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Close the Coaching Gap

There is nowhere to hide. Not even the executive suite is safe from the changes sweeping business today. In fact, the impact of those changes is felt most keenly at the executive level. CEOs, COOs, CFOs and senior vice presidents — like everyone else — have to hit the ground running and keep running fast. Stockholders and stakeholders demand fast results. Teams must work more efficiently under greater pressure. High potentials and emerging leaders need to be identified and developed earlier and more effectively. Business savvy has been taken to new heights. Add to this the quest for job satisfaction and life balance, and you have the dynamic tension that creates the vital need for executive coaching.

Executive coaching is a professional process that links individual effectiveness to organizational performance. It is a strategic process that helps organizations attract and retain great leaders, enables executive teams to improve leadership and team performance, and supports senior executives responsible for making crucial business decisions and achieving outcomes. It provides the shock absorbers on the often bumpy road of organizational change.

The powerful advantages in the leadership development process, particularly in areas where performance goals are at risk, have made coaching top-of-mind for executives and HR leaders alike. Yet there is still a tremendous gap between what is expected of executives and the resources available to help them acquire both the inner-core attributes and outer-core skills and competencies required to achieve those expectations. Executive coaching has the potential to close that gap.

The reality, however, is that while executive coaching is top-of-mind for executives and HR, only 35 percent of the organizations surveyed in Pearson’s Trends in Executive Development research study in 2011 use executive coaching as part of their high potential developmental programs. By comparison, 48 percent of the organizations use executive coaching for their vice president level and above executives. For high potentials, organizations continue to emphasize developmental job assignments (70 percent) and custom training programs (51 percent) as their primary developmental strategies. We were surprised to learn that 65 percent of the organizations we surveyed do not cite executive coaching as an important developmental strategy for their high potential and emerging leader talent pools. I see this as a significant issue and opportunity for organizations for two reasons:

1. The inner-core attributes — self-image, character, values, thoughts, emotions, references and behavioral tendencies — of a leader or emerging leader are enduring and difficult to change. Yet, these are the very attributes that predict the success with which a leader executes his or her outer-core competencies and skills. Executive coaching, therefore, is a powerful way, perhaps the only way, for a leader or future leader to strengthen inner-core attributes.

2. Different generations expect different things from their employers. Generation X wants a casual, independent, flexible environment and a place to learn; Generation Y wants a structured, supportive and interactive environment. More than anything else, it is critical to understand that both generations make up nearly 100 percent of any organization’s future leader pool, and both crave continuous growth and connectedness with people. Executive coaching represents a powerful strategy to meet the continuous growth and connectedness needs of your future leaders.

Just like anything else, there are effective and ineffective executive coaches. It is critically important to hire external executive coaches who possess the experience and skills to coach from the inside-out — those who can coach to a leader’s inner core first and then move to strengthen the outer core.

Also, never underestimate the importance of engaging only those coaches who possess a proven operations mindset and who have had experience on the firing line. Building trust and empathy with high-potential coachees is vital, and I have found that having operations experience has helped me build rapport, trust and credibility with my coachees. It is also important to understand the philosophy of the coaches you are considering partnering with. They should be able to verbalize their philosophy concretely, without hesitation. And, of course, their philosophy must be aligned with your organization’s philosophy and tenets with respect to leadership development.

John Mattone is the president of JohnMattonePartners Inc., a global leadership consulting firm. This column is an excerpt from his book Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.