of their teams. Having refined our approach over many years, we have compiled the following key tips to guide coaches tasked with enhancing the performance of senior managers.
1 – Establish credibility – To influence a senior leader effectively, coaches need to have credibility, established through their own experiences and a demonstrable track record of high performance. Only once this credibility is established can a coach hope to become the trusted advisor that they need to be. You cannot hope to persuade a senior manager to change their behaviour and attitudes, unless you can demonstrate a certain degree of empathy towards their position.
2 – Let the client set the agenda – When time is of the essence, and it always is with senior personnel, it must be used valuably. The coach should address the areas of most importance to the client but seek a solid commitment to agreed actions.
3 – Address the whole person – It can be a mistake to believe coaching to be exclusively business related. Issues going on elsewhere in a client’s life can have a material and fundamental bearing on their attitude or performance ability at work.
4 – Understand what can be changed, and what can’t – It is often impossible to change someone’s core leadership style. But you do have to understand what you CAN change to broaden their style so they can apply it to different situations. For instance, a facilitative approach can be more useful in a creative environment, whereas a more directive style can often be more helpful in operational situations.
5 – Set the pace of change – Senior executives can be impatient and they can often want to implement their new ‘style’ far too early. This can lead to a bad experience, where they will never try it again and resort to their old methods of operation. The key is to practice adding range to their style, first through role play and then in a safe, controlled environment. As they reinforce their new behaviours in increasingly difficult environments, their confidence in the approach will build, until it naturally becomes part of their core style.
By taking these points into account, coaches can quickly build a bond of mutual respect and openness with their clients. The approach will enable executives to make significant and, most importantly, sustained changes to the way they lead and manage their departments, functions or business units.
Of course, there will always be senior executives who are ‘uncoachable’, where the coach needs to improvise through the use of organisational design and complementary leaders… But that’s for another post entirely.