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Science, art or corporate fad? What does an executive coach do… and do you need one?



Advice | Expert | Featured

By Margie Hartley

In 2005 I received a call from my best friend who was attending a Coaching Psychology Conference held at the University of Sydney. She said “I have just discovered what you have been doing all your life … it’s called Executive Coaching.”

I have to be deeply honest here. I told her that I thought it was a fad and that everyone should have the ability to solve their own issues. Fast forward fourteen years and I am now an executive and team coach, who leads a team of executive coaches and facilitators who work with 11 of the top 20 ASX listed companies. So, what shifted my thinking from sceptic to fan?

Firstly, coaching has definitely moved from a relatively immature, novel intervention to an evidence-based science that is practised by people with PHDs and years of experience. The best way to encapsulate the evolution is represented below.

Late 1980s:“A coach? What’s a coach?”

Early 1990s:“A coach? You mean, like… a corporate shrink?”

Mid-to-late 1990s: “A coach? Am I in trouble?”

Early 2000s:“A coach? Thanks – I think.”

Mid-to-late 2000s:“A coach? Great!”

Now:“A coach? How long can I work with him/her – and do I get to choose the one I want?

So what is coaching, what isn’t it and do you need one? Coaching is an enabler of growth and performance. In coaching, the coach helps the coachee unlock their potential and change. It isn’t mentoring or counselling. In mentoring, the expert is the mentor and they tell you and give you advice. Coaching is all about change and growth. It is a collaborative relationship between professionals with agreed goals and measures of future success. Coaching is future focused and usually solution focused with the emphasis being on what next and what is strong rather than what was and is wrong.

There are a many different ways executive coaching can be used. A common example is transition coaching when an executive is moving from one role to another or when the individual has continued to miss out on career opportunities and can’t quite seem to find the change they need. Coaching can be used as a leadership development opportunity or when behaviour change is required.

When selecting an executive coach it is important to look for experience and qualifications rather than looking for the individual doing or having done the job you are doing.

Great coaches will help you refine your goals and then design the behaviour and thinking and feelings required for the change.

To make sure there is a good relationship you will need to have a half hour coffee or ‘chemistry meet’ before you begin to see if you have rapport with the coach. Rapport is essential as this relationship has the ability to unlock your potential when you are able to be honest, feel safe and connect.

The coaching process usually looks like between 4-12 months of fortnightly sessions depending on the issues, needs and goals of the coachee and the organisation. The coach and coachee then agree the rules of engagement and then commit to the process. Some organisations will have a triangulated meeting with the sponsor, the coach and the coachee so that the measures of success are clearly defined. The coaching relationship is entirely confidential and the coach and the coachee will agree what information, if any, is shared. This enables honest, open and collaborative conversations for change.

Real executive coaching is more provocative than a cup of coffee or a professional friend. As the Global Head of Leadership for Citibank Mark Whiteley said in my latest Fast Track episode, “I think it’s really important that we know the difference between training, between coaching and between mentoring as a way of doing quite different things.”

It is helping someone find their potential and facilitating positive purposeful change. Ask around in your network for those that have used an executive coach and do your homework. This could be the catalyst for the most positive change you make to your career.


About Margie Hartley

Margie is one of Australia’s leading executive coaches and founder of Gram Consulting Group, an independent coaching and facilitation community. Having worked with 11 of the top 20 ASX listed companies, Margie’s strong track record with enabling results has seen her and her team transform individuals through facilitation and executive coaching. Her podcast Fast Track: Career Conversations with Margie Hartley features weekly career insights from some of Australia’s top CEOs and business leaders on how to, literally, fast track your career.

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