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When people ask me what I do, I often find myself having to explain what Executive Coaching is. For people who haven’t experienced coaching themselves, this can be difficult to understand.  I often say, “It’s like therapy for people in business”. Or for a slightly more textbook definition I go with “It’s a conversation focused on the client’s ability to raise their own level of performance.” However, I believe there is a richness and diversity to leadership coaching that simply can’t be captured in a one-liner.

When I look back at the coaching conversations I’ve had with clients over the past 11 years, there are a number of common themes that better articulate the expanse of the topic and which will provide you with a glimpse behind the door of Executive Coaching. These themes not only give a more detailed understanding of Executive Coaching but also pinpoint the adversities that are innate to the modern executive.

Relating to Others:

One of the biggest categories of conversations that I have with my clients is about relating to others. Relating up, down and sideways. Being led, leading, or working in teams.

For example, you may have a strong preference for structure or have become accustomed to working in a structured environment, and then find yourself reporting to a very unstructured manager. Developing tools to tolerate ambiguity, both on a cognitive level and an emotional level, would be key to overcoming this challenge.  A work environment is filled with a range of personalities. As most of us don’t operate in isolation, learning to identify your own and other’s traits and triggers can be beneficial to any executive.

A very fiery, unpredictable and sometimes unreasonable co-worker can unexpectedly trigger feelings of guilt, affect your confidence to hold your own in difficult conversations or your ability to effectively push back on unreasonable requests.  You might need tools to help preserve team morale in the wake of another work colleague’s tirades.

Shifting My Leadership Style:

As you grow and evolve in your career, new leadership skills are required to adapt to a changing environment.  You might be a natural fixer, but a new role or team requires a different approach. In Executive Coaching we help identify where a shift in leadership style may be necessary to achieve the desired results and help you to explore ways of flexing away from your default style in order to do so.

Having Difficult Conversations:

Helping coachees prepare for a difficult conversation is another common theme in the work I do.  The prospect of having a difficult conversation with a colleague or direct report can cause a spike in anxiety for even the most seasoned executive and often leads to them avoiding or at least delaying that conversation. You might need to give tough internal feedback to a director who does not have a great reputation for receiving feedback. How do you plan for this type of conversation? How do you approach it and how do you best position the feedback?

Personal Effectiveness:

Another major area I work into is that of personal effectiveness. Whilst not being entirely separable from the category of relating to others, high performing executives often want to focus on how they can be more effective / get more done / manage work-life balance better.

Executives might be achieving on the surface, but underneath feel overwhelmed by looming deadlines, 60-hour weeks and not finding time to go for that run or cycle they love and crave. Developing the art of saying no, setting boundaries with others or getting clearer which tasks lie inside and outside of your role is a good jump off point for mastering personal effectiveness.

Email overwhelm for example might sound like a trivial obstacle, but it can have a profound impact on personal effectiveness. Do you require a more structured approach to managing written communication or simply a constructive way of letting others know how to communicate with you?

I hope that this peek behind the door of Executive Coaching gives you insight into the types of conversations, tools and benefits that can be gained from this type of intervention.

Feel free to reach out to me directly at richard@lockstep.co.za should you want to learn more about Executive Coaching.

Richard Jamieson

Richard Jamieson

Richard Jamieson is a Senior Associate at Lockstep and is the Head of the Coaching Practice.  He is passionate about helping leaders and teams transition to new ways of working together – to escape the traps of busy-ness, politics or ego, so that they can attain high performance in a sustainable way. Richard worked in corporate finance and politics, before transitioning to a career in professional coaching in 2007.

7 Comments

  • Mark Joseph says:

    I would totally trust Richard to take my corporate team forward in a holistic way. Having worked with Richard and observed his coaching style I have no doubt his influence will create harmony, wellness and success. He has had a great impact on my coaching style and presentation.

  • Dale Williams says:

    Hey Rich
    Great article and some good insights into what happens behind the scenes in a coaching conversation. I felt like you wet my appetite and I was wanting more. Maybe a follow up of some of these specific conversations? Like you, I have found it hard to explain what exactly happens and I have found actual examples the best way to help others step into the room.
    All the best
    Dale

  • Ariel says:

    Nice article Richard. There is definitely a lot of value from the four themes you have identified and I can clearly see how conversations with an insightful coach could help an executive identity and improve on these areas.

  • David says:

    Hi Richard.
    Thanks for sharing your insights. It is important to lift the veil on coaching as it can do easily come to be seen as a smorgasbord of stuff that coaches do without really understanding the nuances and skills inherent in being an effective coach – as well as drawing a distinction with the type of coaching that you elucidate in your writing as opposed to the more conventional coaching associated with sports coaching.

    Keep on writing!

  • Helen says:

    Great article Rich. Ultimately it’s about helping our clients reposition themselves – firstly towards him/ herself and then towards others. See self, see others and all the skill development that requires.
    Keep writing!

  • Guy Addison says:

    Executive coaching is one of the most powerful ways to work out how to get ahead in one’s career! Thanks Richard for a behind the scenes look at what Executive Coaches do.

  • Craig says:

    Great insights thanks. Executive coaching sounds like the kind of support I have regularly needed and will certainly need again!

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