Executive Coaching is a Journey, Not A Race


Executive Coaching is a Journey, Not A Race

Author: Gene Wheeler


Executive Coaching is a journey, not a race to find a solution or reach a goal.  Many coaches fall into the trap of racing to a solution and give advice to the coachee before they have enough information to provide adequate coaching.  Don’t rob the coachee the opportunity to be guided to a solution.  To explore this topic more, let’s start with looking at the definition of coaching.

Coaching Defined

Wikipedia defines coaching as a form of development in which an experienced person, called a coach, supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance. The client is sometimes called a coachee.

To expand on the definition, a coach uses a strategic approach with solution-focused questions to uncover facts, providing data to reach a solution.  S(he uses tools such as active listening, summarizing, paraphrasing, and metaphors to mention a few, to assist the coachee during the coaching process to reach their goal.

I am often asked the question, what is the difference between a therapist, counselor, mentor, consultant, and coach?  To explain the difference, let’s look at a simple example of learning to drive a car.

  • A therapist will explore what is stopping you from driving a car
  • A counselor will listen to your anxieties about the car
  • A mentor will share tips from his/her experience of driving a car
  • A consultant will advise you how to drive the car and it depends on what kind of car
  • A coach will encourage and support you in driving the car

While therapy may be about damage and counseling about distress, coaching is about identifying and fulfilling goals.

Coaching is a Partnership

Coaching is a partnership between the coach and the coachee. It is working with the individual to unlock their potential and maximize their performance – helping them to learn rather than teach them. The coach becomes a thinking partner by using a collaborative, results-oriented, and systematic process.   Dr. Marcia Reynolds, past president of the International Coaching Federation states: “In order to be an executive coach, you’ve got to step out of being the fixer, expert, and become the helper.  Step away from being the person who knows best, to being a coach who can help the coachee bring out their best.”

Strategic Approach to Executive Coaching

A strategic approach to coaching is more than a beginning, middle and close. A high-level overview of a strategic approach to executive coaching includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • Pre-session preparation, mindfulness on the part of the coach, and developing a profile on the coachee and contracting.
  • Session opening, setting the stage and establishing rapport, and realizing that trust may take some time.
  • Uncovering the goal, seeing the goal through the eyes of the coachee, getting a clear picture of what they want to accomplish. It is very important at this stage to be more interested than interesting.
  • Unpacking the goal – this is the discovery stage, what is happening now, what is moving them toward and away from the goal, and impact on others.
  • Identify options and obstacles to reach the goal.
  • Taking action, converting discussion to a decision.
  • Close commitment and next session planning.

Executive Coaching Skills: Communication

In order to be a successful executive coach, you need skills, and the most effective skill is communication.  Communicating is more than just providing feedback.  Communication skills include active listening, summarizing (dynamic mirror), paraphrasing and metaphors to mention a few.  These skills assist the coach to uncover key information during the coaching process to reach the goal.  It starts with being a highly skilled listener.  The following are some tips on how to become a better listener:

  • Control your thoughts and emotions enough to focus entirely on the other person
  • Disengage from your own circumstances
  • Listen without judging
  • Be fully present
  • Be alert for what is not being said
  • Match your pace with that of the coachee
  • Remember questions do not need to fall on top of one another

Coaching is Not a Race to a Solution

Through active listening, summarizing, paraphrasing, and metaphors, you gather key information related to the goal of the session.  The biggest key in the coaching process is asking yourself, “Do I have enough information?” Case in point, you are meeting the coachee for the first time, and she says, “I want to have the ability to influence and collaborate outside the chain of command”.  The great goal right?  But, do you have enough information?  It would be easy for you to provide advice and tell her, based on your vast knowledge, she should do this.  But, do you have enough information? NO.  You need to see the definition of the goal through her eyes, not yours.  The best way to do this would be to follow up her statement with, “Tell me more.”  Everyone wants to race to a solution without enough information.  Don’t fall into the trap of being married to your own wisdom.

I am always asked the question, “Can you provide a list of questions that I can ask?”  Questions come from curiosity.  We use strategic questions to gain information.  During each coaching session, we will look at targeted questions that will uncover the information needed, not a group of canned questions. We will take each one of our sessions, over the course of the coaching contract, to gain the information needed to develop a coaching strategy with the client.  The coaching strategy would be dependent on their goals, their support system, and how they will hold themselves accountable.  Through practice, you will become more confident and comfortable in your role as an executive coach.

Benefits of Executive Coaching

 There are many benefits of coaching:

  • Better self-awareness and self-reflection
  • Increased individual performance
  • Higher motivation and commitment
  • Improved leadership skills
  • Personal growth
  • Higher quality of life/work-life balance
  • More effective management of the change process
  • Improved communication and relationships
  • Efficient implementation of acquired skills 

In summary

Coaching is a journey, not a race. The executive coach learns to pace themself, and knows when to ask the question, “Do I have enough information?” or, “Do I need to summarize and ask for more information?”  Helpful and challenging questions are the key to effective coaching.  The aim of asking questions is to help the coach uncover what is happening in the coachee’s world.

A coach should not lead, judge, advise or influence the coachee.  The coachee has all the required knowledge to solve his or her own problems.  The coach facilitates and unleashes the coachee’s potential.

About the author: Gene Wheeler is a Consultant, Educator, Public Speaker, Executive Coach, and Facilitator for Executive Coaching for the Institute of Organization Development.  He has been an adult educator and Human Resource Consultant for over 30 years, helping individuals, teams and organizations grow and strengthen human capital through recruiting, 360° and psychometric assessments, competency-based leadership development training programs, talent management, and executive coaching. He was also the director of the Air Force Leadership School.

To learn more about the steps, tools, and traps of executive coaching, and learn a step-by-step strategic process to become an effective Executive Coach, sign up for our eight-month Executive Coaching Certification Program, www.instituteod.com


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