The benefits of executive coaching

Many senior executives, so effective at making critical decisions regarding such vital matters as strategy choices, financial restructuring, product development and the like, sometimes have a particularly hard time making evaluative decisions and taking corrective actions regarding personnel.

What’s at play here is that their academic preparation and industry experience served them well to address the former matters, but not necessarily the latter dynamics relating to human behavior. And just as tax advisers and legal consultants are brought in to provide analyses from their areas of proficiency, so also are executive coaches available to offer their expertise and insights about inter- and intrapersonal issues.

Some illustrations of the types of problems which constitute aberrant behavior in corporate settings follow, as well as insights into the ex coachingbehind-the-scenes, erroneous thinking by management that leads to the status quo going unchallenged. These examples may seem almost preposterous, in that one would think these situations could be readily resolved by an assertive management team. Yet, many a seasoned manager has been tripped up by the emotions triggered by episodes similar to these, opting for inaction or mishandling matters. And many an organization has suffered the resulting consequences: staff amotivation leading to lack of team spirit, lowered productivity and turnover.

An engineer, who had been a good worker, had a drop-off in performance after not receiving a promotion he requested. “I don’t want to fire him,” shared the senior manager. “I dread the interview process and rejecting all those qualified applicants who really need the job. But I just don’t know how to turn him around.”

The prima donna IT guru spends much of the team meeting time boasting of his knowledge, while demeaning that of his peers. The bullying is tolerated, and the team suffers. “Some people are just not cut out to work in teams” (perhaps he’s missing the “team gene”?) is the rationale offered, while not fully contemplating the effects on the rest of the workforce, let alone the team, and potential (costly) turnover.

A rising young executive can’t tolerate giving major presentations to clients or to internal senior management, because of the anxiety she has attached to public speaking. Rather than obtain the critical help needed for the employee’s development, one manager’s approach was “I guess we’ll just have to compensate for this deficiency and cover her by having someone else pitch in.”

A perennial late arriver at meetings causes disruption and resentment. Her manager doesn’t want to create a fuss with this leading salesperson, although the other staff members increasingly resent her getting favorable treatment about breaking rules. The manager confesses his fear: “What if she quits and goes to a competitor? I will look very bad to my boss and to senior management.”

Employees are acting too competitively with each other. “Why can’t they collaborate and encourage one another as real teammates do?” a senior manager laments. “We have the best compensation plan in the industry. Isn’t that enough?”

The above vignettes reflect real-life occurrences, with each of them resolved through different psychological and communication approaches. In fact, one of these was at the base of this columnist’s invited response to a popular case study published in a leading business journal. I used the concept of psychological fusion — when other people “make us feel” — to explain the ability of an aggressive member of a team to intimidate all the others in the group, including its leader.

One way to explore successful resolution options to these and other conflicts is to put in place a resource called an executive coach. But how does one choose the right one? Certainly engaging someone with successful experience in or working with organizations is helpful for advice to be relevant to the tough, competitive environment that is the corporate world.

Since many of the disruptions in corporate life have a psychological component to them, formal education in systems psychology would be desired, hopefully at the doctoral level with research applied to organizations. Also, an executive needs to believe that his or her comments to a coach will be kept in confidence, so a professional affiliation provides some assurance in this regard. Trust and confidentiality need to be addressed at the get-go.

In the above illustrations are observations about the confused behaviors of employees and also of the managers’ response to same. In part, the role of an executive coach is to de-fog the thinking and help relieve individuals of disabling thoughts or fears. Often an executive coach can offer suggestions about what a manager might specifically do to intervene successfully to ameliorate the situation.

Sometimes the coach will be brought in to address the matter directly with the employee, if that is the manager’s desire. This method can be effective at allowing for the detection, and correction, of some underlying causes that are leading to the problematic behavior which is being exhibited. Once again, the matter of confidentiality — this time between the coach and the employee — must be addressed.

By Paul Baard

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