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Virtual Executive Coach
Coaching entrepreneurs and small business owners is tough work, but rewarding if you can tap into their enthusiasm and knowledge.
Why would anyone want to coach businessmen and women who may be tired of their corporate careers or may just want to turn their hobby into a business? Why would anyone want to be a coach? I’ve asked myself these and other questions many times when I left the “safe” world of being a therapist where the rules of engagement are well prescribed. It’s safer in being the expert whose job it is to listen and help reassure folks that they are not losers, that there’s meaning in their lives, that all they need is to have a passion for life. The world of coaching is a different arena where coach and client are equal and the coaches job is to “ask the right questions” to get his or her clients to engage in a plan of action that hopefully will change their lives. My coaching style is non-directive, whereby my executive clients discuss their current project assignments and managerial approaches to staff recruitment, development, and retention. I use the following strategies to optimize executive growth to:
• Model executive development based on individual and company core values
• Create a visionary approach to problem-solving
• Establish accountability structures for change
• Encourage risk-taking behaviors that foster competition and growth
• Create new markets for your services and product
Thus, coaching involves putting self aside and concentrating on the motivation of your client. The emphasis is on the relationship developed between coach and client where each participates in a process of change that holds the client’s agenda using the expertise and experience of the coach. Whereas mentoring involves mirroring for your client what the skill might look like (intention), coaching offers a vision for your client that empowers and holds your client accountable. Success = accountability for change.
Business coaching is different from life coaching because the emphasis is on employee buy-in and performance within the organization. Life balance issues which are critical to personal success at home and work are less important in a business setting because coaching is typically generated from upper management. Therefore, the employee is not necessarily open to coaching at first and the coach must be seen as a facilitator and advocate for the employees rather than management.
Unless upper management has bought into coaching for their managers, then any real change is highly improbable. Recently I was asked to help insurance executives at a large multi-national company infuse coaching into their middle managers. Direct employee reporting had been relegated to “howdy” calls in the field and being available for crisis management. An astute executive wanted his middle managers to become better coaches to their respective field office staff including claims, clerical, fiduciary, and legal personnel. In preparing for the half-day workshop I decided to go back to a seminal chapter in Executive Coaching by Fitzgerald and Berger, 2002 on “Coaching from the Inside,” by Casey Strumph. By strengthening internal coaching any gains are more aptly to be accepted because of cultural buy-in. For those organizations resistant to “experts” who typically leave after a presentation with a “bag of tools,” a coaching “facilitator” whose job is to teach key organizational players how to better coach may be the answer. Flatter organizations are better suited to internal coaches because of multiple functions and roles where decisions can be implemented more quickly. Certain prerequisites are required, however—i.e.
• A strong and credible HR function
• Executive level support and buy-in
• Using feedback effectively
• Supportive self-development
• Partnering with external experts
• Creating internal coaching networks
• Role modeling and mentoring
• An explicit confidentiality policy
A strong HR department can make or break internal coaching. If coaching is part of one’s job description that is rewarded by the company, then supervisors may view knowledge transfer as positive and necessary for successive planning. Another axiom for successful internal coaching is the level of the employee in the organization. The more senior the executive, the more likely external coaching is needed; in this assignment, I was asked to train middle managers who were critical to the information flow between senior and field personnel. A cost-effective approach was to build coaching into existing job functions, thereby making coaching part of the corporate culture.
Witherspoon and White (1998)* identified four coaching areas: skills, performance, development, and leadership agenda. Skills coaching can be provided by internal coaches. Sample areas include: conducting meetings, goal setting, and accountability structures. Performance coaching concentrates on improving job performance with growth plans intended to focus on employee strengths and coaching needed to improve skill sets. Development coaching is generally intended for candidates who have just been promoted. Finally, leadership coaching focuses on strategic vision and planning. Feedback is useful for managers to see if they are actively communicating and supporting their staff; feedback is better given in anonymous surveys rather than 360 evaluations to minimize political agendas. It is important that managers act on feedback given by their staff or give reasons why they cannot act. Self development includes readings, conferences, structured coaching experience and workshops. Reflection is a valuable tool to improve accountability and provide a timeline for employee change. Partnering with external coaches is valuable for introducing a new evaluation technique or setting the stage for developing internal coaches within the organization.
External coaches can provide validation for coaching performance. Role modeling is another important function of internal coaches who manage by example and provide an in vivo coaching experience for one’s direct reports. Coaching networks are important. The International Coach Federation has state and city chapters that provide ongoing training and sharing of coaching tools and experience. Internal coaches should secure from management an internal policy protecting coachee confidential information and to share only employee strengths. Trust is gained over time and the coaching agreement should spell out potential pitfalls of breaking confidentiality. The internal coach must face his/her peers everyday and harmonious working conditions require confidentiality.
1. Hire an external coach to give a workshop on coaching within the organization and to validate the importance of internal coaches.
2. Think of a time when you gave negative feedback to an employee and whether or not long-term gains and morale were maintained. Could internal coaching provide a better solution than growth plans?
3. Ask HR if they value coaching and to what extent employee morale and teamwork is improved.
* Witherspoon, R., and R.P. White. (1998) Four essential ways that coaching can help executives. Greensboro, N.C.: Center for Creative Leadership.