Reaching an executive level of authority can be seen as a career pinnacle. While it's right to celebrate this achievement and give that successful person their due, it's also important not to become complacent. By investing in coaching and professional development for their executives, companies can ensure the people at the top are always improving their management skills.
Receiving executive coaching is a way for leaders to add to their expertise and ensure they don't fall into counterproductive routines. Departments and businesses thrive when they are led by people who are able to inspire their teams and get the most out of employees reporting to them. Executive coaching, by improving the performance of leaders, can impart this new level of effectiveness for an organization.
If you are a current business leader or someone aiming to one day sit in a corner office, you should understand the advantages and uses of executive coaching. By internalizing who such a high-level professional leadership development program applies to, how it works, and what the ideal outcomes are, you can become better attuned to the practices of corporate leadership.
Who Should Receive Executive Coaching?
By definition, executive coaching is a type of training for people who have already passed numerous tests on the way up the corporate ladder. In educational terms, it’s like an independent research project, highly personalized and attuned to the needs and interests of an individual in specific circumstances.
It's possible that some leaders will resist executive coaching due to the outdated perception that it is only suitable for employees who have problems that need to be fixed. The Balance pointed out that there has been a shift in the way companies think about coaches: Rather than dealing with "broken" situations in management, high-caliber business coaches are hired to allow people to reach their potential, bringing the company up with them.
Recipients of executive coaching could be C-suite executives tasked with leading the organization, or they could be the next generation of leaders being prepared for internal promotion. Learning from a coach while on the way up the corporate ladder could help a leader hit the ground running once they take on greater responsibility. Whether the learner is a current or future executive, The Balance noted that having a coach is now regarded as a "status symbol."
Executive Coaching for Promotions and Leadership Transitions
The Society for Human Resource Management emphasized the potential benefits of executive coaching for employees on the rise. Someone just taking on a leadership position for the first time, or rising to a new stratum of authority, can drastically improve both their own performance and the organization's success if they have someone to guide them through the transition to new responsibilities.
One of the worst-case scenarios for a leadership change is a business-wide loss of focus, with the positives of the previous executive's tenure being wiped away as employees fail to make the same connection with a new, untried leader. If that newly promoted executive has received coaching, however, such an outcome is less likely.
SHRM noted that some of the topics involved with executive coaching include interpersonal abilities and communication skills. An individual can gain experience working with a larger pool of employees — delegating more, being more inspiring, and adapting to the culture that comes along with a new position. This is especially important when the leadership transition involves a move to a different department, a new office, or even another country, where expectations and norms don't match the promoted executive's history.
How Does Executive Coaching Work?
Anyone who rises to an executive level has doubtless been through many types of training while moving through the ranks. What makes executive coaching unique and worthwhile? One of the answers involves the way coaches deliver their lessons. Instead of teaching from a one-size-fits-all syllabus, a skilled executive coach will work one-on-one with a leader to cultivate the knowledge and abilities that matter most to that individual.
The relationship between executive and coach often begins with a specific area in mind, something that needs to improve. As employment expert Erica Bruer specified in a piece for The Muse, this could be a personal objective, such as becoming more productive, or an interpersonal matter, like being a more inspirational leader. While the engagement may begin with one goal, it tends to go beyond that area, with executives gaining knowledge and confidence that help them thrive in the long term.
The Relationship Between Coach and Executive
While bringing in an expert to work with an executive or candidate can be a productive and useful process, the benefits are not automatic. There has to be a give-and-take relationship to ensure the lessons have their intended impact, as business thinker and Forbes contributor Erika Andersen explained. An executive must have a willingness to learn, develop, and make changes to their personal practices. This can be a challenging mindset to build, as a person who has made it to a leadership role will naturally be confident in the abilities that have gotten them that far.
When the conversation between coach and leader proceeds on a positive and productive footing, the rewards can be many. Because the instruction is personalized and closely molded to fit an executive's personal objectives and career situation, there is plenty of room for the subject matter to change and evolve over time. Having become better at one aspect of business, it's possible to move on and become a more well-rounded leader.
The Executive Coach Hiring Process
Sometimes, it's the executive who makes the decision to hire a coach. According to The Balance, however, it's usually an HR department's choice to bring in an expert. The company's developmental program for leaders and candidates will involve a relationship with a coach or professional education firm, and will recommend an executive coach. Of course, when the person who wants coaching is the chief executive of the company or the business owner, they'll likely make their own decision on if and when to be coached.
What Are the Benefits of Executive Coaching?
Executive coaching is such a good investment because the advantages of the ongoing sessions can go beyond their stated objectives and deliver ongoing learning in a variety of areas. As an executive rises through the ranks from promising candidate to organizational leader, the abilities they need to possess will evolve along with them, and a good coaching relationship will reflect this feeling of progress.
While the highly individualized nature of executive coaching prevents there from being a single, universal list of benefits, it is possible to break down a few of the most integral areas of personal and professional development that come from these sessions. These lessons can prepare an executive to take on their duties in a more confident and thoughtful way, which tends to have a positive ripple effect on the whole department or organization.
Interpersonal Leadership Ability
It's possible to rise up the corporate ladder while doing relatively little work on developing "soft skills" such as empathy, listening, and the ability to effectively communicate. Someone may receive a promotion because they are a subject matter expert and excellent producer on a day-to-day basis. In such a case, it's possible that they will feel unprepared when reaching an executive level. Leadership coaching focusing on soft skills can prevent this problem before it manifests.
Andersen, in Forbes, pointed out the difference between abilities that work in the middle levels of corporate achievement and those that make sense for executives. A leader who is too dedicated to doing everything alone and producing good work on a day-to-day basis may find that this approach isn't working anymore. Comfort with delegating, the ability to recognize talent in others, and an aptitude for providing inspiration to team members are not necessarily innate abilities, and they can be taught. A good coach will make sure their charges can complete these tasks effectively.
While working with others is the essence of leadership, a great executive should also be in touch with their own thoughts and feelings, operating in a confident and decisive way that will help them get the job done consistently. Consultancy co-founder Jeff Gitterman told SHRM there is positive return on investment from executive coaching when executives learn to permanently change the way they work. This means taking on a new mindset more suited to serving as the head of a team and person with ultimate responsibility for that group's performance.
As Glassdoor reported, soft skills sometimes involve internal skills, as well as interpersonal emotional intelligence. People who develop a big-picture perspective are well suited for leadership and decision-making, as are individuals who are adept at time management, are able to accept uncertainty, and don't let themselves break down under stress. As with improved communication, collaboration, and delegation, these are ideas that can be taught and honed via training, and executives should not assume their capacity to deal with these issues is set in stone.
Part of success in the executive sphere comes from a person's ability to turn off the part of their mind dedicated to work and relax. Recharging and taking personal time are important concepts for employees at every level of the corporate ladder: They have come into sharp focus in recent months as remote work has become more central to companies' plans, removing physical barriers between offices and homes. As executives rise through the ranks, the amount of responsibility placed on their shoulders may make it progressively harder to unplug.
A good coach can help leaders attain the elusive balance between leisure and work. Glassdoor specifies that a C-suite member can work with a coach to determine a vision for a productive and rewarding life in and out of the office. This is a helpful and potentially fruitful avenue of training enabled by the highly personalized nature of executive coaching. Writing for The Muse, Bruer added that the leadership abilities included in coaching sessions can make people better at handling any challenges they face at home: Issues such as conflict and a need for structure aren't just relevant in work contexts.
How Can You Become a Better Executive Leader?
While on your way to an executive position — or a role on the corporate ladder leading to such a job — there are a wide variety of contexts in which you can hone your leadership skills. Executive coaching is one of these educational opportunities available to today's leadership candidates, and one that tends to become more relevant the closer you get to a powerful role. It can also come along with other learning options, such as a Master of Business Administration program.
While working your way up, you can hone your skill set and develop your resume by studying for an Executive Master of Business Administration degree. The Washington State University Executive MBA Online program is designed to provide a high-level education for aspiring corporate leaders, with a curriculum developed by deeply connected subject matter experts and a 100% online schedule that allows students to fit classes into their personal schedules.
Participants in the EMBA Online program have access to professional coaches from the International Coach Federation to receive the personalized attention and clear thinking that come with close, one-on-one education. The relationship between coach and student enables prospective executives to draw up roadmaps for their future success and follow those paths confidently. This is in addition to the high-quality classroom education from world-class professors who understand the cutting-edge best practices of business leadership.
Between the curriculum — focused on all aspects of leadership from entrepreneurship and global vision to planning and decision-making — and the personal attention of a career coach, you can build your ideal business future in the EMBA Online program. If you're searching for an educational option that truly focuses on corporate success and the related skill sets, you can find it by studying for an Executive MBA.
To learn more about honing your capacity for leadership, and to determine if the EMBA Online is the right degree for you, visit the program page.
The Balance Careers — A Manager's Guide to Executive Coaching
Society for Human Resource Management — Executive Coaches Ease Leadership Transitions
The Muse — 3 Unexpected Benefits of Getting Executive Coaching That'll Make it Worth It
Forbes — 6 Ways An Executive Coach Can Make You More Successful
Glassdoor — 6 Reasons Why We All Need Executive Leadership Coaching