Sometimes we are asked just why executive coaching is important. Our most direct response is:
It depends! How important is your continued growth and development as an executive?
The famous psychologist Abraham Maslow claimed that human beings are striving constantly toward a higher level of development. The further up a person evolves, the changes and improvements necessary to grow become more and more subtle.
This principle especially applies to the highly intelligent, capable and competitive individuals who make it to the C-Suite. Entry to this rarefied domain marks the beginning of a new phase in the individual’s growth and development. At this level, as Maslow observed, lessons and insights become increasingly nuanced and, as we have explored in other articles, even more likely to affect others’ lives.
Therefore, because the executive is operating at a higher level of functioning, coaching, mentorship, and guidance is even more important than it has been in the earlier phases of his or her career.
Here are a few reasons why executive coaching is important – not just to the executive, but to their work teams, and the entire organization.
Continual Growth and Improvement = Success Over Time
An individual’s commitment to continual growth and improvement, also known as the “lifelong learning orientation,” corresponds with success over time. Not only in the career domain, but in other domains as well (marriage and family, spirituality, life contribution, etc.)
In the career domain, executive coaching is important because it supports the executive client’s process of continual growth and improvement – making them more effective leaders, and more valuable contributors at the organizations where they work.
Therefore, instead of thinking of executive coaching as an option for diagnosing and fixing problems – which it also can be – consider coaching as an investment in organizational success over the medium and long term.
With regard to successes elicited through executive coaching, there are times when an executive, or the executive’s superiors, perceive great progress or “breakthroughs” and conclude a coaching engagement on the basis that it has been “successful.”
While there is certainly nothing wrong with recognizing stunning victories when they occur, this attitude can lead people to miss the point of the fundamental value proposition of high-quality executive coaching:
Executive Coaching is not about directly causing breakthroughs and successfully outcomes (even though it can result in such breakthroughs and outcomes) …
Executive Coaching is about developing the executive into an improved agent of successful outcomes over time.
Ensuring the executive’s highest odds of success over time – and the organization’s success through that executive’s activities – means engaging a continuous process of growth and development, instead of focusing on one-off “breakthroughs.”
A Coach Facilitates Increased Awareness
A coach facilitates increased awareness in the client. Another way of saying this, is that the coach shines a light on the client’s blind spots, helping the client to a greater understanding of their external environment, and the interior environment of their own psyche.
Everyone has a blind spot, and generally speaking, whatever hides in that blind spot in the subconscious, is largely responsible for the present reality of that individual’s life.
For example, an executive may respond in these ways during an initial interview with their executive coach:
“Am I authentic? I’m definitely authentic, and… but I’m also just a little bit inauthentic.”
“I manipulate… but just a little bit. Who doesn’t?”
These sorts of statements can provide the executive coach with clues as to what may be hiding out in the client’s blind spot, for further observation and shared discovery with the client.
The Johari Window For Understanding How Blind Spots Work
We at Hallett Leadership greatly appreciate and frequently employ the Johari Window as a map to help clients understand what blind spots are. The window also provides the greater context for what can happen after the client shines the light of awareness into his or her blind spot.
As you can see in the image above, the upper right corner of the quadrant is the territory of the client’s psyche that others are aware of, and that the client him/herself is unaware of.
The more an executive opens up to new possibilities, and to learning what he or she doesn’t know he/she doesn’t know, they are available to feedback. Not only feedback from the coach, but also feedback from the entire team surrounding that executive.
Through receiving feedback, learning to exchange feedback with others, and sharing more of his/her genuine nature (authenticity), content from the client’s blind spot begins moving into the public self box in the upper left corner.
This process creates valuable opportunities for the executive client to learn more about him/herself, and grow in self awareness. Increased self awareness leads to improved relationships, communication, leadership outcomes, and executive effectiveness across the board.
Simply put, self-awareness is the currency through which the executive acquires new leadership abilities and increased influence in the organization.
An executive coach facilitates increased self-awareness.
Clients Integrate New Awareness Through Effective Action
It is common for people in all places at all times to experience insights, but not act on those insights. The insights do not become reality.
In this final stage of the learning and development process, the coach supports the client in acting effectively and productively upon new awarenesses and insights.
This stage, which you might think of as “show time,” is where the executive shifts from discovery and growth, to coming home with valuable new lessons learned and applying them to the team, and the larger organizational company.
In the optimal scenario, the executive’s new modes of thinking, interacting and behaving align with a larger effort to reinvent the company as a place with high performance leaders at every level of the organization.
We hope this article has been helpful in clarifying why executive coaching is important, and how it can be a key tool in the process of developing individual executives into high performance leaders, capable of transforming entire teams and departments into places where high performance is the new normal state of affairs.
Best of luck!