Even the highest-performing athletes work with coaches to make them better. Athletes may have team or position coaches, but many of the top athletes in the world employ personal coaches that work with aspects of their development, such as a strength or conditioning coach.
For 545 weeks, Tiger Woods was the top-ranked golfer in the world. He was at the top of his craft, yet he still employed a swing coach to review and help perfect his swing. He recognised that mastering his craft and accelerating his performance meant operating at peak efficiency. That meant seeking help from others to take a critical look at where things could be improved.
Coaching, in athletics, is accepted as an investment in future success.
In business, coaching has been seen all too often as a punishment. Assigning an executive coach to a leader can be perceived as a sign that they are failing. In fact, it’s the opposite. Executive coaching by a company is a significant investment in a leader’s growth and a sign of confidence in the leader’s abilities and potential to grow performance to even greater heights.
Choosing the Right Candidate for Executive Coaching
Executive coaching works best when the recipient is ready for it. They must be open to an outside viewpoint, want to improve their skills, and see the value in business coaching and career development.
“An open mind leaves a chance for someone to drop a worthwhile thought in it,” said American author Mark Twain. Yet not every executive is ready for executive coaching.
Picking the right person at the right time can accelerate the growth process. Conversely, engaging executive coaches for leaders that aren’t ready for coaching can be expensive without getting the results you desire. Before you invest in executive coaching, it’s important to make sure the person will value what an executive coach can do for them.
Here are some warning signs to look for in determining whether it’s the right time to engage an executive coach for someone in a leadership role.
Signs an Executive Is Not Ready for Executive Coaching
If leaders display any of these warning signs, they may simply not be ready to fully embrace the process in a productive manner.
1. They fail to take personal responsibility
If you want to effect change, you must admit there’s a problem before you can do something about it. If an executive is one of those people that always seems ready to blame something (or someone) else for their situation, they’re probably not ready to take responsibility for their career development.
Blaming external factors rather than acting is one of the troubling signs of poor leadership. Someone that believes it’s outside their ability to successfully steer the ship because of external forces, or forces beyond their control, is not ready for an executive coach.
2. They are “too busy” for executive coaching
The executive that says they are too busy to take time for executive coaching is someone that’s not ready to deal with problems or see the opportunity coaching can present.
To realise the benefits of coaching, leaders must be willing to set aside meaningful time. There’s serious work to be done before, during, and after coaching sessions to explore self-development.
3. They are looking for the quick fix
Executives that expect coaching to lead to a quick fix, tips, or tactics means they also don’t what understanding what coaching provides. They may be willing to change their behaviour, but they haven’t committed to changing their beliefs.
They look to the executive coach for immediate answers. They are not interested in self-reflection; they constantly bring everything back to tactics and timelines.
Colleagues and consultants can offer tactics and business strategies. Great executive coaches, however, can help executives uncover the underlying assumptions they have. Often prior to coaching, executives are unaware of their internal bias or limiting beliefs that may stifle development. Executive coaching can surface these limitations and help executives see past them.
4. They use delaying tactics
Delaying tactics, such as the need to do more research, or conduct more interviews to find the right coach, can also be a sign.
Finding the right coach is crucial. Doing the initial research and interviewing coaches is an important step in the process of choosing an executive coach. However, continuing to reject qualified candidates may just be a delaying tactic.
5. They say “I don’t need help”
Executive coaching can be a deeply personal experience. The right coach will delve deeply to understand motivations and assumptions. Some leaders don’t want someone “uncovering their shortcomings.” The best coaches help executives to uncover limitations themselves and work with them to shift perspectives.
Top leaders can be highly self-critical. They may worry that executive coaches will expose their flaws.
6. They are experiencing self-doubt
Some may project an outward veneer of strength and success while harbouring internal feelings of doubt.
A study of successful executives discovered that many were unable to internalise and accept their success. They used terms like “I was lucky” or “I was just in the right place at the right time.” Even with evidence of their success, they felt like a fake. Georgia State University psychologist Suzanne Imes and psychology professor Pauline Clance gave this behaviour a name: imposter phenomenon.
Pay Attention to these Warning Signs
Forcing an executive coach on someone that isn’t ready for it will likely not end well. It’s crucial that leaders understand the benefits that business coaching can deliver and embrace the process.
If you see these warning signs in leaders, it’s important to make sure they understand that coaching is not being done as a punishment and corrective measure. Indeed, it should be positioned as a reward by the company that is making a significant investment in a high-potential asset to help fuel their success. It’s not about fixing a problem. It’s about career development and growing the organisation.
If people display these warning signs, you should be hesitant to invest in coaching. Those leaders that show an openness, a capacity to change, and the willingness to grow are your best candidates. Investing in them will yield better results and give you a better pay-off.