The Coaching Relationship is a Commitment
Thoughts on Authentic Leadership
by John P. Schreitmueller
Effective executive coaching is a two-way street. In an environment of confidentiality and trust, the coaching participant and coach practitioner build a relationship developed for careful identification of issues, blockages and goals, and meaningful action plans to address them. I recommend to my executive coaching clients a minimum of 12 months of regularly scheduled interaction as a realistic initial increment for this type of coaching to be effective. I also emphasize, up front, the importance of the coaching participant’s full engagement in the process.
In short, executive coaching is a commitment between participant and practitioner to work closely together, over a defined period, towards positive outcomes.
Occasionally problems arise regarding the coaching commitment. That is why I always ask potential executive coaching clients if they are ready to make a full commitment to the process. I also ask clients with whom I am working, in many cases for years, if their commitment to the process remains intact if I suspect the commitment has waned. Then I probe, because it is vital to understand why.
In those relatively scarce instances when problems do arise, they almost always include these scenarios:
The executive coaching participant is looking for “quick fixes” for issues that are almost always long range stylistic, organizational, political, behavioral or, often, multi-faceted issues involving other key stakeholders. The participant becomes frustrated and disconnected when results he or she was expecting do not unfold. In these instances, it is necessary for the coach practitioner to re-visit key facets of the executive coaching model with the participant, so the participant is re-acquainted with coaching’s advantages, benefits and limitations. This scenario shines a spotlight on the importance for practitioner and participant to “check in” with each other regularly to weigh what is working, or what could be working better in the coaching arrangement.
The primary executive coaching participant expects the coach practitioner to “fix” people whom he or she blames as trouble makers, who impact the primary participant in one way or another, and with whom the practitioner is also working as part of the coaching engagement. Reasons for the primary participant’s frustrations can vary from the very objective to the very subjective.
Sometimes they even vary from day to day.
Time goes by and the primary participant begins suggesting to the practitioner that “after all the money and time” that is being invested, people he or she anticipated would be “fixed,” – in other words, behaving the way the primary participant wishes them to behave – are not doing so… and, therefore, the coaching with them “isn’t working.”
Executive coaching does not “fix” people, nor does any other talking/helping profession of which I am aware. Certainly, in the instance of executive coaching, a pivotal aim of the coaching dynamic is to assist the participant in identifying issues and goals, and arriving at meaningful conclusions, remedies, plans or solutions as a direct result of the coaching process.
It is important for the coach practitioner and primary participant to discuss in detail, both before and during the coaching process if necessary, that a key objective of the coaching investment is to help equip participants to make changes, whether behaviorally, stylistically, functionally or otherwise, they perceive are beneficial, which they themselves elect to make, and necessities of which their awareness was heightened because of the coaching.
In this instance, there are multiple coaching participants, typically comprised of the CEO, owner, managing partner or other senior executive, and his or her executive leadership team. As the coaching unfolds, it becomes obvious the leader’s style, behavior, functional skills or other factors are having negative – sometimes poisonous – impacts on the team, and, very often, the entire organization. However, as the leader senses he or she is indeed part of the “problem,” he or she disconnects from the coaching… yet holds the other team members who are coaching participants, and the practitioner as well, responsible for negative progress the leader perceives.
This is a recipe for disaster, because, without the full engagement of the leader, the effectiveness of the coaching is terribly hindered. A poor leadership example is set for other coaching participants. Sometimes, no progress can be made at all, and the leader labels the coaching as “ineffective and a waste of time and money.” So, everyone loses.
It is vital that the coach practitioner contract with the leader for his or her complete commitment to the entire coaching process… not to keep the practitioner happy, but to (1) demonstrate to his or her team that he or she is as fully engaged as they are and (2) help the leader gain important insights on blind spots, blockages or other issues that lead to dysfunction and diminish the weight of his or her messages.
This scenario is essentially the flip side of Scenario 3. In this case, the leader is fully engaged in the coaching process, but one or more participants either (1) do not engage, (2) engage, but passively sabotage the process, or (3) engage, but they do so inauthentically; they do not share their real truth. This contaminates the coaching dynamic, because effective executive coaching must be constructed on the solid ground of each participant’s ownership of their truth.
Also, similar to Scenario 3, the coach practitioner in this instance must contract with each designated participant, up front, to gain each participant’s complete commitment to the entire coaching process. It never works to have the leader essentially “command” participants to engage. A successful coaching engagement involving multiple participants can only be achieved when each participant recognizes their active engagement is (1) potentially of great value for them personally and (2) their active engagement can help their team dramatically in terms of productivity, quality of life in the workplace, and career progress.
Executive coaching does not work for everybody. It only works when there is solid commitment on the part of each participant, and certainly that of the coach practitioner, to see the process through, where ever it may take them. Data gathered by the International Coach Federation (ICF) and other respected bodies clearly demonstrate the value of employing executive coaching within organizations as well as individually. Coaching can bring with it powerful advantages, yet it can also have interesting outcomes. Often, the reasons for assistance via executive coaching with which I am approached by potential clients turn out to be only ancillary to the real issues at hand, once the coaching gets going. This is far from abnormal. It is part of not being “wed” to anticipated outcomes, letting go of underlying beliefs that frequently get executives off course, and allowing the coaching process to move forward based upon identification of the real issues and goals.
John P. Schreitmueller is a board certified executive coach practitioner, and specializes in leadership, business, career and behavioral coaching. He works with corporate and private clients throughout the US, and has offices in Atlanta, GA and Sarasota, FL.