There is ample evidence that, for many executives and leaders, working with a professional coach has provided them with powerful learning, growth, and enhanced success. Coaching has evolved from being hidden or a secret because it meant that something was “wrong” with the person to an embraced and even sought after way to support individuals in their development.
As coaching enters its third decade as a profession and with so many executives now benefiting from working with a coach, there is growing interest on the part of leaders in becoming coaches themselves in the context of their roles within their organizations. These leader-coaches/coach-executives work in operational, policy, and strategic roles as well as corporate services but they see how being a coach can support the overall success and well-being of the organization itself.
This may seem a curious developmental direction for an executive to take. More typically professional development would include MBA/MPA program or other targeted and specific subjects on enhancing organizational productivity and performance. How could becoming a professional coach enhance organizational success? Powerful leaders are clear about what matters to them and constantly seek opportunities to learn about themselves; are self-aware in the midst of taking action; create healthy relationships around shared purpose; and, understand the world they live in and how to get things done. One of the most important tasks of leaders is to develop people so that they consistently produce remarkable results and within a context that brings meaning to their lives. The journey of becoming a coach cannot but tap into an exploration of those aspects of leading effectively.
This quote from a senior executive who is also a professional coach illustrates that truth: “I have seen a fundamental shift in the openness, honesty and depth of trust. We have been able to tap the full diversity of the organization and generate not only a fantastic culture, but a humanness and authenticity in the business. The great news is that all this has unleashed the organization and allowed us to move faster, be bolder and make the big difficult decisions more easily.”
Developing coaching competence
The development of a leader-coach occurs on two axes. The horizontal axis considers how an executive or leader becomes a better one by embarking on the journey of becoming a coach – how they lead differently, what new results they see in others and in their organisations. It is about developing the ability of leaders to coach individuals in ways that evoke their full potential as human beings and performers in their organization. It is also about developing their own ability to self-correct, to intervene as coaches in systems, to build capacity in the coordination of actions and relationships. In other words, they widen their competence and skilfulness as leaders within a context that asks new questions and enables new responses. These thoughts from another executive who is a professional coach:
“I have always admired leaders who are successful in their leadership roles without doing it just from the front line. That is, by telling their followers what needs to be done. I enjoyed seeing leaders that unlock the full potential of the people they lead, in a sustainable way, by letting their teams find their own way of achieving an objective, or in setting it. I have discovered that coaching is a fantastic way to grow my leadership skills in that direction.”
The vertical development axis is about the journey that occurs within oneself during the process of learning to coach – what opens, evolves, changes, and deepens in terms of competence and capacity as a leader.
“Since I discovered coaching (at the receiving end of it at the beginning), I started a fascinating journey of exploration of myself that enabled me to make substantial positive changes in my life (professional and personal). I acknowledge that my appetite to know more about what the real drivers are for me grew exponentially over time. This curiosity is fuelling my growth as a person. I found that my role as a coach is serving as ‘a mirror’ that challenges me every time I coach, reflecting my own strengths, fears and uncertainties, as well as giving me evidence of my power. I also learned through coaching that I am much more than ‘my thinking’: my body and my soul are fantastic ‘tools’ to operate in life that I am keen to learn to use.”
Choosing a professional coaching programme
There are many coaching courses available and it may be daunting to know where to begin to look.
There are, however, a number of criteria to consider.
Ideally, the course is recognised and accredited by a professional association such as the International Coach Federation. While not essential it does tell you that the course has had some form of peer review and assessment.How long has the course been in existence? What is its history and lineage of success? What is its philosophical approach – “fixing” people as problems or developing competence and capacity?How rigorous is the training? What outcomes are promised? Do they resonate with your values and intentions? Will you develop along both axes – horizontal and vertical?Does it speak to your heart and intuitive sense as well as your head?
Deciding to become a professional coach
Becoming a coach is a new way of being in the world. As an executive it will mean having access to a wide range of responses and possibilities for yourself and for those that interact with you – professionally and personally. It is a powerful learning experience and journey. Most often an executive decides to become a coach because he or she has been coached and experienced the benefits in their career as well as other aspects of their life. They may have witnessed how coaching has strengthened the abilities of team members or colleagues.
It means consciously choosing a developmental path that is not yet the norm in organizations but one that enhances and supports conventional systems in very practical ways. In essence, coaches enable people and organizations to be self-correcting, self-generating and have long-term sustainable performance. It is the tangible, pragmatic and compassionate development of excellence on multiple levels. Perhaps the best description of the journey and its outcomes is this quote from an operational executive who is also an active coach in his organization:
“It is easy to “touch” coaching on the surface and walk away. But the process of learning to coach is actually a process of learning about yourself, deeply, honestly and very, very truthfully. I found the process of learning to coach one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to date – it has allowed me to understand how I form my own ideas and solutions and how this varies from every other individual. It has allowed me to understand how my body works and signals my behaviours, it has developed my skills in listening, in reading and understanding non-verbal communication. Coach training has built my ability in how to support another in their own competency development, in how to have true compassion for others that I coach and lead, in how to have deep connection with individuals. As a business leader these skills really are the foundation of authentic leadership. The complexity of the world, the speed of change and the need for clarity in this immensely changing environment now, more than ever before, require the ability to cut through this morass and the obvious solution seems to lie right in front of us – it’s the ability to truly connect with those that we inter