Executive coaching: a key practice in talent development

The word “coach” evokes an image of a lone figure pacing up and down a touchline, blowing a whistle and shouting out orders to a group of players. But there is so much more to consider when it comes to effective coaching.

Eric Schmidt, former chairman of Google and Alphabet, takes up the story: “Every famous athlete, every famous performer has somebody who’s a coach. Somebody who can watch what they’re doing and say, “is that what you really meant? Did you really do that?” They can give them perspective. The one thing people are never good at is seeing themselves as others see them. A coach really, really helps.”

Great coaches blend expertise and facilitation to help players go beyond their previously held boundaries. Coaching also helps leaders step back to see more of the whole person and more of the whole situation. However, it is important to distinguish between coaching and mentoring.  

Mentoring can show someone what to do and how to do it. Conversely, coaching emphasises showing someone why they should do something. It inspires them to take matters into their own hands to make a difference.

Schmidt explains: “Mentors are fine, they give you advice and provide a sense of who you want to be but they are not coaches. A coach listens to the situation, figures out what everyone is doing and helps to figure out how you, as a member of that team, can be successful. The best coaches do it by getting you to do what the team wants you to do.”

Imagine you are on a mountain climbing expedition, struggling with difficult terrain, lost in a fog or snowstorm, and not able to see the top of the mountain or the path ahead, you would be really grateful for an experienced guide providing a wider perspective, “go to the right. Dig in. Watch out for loose rocks. You’re doing fine.” 

Similarly, players on a sports team caught up in the action, have little perspective; an effective coach rises above all of this to get a more complete picture from which to guide the best approaches.

Paul Whitman, P2 Facilitator and Coach writes: “Executive coaching is often when a senior leader engages with an independent, external professional coach. It might be to help navigate a particular career turn, for example moving into a first-time global role.”

Coaching is probably one of the most individually tailored practices in talent development as it involves a close and confidential relationship between the coach and the person being coached. 

Meeting one-on-one with senior managers or leaders within an organization (such as a director, vice president, president, or member of the C-suite), the executive coach provides a safe, structured, and trustworthy environment in which to offer support for the individual. The coach also helps the leader understand their current competencies, see how they’re perceived by others, and focus on identifying and clarifying current goals as well as the appropriate action steps to reach those goals.

Paul concludes: “Executive coaching is about providing the coachee with a safe space to reflect, process, ideate and plan with someone who is skilled at listening, emotional intelligence and managing the conversation. 

At an executive level, the outcome or intended goal, should always be generated by the coachee, the coach’s role is to help create the environment in which they can open up and talk freely and to then challenge what is heard, summarise and reflect back.”

Great coaching can help you as a leader to create:

  • Safe Spaces – creating a non-judgemental space for leaders to gain perspective without feeling intimidated by someone within their organisation;
  • Enhanced self-awareness – leaders will become more aware of their blind spots and work on improving them, as well as harnessing their strengths;
  • Improved engagement – investing in leaders through coaching creates commitment, motivating and empowering them to excel;
  • Breakthrough limiting beliefs – getting your leaders unstuck, creating new habits and challenging their unhelpful thinking that inhibits their progress.

To find out how Executive Coaching could help transform your leaders, speak to the team