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Executive Coaching

This section focuses on executive coaching and addresses what's unique about working with executives, as well as my guiding principles and methods. Additional information on this website covering leadership development, organization development and life coaching may also be of interest to executives.

How do you define executive coaching? How does it relate to other developmental tools an executive might use?

I like the definition posed by Fitzgerald and Berger in their book Executive Coaching - Practices and Perspectives. As they define it, executive coaching "is one-on-one, confidential work with executives aimed at enhancing their current or future effectiveness." They further clarify that executive coaching:

  • Has a developmental focus,
  • Goes beyond technical or industry guidance,
  • Is distinguishable from psychotherapy but may share some frameworks of analysis, and
  • Is based on a complex and sophisticated understanding of, and focus on, both the individual executive and the organizational role/context.

In my practice, each executive coaching engagement adheres to the structure above and includes elements of leadership development and organization development. Executive coaching is a process that can be applied to increasing leadership competencies, including developing skills to solve organization problems.

When is executive coaching needed?

Coaching can be useful in helping executives overcome several challenges they face. Often, executives have strong competencies that have helped them reach the executive ranks, but which no longer serve them as well as they had in the past. New skills and approaches may be needed. Executives may sense that they are not getting accurate feedback from people within the company. Coaches can offer an objective view on strengths and growth opportunities-supporting executives throughout the development process.

How and where do you work with executives?

How we work depends on the goals we're trying to reach and the level of intensity that fits the situation. In the most accelerated approach, I am directly involved with the executive in the work system, coaching him or her in real time with the team. In other situations, I accompany the executive during the workday, but our coaching is offline and private. The least intensive coaching is when I work with the executive entirely outside the work environment.

What unique perspective do you bring to executive coaching?

My style and approach are informed by four factors. One, I leverage my own experience - as an executive in a diverse set of assignments and as a coach and consultant to a wide range of clients. Two, I've built on education and training from others. I've been well trained in both consulting and coaching by strong schools and gifted practitioners whose theories, methods and models serve me well. Like my executive clients, I have a personal development plan to ensure that I'm always growing. Three, I enter into a partnership with the client that focuses on personal development from the inside out and tangible results in the role. Finally, I genuinely enjoy this work. Even though projects are focused on results and have plenty of challenges, I expect to have fun along the way.

What kinds of issues do you work on with executives?

  • Increasing emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and/or relationship management), because I believe these skills are the foundation for other competencies
  • Improving performance on a required competency (for example, communications, delegation, planning, time management)
  • Developing the capacity to become effectively reflective and active in the moment, which may take the form of internal questions like, "What's really happening here? What am I thinking/feeling? What is the basis for my experience? What are my options? What is my goal? What will be the most effective action I can take to move toward our goal?"
  • Preparing for a new opportunity (understanding the desired goal, identifying strengths to leverage, creating an action plan)
  • Optimizing the first 100 days in a new job (such as learning the lay of the land, modeling style and behavior, building relationships, setting the vision, establishing priorities, identifying and building visible metrics, creating momentum, generating early wins)

What does the coaching process look like?

The process follows a natural progression. Below I've outlined the process and the primary questions we typically answer at each phase.

1. Initial dialog to establish the relationship
Are we a good match for each other?

2. Formalize the agreement
What are our expectations of each other? What are the boundaries of our relationship?

3. Identify issues and translate into the future vision
What will be different in the future? What does success look like?

4. Build the plan
What are the primary goals? What process and tasks will be necessary to achieve the desired vision?

5. Work the plan
What activities are leading toward the goal (which I support)? What's not working (which we analyze and address together)?

  • Help the client take responsibility and stay committed
  • Work through issues and barriers
  • Assess our relationship
  • Reset the plan as necessary
  • Measure to ensure results are met
  • Make sure aspects outside the specific goals are still working

6. Measure success and celebrate
Have we achieved the goals? Did anything else break in the process?

7. Follow-on coaching
What do we need to sustain this achieved result? Are there other opportunities we wish to address?

8. Conclude the coaching relationship
What can we learn from this experience?

How do you and your client know you've made progress through coaching?

I typically do three types of assessments. On a frequent basis I ask the client what's working and whether he or she would like any changes. I personally assess the relationship and voice any particular satisfaction or concerns to ensure I'm in sync with the client and that we're working as productively as possible. Finally, we measure the results against the goals set earlier.

What stages does a coaching relationship typically go through? How do
you and your client know when you're "finished"?

I think of the relationship as having a beginning, middle and end. The beginning is setting the relationship and establishing the future vision. The middle is all of the work to achieve the desired changes. The end is the closing and celebration of the work together. I try to celebrate the success of a project even if we've decided to take on a different challenge.

We know we're finished when we achieve the desired results. On rare occasions we decide that we've achieved as much as we can achieve, though it may fall short of the goals we initially set. In either case, we mutually decide we've completed a piece of work together.

What are the main benefits your clients report?

The benefits fall into two categories, one centered on outcomes, and the other on process. Most often, clients report that they achieved the results they sought. Frequently, they increase their emotional intelligence. By improving their ability to objectively assess beliefs, values and behaviors and their impact on others, they can dramatically increase leadership effectiveness.

You can find additional perspectives on the Clients page. The following comments taken from feedback forms are representative of the benefits clients have experienced.

  • "I gained perspective on myself that I couldn't get from people inside."
  • "I didn't have the experience…by the end of the project, I was ready to solo"
  • "She's a great thinking partner…she had great ideas for problem solving"
  • "We had experiences with consultants that didn't work well…lots of reports, not much results. She was the exact opposite-very practical".
  • "My boss didn't have that much confidence in me. I needed to bring this project home with the team intact. She helped me do just that."

How are coaching, consulting and psychotherapy related?

All three fields are committed to helping clients make change and achieve results. I believe that all three disciplines, when practiced well, can develop capacity and resilience within the client.

Coaching is future oriented and focuses on bringing out the best in the client. The coach does not typically produce work products outside of the coaching sessions. The relationship is one of partnership, in which the coach brings process expertise and the client brings the content and has overall responsibility for driving results.

The consultant brings his or her expertise to help achieve the client's goals. The consultant offers advice based on his or her expertise and often produces work products independently or in collaboration with the client.

The psychotherapist relationship is often focused on healing wounds by understanding the past or the past's impact on the present. Psychotherapists are trained to help client's achieve emotional healing or relief from psychological pain. The client often relates to the psychotherapist as the expert, authority or healer.

In my practice, I can offer integrated consulting and coaching services-with clear agreements for each of the elements of the work. On some occasions, clients are working simultaneously with a psychotherapist. In such cases, the client takes responsibility for coordinating activities between the two service providers.

Do you have a confidentiality policy? What are its components?

All of my work with coaching clients is confidential in that I don't talk about our work with anyone other than the client, unless directed to do so by the client. There are instances in which an executive can accelerate team performance by offering content from his or her own development plan or by creating a team development plan. Some clients also choose to have me accompany them as they review their plan with their boss or the board.

When an executive is interested in working with a coach, how can he or she position this request with their boss?

The first step is for the executive to be clear about the results he or she wishes to achieve. If a potential client requests it, I am very willing to talk with his or her boss about the coaching process. Most clients establish a plan, which is reviewed with the boss before implementation. They also periodically brief the boss with progress towards the expected results. I support clients in these efforts. I do not give the boss confidential information from my one-on-one work with clients unless specifically requested and given permission to do so. This element of confidentiality is established at the outset of the contract.

What is one of the greatest challenges that you see executives face?

I have great respect for the role of executive. Often the challenges of the assignment are such that no human could make all the right decisions. Some people find it difficult to accept that they can't perform perfectly no matter how much time and effort they expend. To add to the challenge, some executives don't feel comfortable asking for help or acknowledging that they are developing new skills.

How do you help executives manage ambiguity?

In my view, one of the greatest challenges is managing ambiguity. Executives want to be able to gather enough data so that they can make the right decision. Unfortunately, it is rare to be able to gather enough information in a timely fashion to be able to eliminate the ambiguity. My focus becomes acknowledging the ambiguity and managing anxiety in the face of ambiguity.

Peter Koestenbaum does a great job of summarizing the challenge that faces all leaders: "You need to be comfortable in doing business in a vague and unclear world. It is great to be able to be specific, precise, organized, and clear. In fact, it is essential. But if your leadership capacity stops there, if that is all you can do, then you will find yourself at a disadvantage. The world is ambiguous, the tasks are nebulous, the solutions are hidden in a miasma of confusion. You need to integrate conflicting possibilities; you need to navigate without a compass, the stars being hidden by a chaos of fog. Half of what you need to know, to see clearly, is beyond the horizon. Key messages come to you in tongues you cannot decipher. And yet, that is the zone where you will find the secret answers, as powerful as they are also elusive." (Peter Koestenbaum's Leadership Thought 10/6/03,

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