Why work with an executive coach?

It’s an easy enough decision to decide to hire a coach. What’s more of a conundrum is what type of coach would work best for you and for your set of particular business needs.

Coaching has been a business buzzword for some time. In its widest possible definition, it covers a range of approaches, disciplines and methodologies all carried out in an industry that’s loosely regulated.

‘Clean’ coaching

At one end of the spectrum there is ‘clean’ coaching – this is the practice in its purest form. There is a fundamental belief that you, the coachee, hold all the answers to your situation and your challenges. Here, your coach will work on the principle of ‘holding a mirror up to Nature’ or, in this case, the nature of the individual being coached.

The characteristics of a clean coaching session can be seen as:

  • Intense active listening on the part of the coach.
  • The coach has no agenda and is never judgmental.
  • There is ‘space’ and long pauses for the coachee to work through their issues.
  • The coach will ask open questions and will (with permission) challenge some of the beliefs that the coachee holds that may be holding them back.
  • The coach is never directive and, on principle, never makes suggestions or recommendations.
  • Each session will have a ‘shape’ to it and, typically, at the end of the session the coachee will have moved forward and will be focused on various action points that they have committed to work on before seeing the coach again.

This form of coaching can be both extremely powerful and valuable. In some cases, however, the coachee can start to find the process a little frustrating. They’re looking for more input from their coach and it may never be forthcoming. A comment often heard from prospective clients is: ‘I‘ve had coaching before but we reached a point where we didn’t seem to be going anywhere so it fizzled out’.

Mentoring vs coaching

If clean coaching is at one end, then at the other end of the spectrum sits the highly experienced coach who may have in-depth knowledge of the coachee’s industry and business. This has its place, and it can be very valuable to have time with someone who has ‘been there and done that’. However, while many business people have very valuable personal experience, there can be a danger that an inexperienced mentor cannot resist the temptation to ‘download’ all of it to their client at once!

In a ‘mentoring’ approach, even if well-managed, the balance shifts in the direction of giving advice and offering solutions, with the mentor doing much of the talking. In coaching, the balance should be 80:20 in favour of the coachee.

Shifting your mindset

Why is it often best to refrain from immediately offering advice and solutions? However valuable the advice from the coach may be, it is not owned by the coachee. They may understand it at an intellectual level but if there hasn’t been a shift in mindset, their behaviour won’t change in the long term. They will simply ‘ping’ back to old habits because these are the hardest to get rid of.

Let’s look at an example of assertive behaviour: a client comes to me and wants to change his attitude towards his team. He needs to understand at a basic level that’s it not acceptable to shout at his team or use passive-aggressive sarcastic language. A coach won’t get results by ‘telling’ him what to do or how to behave, and the coachee needs to realise that he has to work at it himself, so he doesn’t revert to old behaviours when under pressure.

When I first started coaching, I followed the practice of clean coaching – a good place to start, as you refrain from handing out advice. The more experience I’ve gained, the more I can gauge when it’s appropriate to stop and make a suggestion. I will usually preface this with ‘Would you like me to make a suggestion?’ Coaching is frequently about asking permission – to make a suggestion, to challenge or similar.

The Leaders Lab approach

Leaders Lab offers a range of executive coaching and mentoring programmes for the professional community. We appreciate fully that different circumstances require different approaches. Our experience, gained over several years, means that we tailor our approach to offer you the best solution for your needs.

For instance, at CEO level, Mentoring could be the most effective approach, offering that ‘safe space’ for someone very senior to work through problems they are finding really challenging.

Our Manager Turnaround Package is tailored to the needs of the individual manager. It is based on coaching principles but also delivers specific models that a manager needs to know and use in order to be personally effective, or to have a high-performing team. Here, we look among other things at how to give feedback effectively, how to deal with difficult team members and how to manage ‘upwards’.

The Laser Coaching Programme is designed for specific issues. It is ideal for confronting topics such as effective time management, making presentations and becoming more assertive.

If you would like to find out more about what Leaders Lab can offer, contact us at info@leaderslab.co.uk.