Executive Coaching: A Profession of Transformational Outcomes: Part 1

By Rick Forbus, Ph.D.

Even though the profession of executive coaching has been around for several decades now, I still find it hard, at times, to explain what it really is to the interested inquirer. Some who have not experienced coaching and only heard someone share their understanding of it can be unclear of the power of executive coaching.

It is not a criticism for those who do not understand the power and practicality of coaching, however, because I had the same lack of understanding. As a matter of fact, until I had a coach did the clarity begin for me. So, these unclear perceptions led me to write about coaching.

Coaching, in the business and organizational sense, can be expressed in several distinct ways. Some of the subtleties of expression could be described as:

  1. Executive CoachingTutor
  2. Alliance partner
  3. Advisor
  4. Teacher
  5. Trainer
  6. Guide
  7. Instructor
  8. Observer
  9. Assessor
  10. Listener
  11. Consultant
  12. Co-strategist
  13. Accountability partner
  14. Counselor
  15. Career collaborator

At Trove, Inc., there are even nuances of delivery within a coaching session, depending on project outcomes and the professional or personal goals in play. Sometimes, although it is always coaching, the delivery mechanism for a coach could be more therapeutic and at other times leaning more towards counseling. In other scenarios it seems like consulting and other times more advisory. The bundle of delivery styles best defines executive coaching in the paradigm in which the Trove Team functions. When the session leads to concerns that need a therapist, financial advisor or counselor, for instance, then we refer them to these professionals.

As a leader or manager begins to set goals and the coaching conversations open up in honest and transparent avenues, a determination is made, usually in the moment, where this conversation needs to go and which of the methods of delivery are used. The list of expressions above also are considered, because a company or individual may engage our services initially because of a reason they see as crucial, yet, within the coaching journey discoveries are made that need attention immediately. Actually, that is the exciting part of coaching to me. Sometimes it feels like the client and I just jumped out of an aircraft without a parachute. We do not know how this is going to land, but it really seems fun and exhilarating at the moment. Major breakthroughs seem to happen in these times. Total life-shifts have occurred outside of the predetermined professional development plan.

In an article in Harvard Business Review in 2005 by Paul Michelman entitled, “What an Executive Coach Can Do for You, we can gain some insight into the transformation of coaching in the last few years. He writes,“Is executive coaching at U.S. companies destined to play a role occupied by psychoanalysis in some Neil Simon version of Hollywood: a virtual prerequisite for anyone who aspires to be anyone?

It might seem that way at some organizations, at least to the untrained eye. IBM has more than sixty certified coaches among its ranks. Scores of other major companies have made coaching a core part of executive development. The belief is that, under the right circumstances, one-on-one interaction with an objective third party can provide a focus that other forms of organizational support simply cannot.

And, whereas coaching was once viewed by many as a tool to help correct under-performance, today it is becoming much more widely used in supporting top producers. In fact, in a 2004 survey by Right Management Consultants (Philadelphia), 86 % of companies said they used coaching to sharpen the skills of individuals who have been identified as future organizational leaders.”

I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process to draw out the skills or talent that was previously hidden within an individual, and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem previously thought unsolvable.          John Russell

Later in the Michelman article, he cites, “At an even more basic level, many executives simply benefit from receiving any feedback at all. ‘As individuals advance to the executive level, development feedback becomes increasingly important, more infrequent, and more unreliable,’ notes Anna Maravelas, a St. Paul, Minnesota-based executive coach and founder of TheraRising. As a result, she says, ‘Many executives plateau in critical interpersonal and leadership skills.’”

At Trove, Inc. our experience has been congruent with Michelman’s findings. Most executives, vice-presidents, directors, managers and team leaders can experience a sense of isolation without some accountability and someone to have an honest discussion regarding their work. When coaching is delivered properly, it is honest, revealing and in alliance with the leader-client. Without an unbiased, nonpolitical and untainted viewpoint, such as a professional coach can bring, the leader can feel secluded and unaided pretty quickly. Most of my clients, after a few sessions, and when honesty and trust have been established, are eager to meet and share the ongoing context of their challenges and work in general. A good strategic listener, such as a coach, will craft questions that go beyond the conversation at hand to what may be behind the “curtain” of the presenting words.

Probably, my best quality as a coach is that I ask a lot of challenging questions and let the person come up with the answer.       Phil Dixon


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