Illustrated by Sutthiya Lertyongphati
Executive coaching is a process in which a coach works one-on-one, or in a small group, with executives to help them achieve their goals and improve their professional performance. At the outset, it can seem like an intimidating and daunting process, particularly for those who are new to it. However, with the right strategies and approaches, executive coaching can be incredibly beneficial, both for the executives who receive it and for their organizations as a whole.
We’ll be using the word ‘thinker’ in place of ‘coachee’/’client’ (a concept I’ve taken from Claire Pedrick’s excellent book, Simplifying Coaching), as that’s what the executives/students you are working with are – people who are encouraged by their coach to think deeply when creating their own goals, and who carefully craft potential solutions to any problems they may face in their professional lives.
One thing to bear in mind before we start is that executive coaching strategies can be used in multiple spheres of life: in business, when mentoring students and even in your role as a mentor for trainee teachers. In this post, we’ll take a look at some key strategies to keep in mind if you’re a beginner in executive coaching.
#1: Set clear goals
It’s essential to have a clear idea of the goals you, and the thinker, want to achieve through executive coaching. What specific skills or areas does your thinker want to improve? What outcomes do they hope to achieve? Before beginning the coaching process, it’s important to work with your thinker to set clear, achievable goals that align with their overall professional objectives. The initial meeting may simply be an informal ‘getting to know you’ chat. This will certainly help to initiate the rapport-building process.
#2: Communicate openly
One of the most significant benefits of executive coaching is that it provides a safe space for thinkers to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, identify areas for improvement, and craft strategies for achieving their goals. Through one-on-one or group sessions, thinkers can articulate their unique challenges and concerns and receive tailored feedback and guidance from a trusted third party, or from each other.
Effective communication is key to successful coaching. Be sure to encourage your thinkers to communicate openly and honestly with you, sharing their thoughts, feelings, and concerns. The more transparent they are, the better you can understand their needs and tailor the coaching process accordingly.
#3: Embrace feedback
Feedback is a crucial component of executive coaching, and it can sometimes be challenging to receive. However, being open to feedback is essential if you want to grow and improve your professional abilities. Be willing to accept constructive criticism and look for ways to apply the feedback you receive in your work – be that from your thinkers, or indirectly from colleagues your thinkers may be talking with. It can be useful to do some kind of anonymous ‘thinker reflection‘ if you have a small group (e.g., via Google Forms), or even to ask your group/individuals how they think the coaching is going. If you create an atmosphere of friendly, relaxed conversation, then the coaching process should flow naturally in an agreed direction.
#4: Work collaboratively
Coaching is a collaborative process, and it’s important to work closely with your thinkers to achieve any goals that have been agreed upon. Be willing to work closely with other coaches and seek their advice, engage in active listening, and be open to new ideas and approaches. See the recommended reading list at the end of this blog post for my favourite three books on executive coaching strategies.
#5: Encourage your thinkers to take action
Ultimately, executive coaching is pointless if your thinkers do not take action to implement the strategies and advice that has been discussed. Be proactive and encourage your thinkers to take the steps needed to achieve their goals. Even small steps can make a significant difference in their professional development.
In conclusion, executive coaching can be a highly effective tool for the professional development of the thinkers you are working with, even if you’re a new coach. By setting clear goals, communicating openly, embracing feedback, working collaboratively, and taking action, you can make the most of the coaching process and achieve your goals as a coach (and, ultimately, help your thinkers achieve theirs). Remember, the key to success is to stay committed and consistent in your efforts, and you’re sure to see positive results in due course.
Recommended Further Reading
Pedrick, C. (2021) Simplifying coaching: How to have more transformational conversations by doing less. London: Open University Press.
Reynolds, M. (2020) Coach the person, not the problem: A guide to using reflective inquiry. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Jones, G. and Gorell, R. (2021) 50 top tools for coaching: A complete toolkit for developing and empowering people. London: KoganPage.