I sometimes get asked the question early in conversations with clients “why do I need an executive coach?” The short answer is, you don’t. The question is not really if you need a coach or not, the question is how good do you want to be? A coach is simply one of the tools that leaders can use to get better at what they do. An effective coach will bring three things to a leader that they don’t currently have.
• The power of observation: No matter how hard we try, we cannot look at our actions and words without our own bias built into how we interpret them. Usually if we think it’s a good idea to behave a certain way we will continue to think that unless someone convinces us otherwise. I worked with an executive once who was very forceful and fast paced during his team meetings. When I asked him why he was engaging his team that way he said, “I want to convey a sense of urgency.” In conversations with his team however what they were taking away was not urgency but panic. When I shared with the executive that his style in meetings was causing him to appear frantic and out of control he quickly shifted his approach. No leader can be effective by sending those signals. The right coach will watch and listen carefully and help you make those corrections early, before they become a problem.
• Unfiltered feedback: It’s nice to think that your team and your advisors are giving you candid, unfiltered information that you can use to make solid decisions about the business. Unfortunately, it’s rarely the case. It’s not that they don’t mean well but because you are the boss, people will tailor their interactions with you, especially if you respond to negative information poorly or appear to have your mind already made up. Others will soften the blow of negative or contrary facts or perceptions about you as a leader if they deliver them at all. Let’s face it, as the leader you have some level of control over the future of the people around you. You can’t expect unfiltered information in a setting like that. How many times have you seen an initiative backed forcefully by the CEO fail to be implemented? Even though sometimes it’s not right for the organization, rarely does anyone take the political risk associated with opposing it. I can’t count the number of executive meetings I have observed where after the meeting the attendees walk out questioning the decisions that were just made or the effectiveness of the leader. Maybe that’s not how it should be but it’s a very real dynamic in most organizations. A good coach will deliver the feedback you need to improve, not the spin that feels good. They will also help you create an environment where you get more of the unfiltered information you need from your team.
• A shift in perspective: An experienced coach has been in many business situations in different companies and industries both as a coach and as a participant. They are able to bring ideas and perspectives from the outside that you may not get from your team or your inner circle. Leading a business effectively is best done with a broad look at all of the issues rather than a narrow focus on the ones where you have the most experience and knowledge. Sometimes a simple question like “what will you do to ensure that this new strategy works in a culture that’s built to execute the old one?” goes a long way toward helping a leader think differently about the decisions they make and the process they use to execute those decisions. Coaches shouldn’t always come with the answers. What they should bring are the questions that help you find the right answers for you, your people and your business. Leadership is your job, helping you do it with a wide perspective is the coach’s job.
So the bottom line is that maybe you don’t need a coach. It’s simply a tool that can be used to improve your ability to lead others and run your business. How and if you engage a coach for yourself or other executives in your business is one of the many decisions that you make as a leader. If you are watching yourself closely without bias, getting factual, candid and unfiltered information from your team and already have the widest possible perspective on decisions you are making then you would receive little benefit from the coaching process. But if any of these things will make you a better leader, then an executive coach should be considered. Rarely does anyone completely achieve his or her potential as a leader without one.