“A coach is someone that sees beyond your limits and guides you to greatness.” – Michael Jordan
As we learned in greater detail through the documentary “The Last Dance”, Michael Jordan’s drive and will to win is legendary, but had to be coupled with world-class coaching to realize his full potential. His need for a coach was not remedial; he did not want or need a coach because he performed poorly. Instead, Jordan’s coach was there to help him get to his best.
Similar to Jordan, executive roles are not remedial. Executives are in their position because they have marshalled a combination of confidence, capital, and past success. The executive coach exists to maximize potential, not reach some minimum level of performance. Leaders must continually manage changing in circumstances. So, the greatest value for an executive is a desire to learn and grow, building on their foundation of individual strengths and past experience.
So…why should you want an executive coach?
Executive roles are a complex balancing act. Executives must articulate a direction, lead employees, be an external face of their organization, and often need to manage a Board. These distinct roles, coupled with a deluge of information and time demands create distinct pressures and challenges on maintaining perspective, prioritization, and focus.
To facilitate learning and growth, the coach provides an outside perspective and experience to help the executive leverage their strengths, understand their opportunities, and align their personal and organizational goals. The coach is thought partner, educator, and guide in service to achieving those goals. A coaching relationship is free from pressures internal to the organization and instead focuses on developing and realizing potential.
What makes a coach effective for you?
Coaching effectiveness requires specific technical experience, operational experience, and a wide perspective of the expectations and audiences an executive faces. From a technical perspective, the coach needs deep experience with organizational strategy, communication, incentives, and the processes that can impact all of these. At its core, without the ability to grasp what makes a business and its people tick, the coach’s efforts will be limited.
A clear methodology is critical. Importantly, this methodology must include how to gain a view of the business and its strategy and build a baseline on the strengths and opportunities of the executive, understand the interaction between team members and recognize the organization’s culture. Further, a method for establishing objectives (for both the executive and the organization) ensures the value is correctly targeted. Finally, because the demands on an executive are broad, a method to discuss and define priorities is necessary. A credential or special training can be a proxy for determining a coach’s methodology – but is not the only indicator. The best way to get a view into a coach’s methodology and their fit is to have them explain it themselves.
Relationships matter – and the coaching relationship is built on trust and requires good chemistry. The coach must be able to credibly set expectations on trust and deliver. Although chemistry is intangible, at its heart, it enables the executive and coach to have honest and productive interactions.
Keep in mind – What doesn’t a coach do?
A coach is not a therapist. Mental health professionals have degrees in medicine and psychology that focus on treating dysfunction and their root physiological and psychological causes. They’ll prescribe the appropriate therapy based on their medical and psychological knowledge and experience. Most executive coaches are not professionally qualified in this area – stick to the pros here.
Also, a coach does not do your work for you. They can help define a problem, provide a framework or process to overcome a challenge, and help find ways to take advantage of opportunities. The coach is there for support.
If you are thinking about a coach and how they can help you and your organization develop, talk to a few and find your best fit. If you are interested in learning more, please reach out.
About Matt Sitter
Matt Sitter is a Partner at Advantary, LLC and provides operations, strategy, and executive coaching services. Matt is passionate about optimizing team collaboration.
Prior to joining Advantary, Matt held leadership positions with the advisory firms CrossLead, Inc. and the McChrystal Group. Matt is an ICF credentialed executive coach and served on multiple executive management teams. He received his BA from Brown University and MBA from the Tuck School at Dartmouth.
As an executive coach, I strongly believe in the value and the Return on Investment I provide to coachees.
I have been coached, I have been an operator, and now I am a coach myself.