Executive coaching helps successful people become even more successful, according to Robert Hicks, Ph.D., director of executive and
professional coaching at The University of Texas at Dallas School of Management.
“Executive coaching helps people change their perspective and behavior patterns to increase effectiveness,” says Hicks. “It’s a formal
relationship that begins with the setting of goals and a timetable for reaching them. An executive coach is someone who the person seeking coaching can bounce ideas off to uncover creative solutions a thinking partner. A good coach asks the tough questions.”
Hicks has been coaching and educating others to become coaches for many years. “It’s a field that will continue to grow and is rapidly becoming an established academic discipline. The value to executives, professionals, entrepreneurs and their organizations is tremendous,” he adds.
Smart Business asked Hicks why an executive would want to seek a coach, what to look for and what to expect.
What areas do executives typically seek coaching for?
Coaching is very individually determined, and coaching goals can change over time. Typical areas include leadership skills; organizational
effectiveness; career or professional advancement; work-life balance; personal skills and interpersonal style issues.
There is no greater way for a leader to enhance his or her effectiveness and development than through coaching. Anyone can take
classes and obtain a good degree of knowledge, but a coach helps the person apply that knowledge to his or her unique situation.
What is coaching not?
Executive coaching is not designed to deal with poor performers who are on a disciplinary track. The person being coached might need
improvement, but he or she is of unique value to the organization because of position or potential.
Executive coaches are not consultants. They don’t give advice on the specific, technical aspects of a business.
Executive coaching is not counseling. In rare cases, an executive’s personal issues may need to be addressed by a therapist before executive coaching begins.
Who makes a good candidate?
Successful executives are life-long learners who value personal and professional development. They are aware of their strengths and potential weaknesses or are at least interested in finding out about them. They have a strong sense of self and welcome feedback. They see the
cost of coaching not as an expense, but as an investment.
What is the time frame?
Executive coaching is not necessarily a brief process. It usually lasts between six months and a year, although it is not unusual for an
executive to extend the process because of positive results.
I coach my clients on the average of once or twice a month. We begin by setting goals and a time frame for meeting them. I’ve coached some
executives for many years and now see them less frequently, perhaps once every few months when we’re in ‘maintenance’ mode. Sometimes
there is a time gap, then the person comes back for coaching in new areas.
What should an executive look for in a coach?
A good executive coach needs to be personally well-grounded and have solid experience dealing with senior-level people and understanding their lifestyles. They deal with successful people who are very confident, so they need the same level of confidence.
They have to be able to think in business terms.
Executive coaching is not a touchy-feely process. The coach needs to be able to draw from a broad repertoire of models, tools and
approaches that he can apply to various situations. In this regard, the coach’s education should be scrutinized. The best executive coach
educational programs teach these various approaches, rather than a standard one-size-fits-all method.
There are many ways to coach, and the coach needs to be familiar with the options and techniques available. An executive coach needs
to understand how organizations work, be politically savvy and understand the behavioral change process.
Are companies developing employees to become executive coaches?
Yes. We are seeing more companies that want to develop a coaching culture. They are providing coaching skills education for internal coaches so that they have on-site resources, and they are educating their managers and leaders in the coaching managerial style.
At UT Dallas, we design programs for companies to meet both of these needs so that people with leadership responsibilities can get the best
out of their people, which is a primary goal of coaching bringing out the highest and best use of the talent that people bring to an organization.
ROBERT HICKS, Ph.D., is director of executive and professional coaching at UT Dallas, which is part of The University of Texas at Dallas School of Management. Reach him at (972) 883-5900 or