First published in The Know Magazine, from Excel
Communications (HRD) Ltd, Autumn 1996.
EVERYTHING YOU WANTED TO KNOW ... BUT
DIDN'T KNOW WHO TO ASK
An interview with Penny Tompkins and James
Lawley, specialist executive coaches.
What is Executive Coaching?
Since the advent of regular appraisal interviews and other forms
of feedback, most people have a fairly good idea of their strengths
and weakness at work. However, knowing what you want to change
and knowing how to go about changing it require two different
approaches. Executive Coaching involves one to one meetings with a
specialist trained in how people change. It is designed to pinpoint
specific changes that will be the difference that makes the
difference in a person improving their performance.
What is the difference between Executive Coaching and Employee
Employee Counselling is a valuable approach and tends to be used
when people are suffering from significant emotional or behaviour
difficulties. Often it is the last resort in a disciplinary process
or after a traumatic event in a person's life such as a sudden death
of a loved one. It tends to be orientated towards fixing problems.
While Executive Coaching may well involve an individual resolving
emotional difficulties, this is not its main focus. The focus of
Executive Coaching is very much outcome orientated: "What do you want
to achieve?" rather than "What is the problem?"
What do people come to you for?
Basically, there are two types of change: Remedial and Generative.
Remedial change is when someone has a problem. They may say things
like "I lack the confidence to present to large groups of people," or
"I'm overworked and I can't seem to delegate," or "I have a
personality clash with my manager," etc.
Other people say, "I'm a pretty good manager and I'd really like
to improve my ability to support my people during this corporate
change," or "I've just got promoted to the Board and I realise I need
some new ways to influence my fellow directors." This is Generative
change: taking a strength and making it even better or broadening a
skill so it is effective in even more situations.
What are the most common issues people ask you to help them
Lack of confidence and fear are the big ones. You'd be surprised
how many people, even in very senior positions think they lack
confidence. And this can take many forms; from fear of public
speaking, to being unable to say "no" to feeling inferior to peers.
Also, with the move to flatter structures and emphasis on
empowerment, managers are having to learn new skills, especially how
to coach their people to high competencies and how to support them
through the corporate change process. Executive Coaching can help
these managers learn new ways of relating to and supporting their
colleagues (even the 'difficult' ones!).
How long does Executive Coaching last?
This is variable, because sometimes one session is enough for
someone to set themselves on the right road. However we find most
people prefer to have change happen over time. This means they can
put new behaviours and skills into operation, receive feedback and
adjust accordingly. Therefore the standard programme includes an
initial session of 1.5 to 2 hours, followed by 5 further sessions
each a month apart.
What actually happens in an Executive Coaching session?
Firstly, everything that happens is completely confidential
between the individual and the coach unless the individual chooses
otherwise. Secondly, as each person is unique, no two coaching
sessions are the same. Having said that, there are some general
similarities, e.g. The first meeting is devoted to getting really
Outcomes: What do you want and how will you know you have
achieved it; what is your evidence for success? This gives us a
direction to work towards and provides a form of objectivity to
this very subjective work.
Current Situation: Exactly what is happening now -- what
is the strategy operating that maintains the behaviour and what is
the motivation that keeps things repeating and therefore the same?
Long Term Effects of getting what you want for yourself
and others. There are always consequences for any change, and
being aware of these in advance is vital to the process.
Surprisingly there have been times when just coaching a person to
answer these questions has been enough for them to change their
behaviour in the direction they want to go! Usually more is needed,
and there are a whole range of processes available to facilitate the
move from where an individual is (Current Situation), to where they
want to be (achieving the Outcome) so they and the company get the
results they want (Long Term Effects).
In further sessions, progress towards the Outcome is reviewed.
Then 'micro goals' are defined and the next step on the way to the
overall outcome is addressed. Often the person being coached is
surprised how much change occurs in the session. This makes it
much easier for those changes to be implemented in the work place.
When is Executive Coaching recommended compared to other forms
We would recommend Executive Coaching when:
- Development is required that is specific to you and would
probably not be adequately addressed by a general skills
- The problem is not something you feel comfortable discussing
in a group.
- You are unable to attend a training course (which could take
you away from your job for several days).
- It is more appropriate for you to discuss your development
with a specialist from outside the company.
- Support is required over a period of time (say, 6 months).
- You have tried other approaches without success.
Is Executive Coaching only useful for individuals?
Some far-sighted companies have offered their whole management
team the opportunity to get support through Executive Coaching. This
is run with two Executive Coaches who work with team members in a
group setting so that everyone's development is open and supported by
the group process. This unusual approach has proved enormously
effective for those who were willing to take a giant step in their
If you always do what you've always done,
You'll always get what you've always got!
©1996, Penny Tompkins and James Lawley
translated into French
Last changed 27.5.01