A split second. That’s how fast many of us have to make decisions at work. Whether you work as a manager or a new team member, there is often little time to make choices regarding your career or a project. When time is of the essence, it’s imperative to be able to think quickly, be decisive and understand the landscape.
Decision making is just one skill that executive leadership coaches can teach. I know from personal experience— I’ve taken coaching workshops.
So, what is executive leadership coaching exactly? “Executive coaches act as coach, educator, mentor, guide, confidant, and challenger to those that carry the burden of executive level leadership, the c-level executives as well as their direct reports,” says Jim Mitchell, corporate leadership and teaming consultant. The goal is “holistic development of the executive.”
Whether one-on-one or as a team, coaching can take place for weeks, months or years. According to Tiffany Gaskell, global director of coaching and leadership at Performance Consultants International, “Executive coaching unlocks leaders’ potential to maximize their own performance and that of their organization.”
In addition to c-suite execs who tap leadership coaches, all employees can benefit from developing new skills, behaviors and embarking on journey’s towards being better business people. Here’s why:
1. Learn how to be an effective leader.
“Leaders are those who are willing to create an impact or make a difference that adds value in a given situation that benefits all concerned,” says Mitchell. “[They] are willing to take total responsibility for that impact and be fully accountable for that impact.”
Leadership isn’t something that accumulates alongside the number of years you have spent at a company or in an industry. It is something that must be learned and honed.
“C-level executives, as well as those who aspire to lead at that level, need a safe place to have their ‘growing’ and ‘learning’ conversations,” adds Mitchell. Company leaders often feel siloed or unable to have mentorship conversations for fear of appearing vulnerable or incompetent. However, having a leadership coach allows an employee to dive deep into their growth without embarrassment. “These conversations need to be rigorously honest, challenging, authentic, vulnerable, and compassionate to support growth and development.”
2. Gain a competitive advantage in your industry or team.
Years ago, companies would seek out coaching for executives who were perceived to have a problem or needed fixing, says Gaskell. However, these days, it’s seen as a proactive measure that any individual can take on. “More and more companies and individuals view coaching as providing a competitive advantage to both individual and company by creating outstanding leadership competence,” insists Gaskell.
Think of it as learning CPR before a crisis. Getting coaching for how to deal with leadership challenges and obstacles will better prepare a person for climbing the ladder. “Organizations and their leaders operate in increasingly complicated environments: the military acronym VUCA is often used to describe it (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous),” says Gaskell. “We believe leadership is a huge privilege and a responsibility: leaders are at the forefront of establishing the culture in which their people operate and which their customers respond to.”
3. Improve self-confidence and human effectiveness.
While many people approach coaches to learn to deal with tactical challenges such as decision making, conflict resolution skills or improving communication with direct reports, it’s the “soft skills” that are most often improved. Mitchell works on “human effectiveness” in his clients professional and personal lives. This includes, “building deeper relationships in work and in life, making a difference in the lives of others in work and in live, powerful and authentic communication, vulnerable exchanges with others and more.”
Gaskell has also found that the lessons she works on with clients tend to be “beneath the surface.” She adds, “We find that the initial objective for a coaching engagement might start out as rather tactical, such as ‘improve my communication with my direct reports’ or ‘move from being operational to strategic’… then [we start] exploring and improving the leader’s self-confidence and emotional intelligence, improving their ability to see the big picture or to deal/exist with ambiguity and complexity, improving their resilience, etc.”
A professional resume writer once wrote, “Employers aren’t looking for robots that can only execute on a job description. They need people who can positively impact the culture and see what’s around the corner.” This doesn’t just apply to candidates, but also to current employees.
For Mitchell’s clients, he focuses on “emotional intelligence, emotional literacy, the role of vulnerability and authenticity in leadership, well-defined accountability and responsibility, impactful communication, dealing with difficult exchanges and individuals, vision, self-awareness and self-management through meditative practices, blind spots, leadership shadows, etc.”
4. Learn to trust your team.
One of the toughest skills for an employee to master is trusting others to contribute to the overall group’s success. Often, we as employees find comfort in being our own source of success and being solely responsible for both our wins and losses. However, climbing the professional ladder means becoming a manager and helming a team. Enter: trust.
At Performance Consultants International, Gaskell says that “coachees” most often set goals around “moving from technical to strategic view, staying proactive rather than reacting, and delegating and trusting reports.”
Gaskell adds, “we believe it’s vitally important for leaders in today’s world to be values-driven, have broad and deep vision, be authentic (be who they really are, and not be afraid to be so in front of others), be agile and be aligned. Coaching and other forms of self-development are great ways to explore and develop these parts of oneself.”
5. Develop oneself for the craziness of work and home.
All of us lead busy lives where we answer to titles such as mother, father, son, daughter, employee, employer, leader and doer. For many of the CEOs and executives that work with Mitchell, creating a “vision for each of the roles of their many lives” is one of the biggest benefits of coaching.
Working with a leadership coach allows people to develop this vision which, according to Mitchell, speaks to the 4 to 6 core values that person wants in their busy lives. "That vision helps refine their intentions, choices, and actions in their various relationships.”
The second biggest benefit that Mitchell says his clients report receiving from coaching is the ability to manage their emotions and think clearly no matter what is coming at them. “They learn to use paced respiration or meditative breathing to slow themselves down inside, shift away from the hecticness of fighting 'bears' all day long and then choose who they want to be as they engage different parts of their lives,” says Mitchell.
Here’s an example of this 2-minute drill that we can all use before going to the office in the morning or heading home at the end of the, according to Mitchell:
Spend 90 seconds slowing the breathing and deepening the breathing; 2 to 4 seconds in, 4 to 6 seconds out, quieting the mind, focusing on stillness, breathing and sensations only. No thinking is required. Then another 30 seconds of focus on your vision of who you want to be as you engage homelife or worklife and those therein — how do you want to show up to be closer to that vision you've identified for that part of your life and those relationships. Then go through the door and be that mom, that dad, that husband, that that wife, that leader, etc.
6. Work purposefully towards a promotion.
Gaskell insists that executive leadership coaching can help any employee attain the promotion that he or she wants. “One example is an operations manager who wanted to become a director,” says Gaskell. “At the start of the coaching, his leader told him that he had years to go before he would reach that. However, through the coaching, they got aligned on what specifically the manager needed to improve such as improving delegation so that more time was created to focus on strategy. Six months later, the ops manager received his promotion.”
Perhaps, like the aforementioned example, you have been told by a boss that a promotion is years away or your workplace is lacking mentorship opportunities. Consider seeking out a coach that has the appropriate training and is a good fit for you. “Generally, though, once people have had coaching, they understand the benefits,” says Gaskell. “As one client said, ‘if I had known the impact, I would have paid for it myself and done it years ago!’”