The best executive coaches “fit” with their clients

By Bill Springer on February 20, 2015

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In his www.hbr.org piece titled Get the Most Out of Executive Coaching, Steven Berglas writes, “…Whether it’s a smoking cessation program or working with a coach to improve management skills, people claim they want to change or drop dysfunctional behaviors from their lives, but then fight like Ninja warriors to defend them. Worst of all, irrespective of how intelligent or professionally powerful a person is, it is a virtual certainty that after embarking on a change process, they will be partially or fully derailed by the feeling, ‘Better the devil I know than the devil I don’t know.’

“…What, then, should you do if you think you want to change, and, like so many of your peers, put your faith (and a huge financial commitment) in a coach? Is it possible to develop an authentic commitment to executive coaching through sheer willpower alone? No. But what you can do is develop a mindset—i.e. new ‘automatic’ cognitive messages—that will help you counter your own resistance to change.

“…Having spent 30 years as a psychotherapist and coach, I can assure you that acting the role of a ‘participant in a change process’ is not nearly the same as being committed to actually changing yourself. Many people claim to be involved in a change process when, in fact, they are holding their true selves in abeyance. Years ago, many gay men married women because they held the deluded belief that the process of being part of an intimate heterosexual dyad would change who they were. In time, virtually all discovered that suppression doesn’t work and that role-playing without conviction has no chance of effecting change.

“Coaching cannot change you one iota unless or until you’re really committed—until you have skin in the game.”

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Linkage’s Coaching practice leader David Vaughn agrees and has two critical insights to add. The first is to understand that the best path to a meaningful coaching relationship starts with a commitment to not sugarcoat the feedback. A coach’s job is to make sense of the data, and clients are best served when coaches communicate exactly what they see.

“I recently completed a coaching engagement with several very senior executives,” he writes. “The message I had for each of them was that they would have to change their style and approach if they wanted to be successful. However, I communicated the news in a forthright manner and that allowed them to connect the dots and have critical ‘aha’ moments. The result was exactly as Berglas predicts. We had productive conversations around how they can best move forward. And most importantly, they had the critical inquisitive mindset that allowed them to say ‘Please, tell me more. I want to understand how I can change!’

“The second message is for those who are considering working with an executive coach. No matter how much pressure is placed on you to employ a coach, do not move forward unless you are completely sold on the idea. A couple of years back, I purchased a good-looking pair of shoes. When I purchased them, they were a bit tight and hurt when I initially wore them. The store clerk said they would loosen up and get more comfortable in a short time. They never did!

“Hiring an executive coach is somewhat similar to buying a pair of shoes. It must begin with the ‘fit.’ Don’t agree to a coaching assignment if you are uncomfortable with a coach, or if you are only agreeing to being coached because an HR/OD person (or perhaps your boss) says you should. Only say ‘yes’ to a coaching assignment because you are sold on the idea. More damage will be done if you agree to be coached and fail to engage with any level of genuine commitment.”

So, let’s hear it. Are you resisting dropping dysfunctional leadership behaviors even though you know it’s necessary to move forward? A good coach can help.

Posted in Blog, Coaching

About Bill Springer

When Bill Springer isn't writing for our Leadership Insights Blog, he's usually pushing a baby stroller, sailing, or riding bikes.....long distances.

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