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When the CEO Needs a Coach

In 2013, Stanford University and the Miles Group published a survey that reported just how much executive coaching services are utilized by senior management (CEOs, Board Directors, and Senior Executives). Out of the more than 200 individuals in the study, only 33% of senior management took advantage of executive coaching service. Nearly every participant stated that they are interested in receiving advice and feedback, and 80% of the directors stated their support for providing coaching services to CEOs. This study shows a clear interest in executive coaching combined with a lack of initiative to utilize the service. This prompts the question:

If Executive Coaching is viewed as a beneficial service, then why is it not more utilized?

While there can be any variety of reasons for this. Sometimes pride and fear get in the way. A misconception for some people about the purpose of Executive Coaching can be between the goal of self-improvement, while battling the fear of being “in need of help.” This limits possible growth and innovative behavior, stunting the productivity of many companies. Some businesses and executives believe that coaches are utilized in two cases. Either there is a prospective executive needing grooming, at which point they are assigned an executive coach to work with them and foster effective leadership skills and hone in on their unique abilities, or there is an executive who is struggling and needs support. In other words, executive coaches are seen as resources for rookies and the problem executives. This core issue causes the most common question regarding when to use a coach to focus on need: when does an executive need a coach?

While Executive Coaches are well equipped to do damage-control, this widespread concept ignores the most important use of the Executive Coach’s skills. Rather than asked when an executive coach is needed, this question should instead be posed as, “when would an executive benefit from a coach.” The unequivocal response to this question is: Always.

The primary purpose of any coach is to take talent and hone it into a strength. A quarterback can always improve on their throw, a golfer can always improve on their swing, and an executive can always improve on their leadership skills. This is a greatest use of an executive coach: to take a good CEO and make them great. By utilizing an executive coach, a CEO is able to not only do damage-control for their weaknesses, but more importantly they are able to build and hone their strengths. Eric Schmidt, previous CEO of Novell and Google, initially saw executive coaches as the vast majority of business people do; a fixer of professional issues. When he received the advice to hire a coach, he resented the thought that he needed to improve his behavior. However, after hiring a coach and seeing the improvement first-hand, he has now come to believe that hiring a coach was the best advice he has received in his professional career. He believes that everyone needs a coach, because they help the individual see themselves as others see them. Coaches provide increased awareness and opportunities for growth otherwise non-existent.

While the use of executive coaches is growing, the focus on who should have a coach is still commonly limited to the worst among us. Damage-control is often necessary. However, in order to see the greatest amount of growth, a company and its executives must re-frame their perspectives on Executive Coaching. When strengths, rather than weaknesses, are the focus of a company, then staff become empowered within their own strengths and innovation more readily occurs. If the executives of a company determine that they can always improve upon their leadership skills, then that mentality can spread and improve the day-to-day culture of the entire company.

Lorna Hegarty, an Internationally Certified Master Coach, is the author of “The Seven Essential Practices of Great Leaders”. She is the President of LCH Resources Limited, a Human Resources Coaching and Consulting Organization.

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