Executive coaching is a process in which a trained professional – the coach – supports an executive in better understanding their goals and ways in which they can achieve them. This includes making them aware of any resources they have access to as well as any obstacles that might be in their way. For example, you may seek out coaching if you are experiencing difficulties with work relationships or have been offered a new job role and are unsure of whether to accept.
The coach’s aim is to help an executive make an educated choice about their options; not to give advice or substitute for the individual’s capacity to make up their own mind. An executive coach should help an individual understand their alternatives as well as any costs in pursuing a goal, and help them feel ready to face anything associated with these costs.
Making use of executive coaching can be beneficial to one’s career and wellbeing in the workplace. It provides an employee a safe space to process what is happening in one’s professional life without the risks and negative consequences of doing so around colleagues.
For example, you may feel worried that expressing how you feel to your employer or peers could lead you to being perceived as unreasonably vulnerable or emotional. Executive coaching can also help you avoid lashing out at people around you that have no direct impact on the way you are feeling or what is happening to you at work. It provides an opportunity to manage and process your own reactions to what you are feeling and experiencing in a safe way.
An executive coach can also function as a sparring partner. By working through your experiences with them, they help you explore your options and evaluate the costs and benefits in a given situation. As a sparring partner, you will be working with someone that is working with and for you, with your best interests in mind. However, they will not hold back from presenting some harsh truths and will honestly and openly explore what might be the risks of you pursuing certain things.
Engaging in executive coaching also allows you to develop your meta-competency and ability to observe yourself and others in different situations. In the long run, discussions with your coach will contribute to your own ability to understand what is happening within yourself and others and lead to an increase in your ability to understand your own internal state. Ultimately, you will gain invaluable understanding of how human processes and experiences affect and impact organisational life in the workplace.
There are various workplace situations in which employing the help of an executive coach would be beneficial. For example, you might be having difficulties with your boss or a particular colleague. Figuring out what might be the reasons behind this negative situation will be more helpful than slamming a door, telling them every negative thing you think about them, or engaging in unproductive political games.
Thinking about it from a positive standpoint, imagine you have been offered a fantastic new job opportunity; perhaps a position at a new company. You might be extremely excited about this job opportunity, but would benefit from a better understanding of any risks associated with it. This is something which a coach can help you with as they can support you in exploring the opportunity and realise potential costs and benefits. Research has shown us that, if you are more aware of the pros and cons of an opportunity, and still accept the job, you will be even more motivated for your new role.
Despite all the support a coach can provide, it’s very important to understand that you are still the decision maker. The coach is a resource and their job is to help you critically think about what you are experiencing or presented with. A discussion with them may not always be cosy – they may sometimes have to play devil’s advocate, but they are always on your side. At the end of the day, through executive coaching, you are going to become more aware of your strengths, weaknesses, lower-level needs, higher aspirations, and how to achieve them.
Konstantin Korotov is professor of organisational behaviour and faculty lead of the executive MBA program at ESMT Berlin