In today’s complex and fast-changing business world, more and more corporates are turning to executive coaching to assist leaders to improve their performance through greater self-awareness and developing personal insight. Coaching has been described as one of the fastest growth industries in the US, and in SA, most JSE-listed companies have employed the services of a professional coach. Can all executives benefit from coaching? Or are there times when it should be avoided?

 

A survey we conducted recently among the human resources directors of 40 JSE-listed companies, revealed that 75% regularly make use of executive coaches. Of these, 88% believe coaching has a significant impact on improving executive performance.

 

Coaching is a great opportunity for executives to become more self-aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and learn how they can remove barriers to better performance. Coaches can provide support through difficult change, particularly at the start of a new job or when an executive has been promoted, or if there have been changes in an individual’s personal circumstances which may be impacting their work life. A good coach will be well versed in psychology, and will refer someone to a counsellor or therapist if necessary.

 

It is important to note that executive coaching is not a cure-all solution to core behaviour and performance problems, however. It won’t solve what are essentially management issues. What should be an internal conversation around underperformance can’t just be passed off to a coach in the hope that the ‘expert’ will fix the problem. Your executives should also be ‘coachable’ and willing to work with an outsider – the process could bring up emotional issues that they may not feel ready to deal with. Bear in mind that coaching could have unintended consequences – the process may be so life-changing for some executives that they decide to leave the company to pursue a completely different career! This can and does happen.

 

Coaches seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but not all have the same level of expertise. What makes a good executive coach? Our survey revealed that companies generally look for the following:

  • Recognised professional qualifications
  • The ability to demonstrate a successful career, and a track record of helping executives improve their performance and general level of well-being
  • The ability to demonstrate successful home and work life balance
  • The ability to build trust quickly and create an environment of honesty
  • An understanding of own self-awareness and emotional intelligence
  • Exceptional listening and feedback skills
  • The ability to maintain confidentiality
  • Recommendations from other corporates

 

When considering which coach to hire, it is a good idea to invest in the best. Executives can be scary people, so you need a coach who is robust, observant, an excellent listener, and able to provide the necessary feedback and support. And start at the top with the CEO, as this will foster a culture of self-awareness throughout the organisation. Lastly, remember that executive coaching is not a life-time relationship. It is an intervention which, if done correctly and under the appropriate circumstances, can be of immense value to any organisation.

Leon Ayo

Leon Ayo is the Chief Executive Officer of Odgers Berndtson, Sub-Saharan Africa. He has consulted and led teams across four continents. He lectures & advises on Leadership, High-Performance Culture...

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