Executive Coaching: Get Started on the Right Foot

What’s the best way to start an executive coaching relationship? How do you start with a coach, set your goals, and measure results? When I’m working with managers, we have fairly long discussions in the beginning before ever contracting to work together.

If you start executive coaching on the wrong foot, you can waste time and money. Worse, if personal stories have been shared, there is a feeling of having made oneself vulnerable without good results. It can sabotage efforts to improve and forever discolor  further coaching.

Surprisingly, some executives have trouble defining what they want out of coaching. While they may be very clear about their own personal goals, when it comes to linking it to business outcomes, they have difficulty.

There are two kinds of goals for leaders to work on in coaching — business goals and personal goals. To obtain measurable and sustainable business results, a manager must do some things differently, and also influence other team members and subordinates to do things differently. Personal goals must follow the external business goals.

During the contracting phase with the executive, as the coach, it is my responsibility to ensure that the goal-setting conversation is sequenced for best results. Mary Beth O’Neill, in her book Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart, suggests the following process:

  1. Encourage the leader to name the business results needed.
  2. Find out what team behaviors need to be different to accomplish the results.
  3. Explore what personal leadership challenges the executive faces in improving these results and team behaviors.
  4. Identify specific behaviors the leader needs to enhance or change personally.

This sequence links business results with team behaviors and with behavior changes in the executive. Throughout the coaching engagement, the coach continually inquires about all three: the business results, the team’s actions and the leader’s personal changes.

It’s easy to get focused on creating personal change, focusing on a manager’s personal leadership goals. That in itself is a strong motivator for people to use a coach. Personal goals can consume a large portion of the time spent coaching. But unless there is forethought and linking to business outcomes, coaching is a perk, not a process for obtaining results.

The rubber meets the road when there are measurable business results as a direct outcome of executive coaching.

Sometimes a business situation is too ambiguous to be able to clarify what work process or human relationship goals would support achieving the bottom-line result. The coach who persists in inquiring about these specific goals will help an executive toward better focus and effective action.

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