Executive Coaching: A Catalyst for Personal Growth and Corporate Change

By Axmith, Murray | Ivey Business Journal Online, May/June 2004 | Go to article overview

Executive Coaching: A Catalyst for Personal Growth and Corporate Change


Axmith, Murray, Ivey Business Journal Online


A relatively new management tool, executive coaching has proven its value to CEOs facing complex business and personal challenges. Behind every successful intervention are a successful professional coach and a receptive, committed CEO. This author describes when and how a coach can help a CEO, and what a coach and CEO must do to work effectively together.

A relatively new management tool, executive coaching has proven its value to CEOs facing complex business and personal challenges. Behind every successful intervention are a successful professional coach and a receptive, committed CEO. This author describes when and how a coach can help a CEO, and what a coach and CEO must do to work effectively together.

Executive coaching is a relatively new area of management consulting that has emerged primarily because of the increased pressure on senior executives. Pinning down exactly what executive coaching entails is difficult, because there are probably as many definitions as there are practitioners.

There are, however, two key attributes present in the practice of executive coaching. The first is its overriding purpose-that is, to enhance the individual executive's contribution to organizational performance. If coaching can't be directly and positively correlated to performance, it will eventually become just another forgettable management fad.

The second attribute involves ownership-the executive, not the coach, owns the decisions and actions arising from the coaching process. As in any true coaching relationship, it is understood that the coach does not bring function-specific or operational solutions to the table, unlike many other types of consulting.

Executive coaching is most often used by organizations in the following situations:

* Assisting a newly appointed leader to make a successful transition into a key role, particularly when the individual is new to the organization;

* Helping a valued executive with a specific performance problem to develop new skills and make necessary, often difficult, behavioral changes;

* Assisting a high-potential employee to fasttrack by developing his or her leadership skills in order to expedite their readiness for a more senior role;

* Acting as a confidant to senior executives (especially CEOs) as they wrestle with difficult strategic and operational decisions. As both a sounding board and devil's advocate, the coach helps the executive analyze issues, generate and test different courses of action, identify obstacles and move toward successful implementation.

Given the intense pressure and onerous responsibilities shouldered by most CEOs, it is not surprising that executive coaches are in demand. This article will describe four typical situations in which an executive coach can help. It will then outline the conditions and requisite factors that enable an executive coach and a senior executive to work together effectively.

1. The encroacher

The CEO of a large communications company was working 70 hours a week, and as a result he was tired, tense and shorttempered. By the CEO's own definition of leadership-"the ability to inspire others to work toward objectives which they have come to accept as their own"-this individual was clearly failing. He was a living example of, "How can I hope to inspire others when I feel burnt out and uninspired myself?"

After considerable discussion with the CEO, the executive coach observed a common pattern of behaviour. The CEO was using his direct reports like executive assistants, distracting them from focusing on their own priorities and responsibilities. At the same time, he was encroaching on areas of the business that were clearly the functional responsibility of his direct reports, causing duplication, resentment and animosity.

The executive coach suggested that the CEO meet with each of his direct reports to begin building a trusting relationship. …

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