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Support from the sidelines

Hiring an expert to coach executives benefits both individuals and their companies

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The summer Olympic Games are finally over, but the thrill of both winning and participating will be felt by our athletes and their families for a much longer time. After all, these competitions are all about striving to be the best that you can be and the hype and excitement that comes along with this stays with you for quite a while.

Yet, we often don't think of or even realize all of the time, effort and support that goes into "making" an athlete who can cope with competing on such a grand world stage. While sponsors are some of the behind-the-scenes supporters, in my view, the most important supporter is the coach. The coach is a specialist in their sport and is also an expert in giving guidance, advice and encouragement. If you really want to think about it, these Olympic coaches are part psychologist, teacher, parent, friend and technical expert all rolled into one.

Sports coaching has a well-known and long history, while the concept of "executive coaching" is more recent. In fact, it is only since the 1990s that executive coaching has developed into an independent discipline and is continuing to grow in popularity. What exactly is executive coaching and what benefits can this provide a professional?

Executive coaching is a counselling/coaching process that helps to facilitate both personal and professional development. Executive coaching can focus specifically on a career, such as helping an individual to set a career path and develop steps to achieve career goals, transitioning to a different career, and/or managing your career within a challenging work environment.


Executive coaching is also used for skill enhancement, particularly in the areas of developing strategic thinking skills, improving communication, identifying and implementing organizational effectiveness improvements, dealing with conflict, developing strategies on how to build a high-performing team or how to deal with daily challenges that arise.

Executive coaching provides a number of benefits to individuals as well as an organization itself. While executive coaching was initially used mostly to support underperforming employees, today it is more common to use executive coaching as development tool for high-performing employees. These benefits for individual employees include the following:

-- Executive coaching provides individualized and customized unbiased support that is designed to address each person's unique needs.

-- Individuals discover elements of their personality and communication style that might be "blind spots" and learn strategies for overcoming these issues.

-- Individual assessment brings out increased self-awareness with respect to skills, career goals, relationships and personal motivation that can then be turned into goals and objectives.

-- Coaching provides for real-time learning, where all of an individual's learning is applied immediately back to the workplace, where results can be seen immediately.

-- Executive coaches help individuals learn new strategies for old problems and then provide support and encouragement as the individuals begin learning and practising new skills.

-- Individuals will gain improved skills and experience in setting personal and professional goals and then be accountable for these goals and objectives.

-- Coaches help to create opportunities for the individuals to practise their new behaviour. They design metrics and benchmarks and monitor performance.

-- Individuals will benefit from personal guidance, support and encouragement, which in turn helps to build self-confidence, self-esteem and personal focus.

-- Individuals who may have been on the brink of termination can be brought back to become effective professionals with higher level skills.

-- Individuals who receive coaching often report improved interpersonal relationships with both staff and clients, as well as increased job satisfaction and productivity.

Executive coaching should begin by applying an assessment tool that allows the individual to self-identify personality and communication style, career motivators and personal characteristics of success. This instrument is then interpreted by the coach as he/she helps the individual to "look in the mirror."

This step is important because some leaders are so arrogant, they fail to engage in personal introspection and are therefore really not very self-aware. Still, other leaders may have a title and the skill but they lack personal self-confidence in their abilities to move ahead. A good executive coach can confront and challenge these individuals while providing the constructive criticism that is needed to bring about change.

To implement executive coaching successfully, the organization must allow for sustained service anywhere from six months to one year. Coaching must occur regularly so as not to lose momentum, while at the same time allowing for personal reading and the application and evaluation of strategies being taught.

As with sports coaching, executive business coaches are part teacher, psychologist, friend, technical expert and motivator all rolled into one. However, there are some unique challenges in selecting the right coach for your employee. First of all, since the coaching profession is still so new, there is a proliferation of coach training and designations as well as associations, so it is somewhat difficult to compare and contrast credentials. Once the profession matures, training will become more standardized. I recommend you avoid focusing only on certifications. Instead, focus on the career background of your coach and determine if their experience will benefit you.

In today's fast-paced world, executive coaching is no longer a luxury reserved only for special individuals. Instead, it is an excellent strategy for developing all of your organizational leaders. Hopefully over time, executive coaching will simply be part of everyday work and be as routine as those organizational budgets and schedules.


Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP is president of Legacy Bowes Group, a talent management firm. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2012 H1

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