Tiger Woods knows how to play golf. He’s proven himself so well, in fact, that it begs the question of why he would require a coach to improve his game.
Consider upper-level corporate executives: Why would these obviously accomplished professionals need additional training or coaching to sharpen their business skills?
“What a coach does for Tiger is to help him become aware of elements of his swing, something he’s doing differently or some new ways of thinking,” says Dr. Stephen Brock, LPCC, professor at Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University. “In an analogous way in the business community, coaches use assessments and tools to help managers and executives leverage strengths, identify and compensate for vulnerabilities, and develop additional skills in a particular area to be even more effective.”
Smart Business spoke with Brock about the evolution of executive coaching, and how managers and executives can improve and enrich their professional and personal lives through coaching.
How are mentoring and coaching different?
Mentoring and coaching often are used as interchangeable terms, but in reality, they are two distinctively different activities. Mentoring is much more akin to the guild system in the Middle Ages where a master craftsman took on apprentices to teach skills, give direction to move his charges along to journeymen and, finally, to become master craftsmen themselves. Alternatively, coaching is a collaborative relationship that does not require the coach to be a subject-matter expert in a particular field, other than the field of human development. A coach understands the process of enabling people to explore their goals, to do critical thinking about their challenges, their talents, their abilities, how to access and leverage those to accomplish their goals, and how to create measurable steps as they move forward.
How has coaching changed over the last decade?
For several decades, professional consultants have been coaching personal development. Often, the coaching involved a problem employee who was going to cost a company a great deal of money to replace. So coaching started as a kind of remedial intervention process. That has changed dramatically. Today, the focus of coaching emphasizes working with people who are already functional and performing well but who want to achieve an even higher performance in their life.
Meanwhile, coaching is right at the cusp of becoming a singular profession unto itself perhaps in the next five years. England and Australia already have graduate degrees in coaching, and several U.S. schools are developing graduate degrees and certificates.
Who are prime candidates for an executive coaching program?
Senior executives are driving decision-making down in the ranks to become more efficient and effective, and they are using coaching at all levels of their organization. I’ve seen law firms, cardiovascular practices, hospitals, manufacturing facilities and sales groups, all of which are using coaching in slightly different ways. In some instances, it’s used as part of succession planning where higher performers are groomed to move into greater levels of responsibility. Coaching is also effective for people who have been promoted and must learn a new set of responsibilities. Senior executives use coaches as an objective frame of reference because presidents and CEOs often don’t have people they can talk to and get straight answers from. A coach becomes their sounding board someone who can say the unpopular thing or point out counterproductive behavior.
Today’s managers routinely have to play multiple roles to their subordinates, so companies have started training their middle and lower management to become more effective coaches as part of their management skill set.
What are key components of an external coaching program?
There are a significant number of responsible organizations rooted in solid theory and practice that train and certify coaches. There also are a number of fly-by-night outfits that realized they could make money selling coaching certifications. Some of these programs require very little on the part of the individual to become certified. A good program is one that engages both business acumen and acumen in psychology. It should provide people with a basic understanding of how a business operates and a true understanding of interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics. Another factor is trust. Coaches should meet a potential client at least once or twice to see if trust will develop and if it’s a good fit.
How does coaching impact today’s business climate?
Some companies are starting to develop their own internal coaching programs. These internal coaches become a resource to anyone in the organization who would like to have coaching. Front-line superintendents, supervisors or cell leaders could easily gain from trained, internal coaches. However, I think we’ll continue to see the use of external coaches who have no investment in internal politics and who can give the tough message that truly benefits the person receiving it. Of course, there are also companies that use a combination of these approaches.
DR. STEPHEN BROCK, LPCC, is a professor of leadership and executive coaching at Coles College of Business, Kennesaw State University. Reach him at (678) 231-3812 or email@example.com.