One of the most effective and widely used tools in developing executive talent is executive coaching. There is a great deal of diversity in the services Coaches provide and a variety of people with different career and educational backgrounds offer services in this area. JQA place the emphasis on assisting individual executives to maximise their performance as leaders by discovering their natural talent and overcoming any barriers or obstacles to making a full and effective impact at work. All of our work in coaching starts with a diagnostic process of understanding the emotional and intellectual core of the individual. This means that we use models of management and leadership based on research in the human sciences, together with the insights and judgement based on our personal experience in senior roles in business.
We make a distinction between psychological coaching and other forms of coaching as our skills are mainly focused on the former as this is where we have invested most of our learning and expertise. Three forms of executive coaching can be identified:
- Skills Coaching
- Role Coaching
- Psychological Coaching
The first two are important because they provide some of the more obvious tools that executives might need in order to be immediately effective. Presentation skills and public speaking skills are two that come to mind if executives are to avoid the risk of looking ordinary in an organisation that aspires to be the sector leader. Coaching during career transitions as a means of inducting a new incumbent can be a very effective way of preparing an executive for a role that they have not played before. Helpful suggestions for managing relationships with the Board, reading market opportunities, setting new directions, exercising influence and developing communication styles have a direct bearing on top management performance.
Why do we emphasise Psychology in Coaching?
The risks of failure are reduced and the prospects for superior performance increase through coaching prior to taking on big executive roles in diverse and complex organisations. The big questions in life are about the predictability of outcomes of the staged drama as leaders in all sectors of the economy take the stage. Will the script be a tragedy or a glorious success story? How can leaders be co-architects of their success and produce successful outcomes for stakeholders?
Promising careers are sometimes cut short prematurely and relationships can be irreparably damaged if “dark side” personality traits are on display when talented executives are under pressure. Our role is to facilitate honesty in confronting worst fears and foibles so that there is less likelihood that emotionally charged default behaviours will cause career derailment. Psychological coaching sometimes goes outside the comfort zone for executives if it is to be effective.
People who succeed in standing out from the competition on their career journey may do so by showing strong ambition, exaggerated confidence, will power and an appetite for risk. Self-awareness is essential if these positive attributes are to be kept in balance with humility, the willingness to listen effectively and an attitude of serving others. The same attributes which propel executives to success can be their undoing because these success factors also have the capacity to generate turbulence, interpersonal strain, and corporate failure. The attributes which form a double edged sword need to be addressed early in ones career before they reach a tipping point. The most talented individuals sometimes have a raft of developmental needs which lie “below the surface.” The success in dealing with them will determine whether executives will succeed or fail to leave a positive legacy for their businesses in the longer term.
JQA Coaches go far deeper and aim to generate a realistic sense of confidence through self-affirmation, building resilience and “future proofing” individuals so that they can deal with the unexpected. The key process word is realistic. These qualities come from knowing beyond doubt that, even under extreme pressure and the relative isolation of a senior position, one has available the intellectual, emotional, and interpersonal skills required for success in major business engagements. Psychological Coaching is deliberately focused “out of comfort zone, but safe” rehearsal studio in which the “beyond doubt” knowledge is gained, maintained, and generalised.
What is psychological coaching and how does it differ from other forms of development?
The fact that individuals get to senior positions does not always imply that their development is complete or that there have not been distortions or blind spots which generate interpersonal tensions or self-doubt. In fact, history is full of examples of leaders who were deeply flawed as a result of difficulties at the core of their personalities resulting from failure at one or other of the developmental hurdles that everyone faces in life, which include:
- The need to develop basic trust in others
- The need to develop autonomy and self-reliance
- The need to balance autonomy with interdependence and build effective relationships
- The need to cope with emotions and build emotional competencies
- The need to develop flexible, adaptive coping strategies when faced with threats and challenges
While many executives who will benefit from psychological coaching are already functioning well in many respects, they may struggle in some areas. Such individuals may be aware of their functional weaknesses and have tried to address them without success or with inconsistent success. Some individuals may have the weaknesses drawn to their attention but have difficulty seeing them, let alone dealing with them. Their behaviour under pressure may give rise to concerns which anticipate that new demands will expose further weaknesses if they are placed under unusual stress, or if promoted to more demanding positions. Higher levels of authority often mean fewer constraints and less opportunity for frank feedback resulting in career derailment if executives have more scope to “revert to type” and display “dark side” aspects of temperament and personality.
The problem: The problems addressed by psychological coaching are therefore often related to ‘stuckness’ or rigidity of response style – not necessarily across a broad and deeply entrenched area (clinical problems) but ‘stuckness’ across a narrow or limited area combined with good, sometimes superb functioning across many other areas. These problems normally occur during interaction with others (all others, some types of others, and some types of groups, in some contexts) in a rigid way, when flexibility or even experimentation is called for. These are usually ‘safety behaviours’ or avoidance of going outside what is experienced as a personal safety zone. Often, the greater the demand or threat or anticipated threat, the more rigid the behaviour becomes. The challenge to ‘face’ may be to risk being overwhelmed.
The symptoms: The most frequent examples of symptoms are the bully, the manager who tries to intimidate, the manager who is unable to get loyalty from his staff, the one who somehow alienates others, who rubs people up the wrong way, the argumentative character, the one who obeys orders without question but is authoritarian with his juniors, the one who gets things done but who, because he gets little respect, will find the group falling apart under pressure or emergency, the manager who fails to instil in his staff performance pride sufficient to have them manage themselves when he is away.
Other examples include the emotionally challenged manager who suppresses the emotional content in interactions (keeping their own feelings and the feelings of others at bay and showing a lack of empathy.) People find these managers very intimidating because they retreat into isolation, do not acknowledge how people are feeling and are difficult to read because they are emotionally changeable or volatile. Quite often they feel things with more than usual intensity but suppress all emotion because there is a risk of becoming overwhelmed by emotion.
The underlying issues: These symptoms are a manifestation of assumptions, beliefs and values about the self and or about others which underlie automatic or semi-automatic rules for behaviour. Some will be known, some unknown, some buried deep.
The therapeutic method: The basic skill of the psychological coach is to create a relationship with the client that is experienced as so safe, yet so full of opportunity, that the client can work hard on issues of deep sensitivity. We build upon perceived strengths and encourage clients to actively look for development opportunities to build advantage in what has been an avoided aspect of their make-up or a perceived weakness. Apart from the obvious need to instil confidence when entering what is for the client that “risky unknown” which has previously been so avoided; the coach provides insight, uniquely tailored plausible explanations for problems and patterns, and outlines a stepwise and therefore ‘do-able’ way forward which is both plausible and motivating. Without the latter, the client will not enter fully into the heart of the work. The work requires the client to be willing to risk experimentation, both in- session and through homework, with increasing amounts of non-avoidance. It is also to rehearse (both in imagination and in situ) new ways of thinking and feeling. If the coach has paced and staged the work and homework well, any initial client hesitancy gives way to full blooded enthusing and indeed initiative taking in suggesting further experiments as the client discovers the rewards of “freedom”: having real behavioural choice at last!
The evidence base: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is now in its third generation after some thirty five years of development. It has the best evidence base of all the therapies and when applied to coaching individuals is an exceptionally powerful set of tools. It is ideally suited to workplace coaching as it is focused on real work place problems ‘now’ while being informed by the patterns and experiences of the past only to the extent that they provide powerful levers for change. The outcome evidence is of very resilient change even in the face of extreme demand. Even more importantly, the evidence is of clients continuing to use the learnt tools to consolidate and develop further. Managers who have benefited from CBT individually are well placed to harness the power of the approach for wider cultural change.
The diagnostic springboard: Psychometric test results provide diagnostic normative indicators of patterns of thinking (values, self-beliefs, cognitive styles) as well as strengths and areas for development, especially in relationships. To this extent the psychometrics can be invaluable: they cut down on the time necessary for some of the initial steps in developing clear targets for coaching. The psychometrics can also make clearer what the most powerful questions are likely to be and what in all probability is likely to be the degree of complexity of the challenges.
Who is eligible and who will benefit from psychological coaching?
The greatest gains will be made by people who are aware that their instinctive response to conflict or pressure are often dysfunctional in that they bring about reactions in others that are the opposite of what they desire. Executives who benefit have noticed for themselves or have been told that their behaviour causes interpersonal strain. They are not getting through to people; staff complain that they lack empathy, are arrogant, brutal or emotionally distant. These executives sense that they are not gaining full co-operation from others because there are barriers to building openness and trust. They inadvertently run into conflict situations that could be avoided and will often not know why they arise but will want to do something positive to reduce the incidence of these unwelcome problem relationships. Often, people closest to them (wives, husbands, or partners) will know that their “dark side” behaviours spoil their relationships and wish that something could be done to overcome these behaviours. Fortunately, change is possible in most instances.
Why should the organisation sponsor coaching?
The performance of the organisation rests on the ability to the managers and leaders to function effectively. Unresolved development needs relating to weaknesses at the personal core will inevitably detract from performance in pressurised executive roles. If the success of the organisation depends on the sum total of effective decisions made, then flaws of judgement and decision-making have a direct impact and the ROI case is not difficult to fathom. There are significant costs to the organisation of doing nothing about these developmental needs. Not only is there a severe cost to the individual who suffers failure, there are the costs of recruitment and replacement measured in executive search fees and the impact of sub-standard performance before, during and after the replacement of an executive who has failed to perform.
Of even greater significance is the legacy that the failed executive leaves. For those who failed but were well liked, a profound sense of loss and angst results from turnover of top executives as loyalties are broken and relationships have to be rebuilt. Those executives who have an adverse impact on others in the organisation because they display “dark side” aspects of temperament and personality have a long lasting and damaging impact on the development of subordinates and on the culture of the organisation. Bad role models beget other problem people, and the cycle is repeated time and again. Good people leave because they are not able to perform in an organisation that tolerates bullying, aggression, manipulativeness and other forms of dysfunctional behaviour.
How many coaching sessions are required?
Can executives extend coaching if they want more?
After the successful conclusion of the first five sessions candidates can continue to receive helpful feedback by telephone and the fee structure is well within the personal budget of the executive.
We would be delighted to discuss our services with you and believe that we can offer an excellent return on your investment in coaching your executives.
Contact us for any additional information you might need on executive coaching in your organisation.