How to Succeed with Your Executive Coach

Business coach meeting with younger coaching client

Imagine sitting down with your boss for your regular update session and hearing her utter the following words: “I would like you to start working with an executive coach.” Your first reaction is likely to be, “Why, what’s wrong with me?” and not, “This is great! She must really believe in me.” And like so many instances in life, your gut reaction will be wrong.

Almost without exception, senior leaders invest in executive coaching for high potential individuals, not problem employees on a fast track to the exit. And while the coaching will likely involve identifying and curing blind spots in your behaviors, the emphasis is on helping you grow from good to great or great to greater.

Yes, the opportunity to work with an executive coach is a privilege, not a problem. It is also a situation where you get out of the experience what you put into it. If you have the good fortune to work with an executive coach, here are seven ideas to help you get the most out of this experience.

Seven Ideas to Help You Get the Most Out of Your Executive Coaching Experience:

1. Accept that there is room for growth. Do not let ego and arrogance get in the way of recognizing there are always opportunities to improve. The world’s elite athletes reached their levels of peak performance with great coaches observing and helping them tune and tweak or radically alter their techniques in search of improvements.

We have the same needs and the same opportunities to strengthen as business professionals.

2. Bring a Beginner’s Mind. This concept borrowed from Zen Buddhism, describes setting aside preconceived ideas and being open and eager for new ideas. Without this beginner’s mind, learning becomes difficult, and you end up in a fight against yourself.

3. Recognize that the coach’s role is not to offer answers or to do the work. The coach is there to observe, ask questions, challenge you and hold you accountable. The heavy lifting and hard work of change is all yours. 

4. Accept that success means you will have to change your behaviors. We all understand how difficult it is to change our behaviors. How’s that fitness program or diet going? Are you on target with your New Year’s resolutions? Have you kept your commitment to meet with your team members every 60 days to discuss their professional development? Are you still smoking? Regardless of the issue, changing our own behaviors is incredibly difficult. Yet, coaching only works when you follow-through and change, adapt or add the behaviors necessary for you to improve your performance.

5. Accept that you need help from those around you. In the most successful coaching engagements, the coaching client is open with his or her teammates, direct reports and colleagues about this professional development work.

Many invite team members or direct reports to hold them accountable and support the process. By doing this, you will be modeling a set of behaviors around personal professional growth that others will emulate in their own careers. And most of all, the coaching is about how you engage with others, and you need those “others” involved in evaluating progress.

6. Create additional mechanisms to reinforce accountability. The world’s leading executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith, pays a person to call him every day and ask 32 questions that he defined, about his own performance. Yes, she asks Marshall his own questions and keeps a scorecard of his yes or no answers. This daily reinforcement coupled with the visible indicator of his failure on key questions that are important to his work and life serve to drive his own improvement.

Adopt or adapt this technique to reinforce your own positive behaviors. Ask your significant other or a valued colleague to ask you the questions and score you daily. After a few too many days of “no” on something important to you, you will either adjust or tell your colleague to quit asking you this question. One answer supports change and the other capitulates to the status quo, but at least the issue is in front of you daily. 

7. Show up to your coaching meetings and be in the moment. As trivial as this sounds, many of these arrangements are derailed because the client is consistently out of pocket or dealing with a crisis during scheduled coaching call times. Keep these meetings sacred and unless loss of life is involved (particularly yours), be there and be in the moment.

The Bottom line for Now:

The opportunity to work with an executive coach can be transformational. For you, not the coach! However, coaching only works for someone who truly wants to improve. If you believe you have it all figured out, don’t bother. If you are willing to listen and change, I guarantee you will come out the other end of the process a more effective professional.

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