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Executive Coaching: Does It Work?

By Theodore F. di Stefano E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Jun 9, 2006 7:00 AM PT

Executive coaching has become very popular over the last few years. In fact, a great deal has been written about it, and quite a few coaching companies have sprouted up across the country. Some of these companies are even franchised, hoping to sell their "formula" to would-be coaches. Many businesses have taken advantage of executive coaches.

Executive Coaching: Does It Work?

Many businesses have taken advantage of executive coaches. My feeling is that this type of consulting will be around for quite some time. To get a sense for how engrained executive coaching companies have become, I did a Google search with the words "executive coaching" and came up with over 29 million hits!

Does Executive Coaching Work?

Since this is becoming such a widespread phenomenon, one must ask, "Does it really work?" My answer is yes, and no -- more specifically, I should say sometimes.


Listen to Ted di Stefano (6:59 minutes)

Executive coaching is effective only when the executive being coached is open-minded, humble and flexible. The fact is, most executives are very confident and feel they are usually on the right path. It's hard to convince such an executive that he or she should change some habits and behaviors to become more effective.

But, if an executive calls in a coach, that is an expression that something might need fixing and that the exec could use some guidance. That's a good start. So, I guess one could say that the very act of reaching out for an executive coach is proof enough that there is ample potential that the coaching will be effective, assuming of course that the coach is competent.

My experience is that this type of coaching doesn't work when it is initiated by an executive who merely needs someone who's a good listener and who will always agree with what the executive says -- in a word, someone with whom to commiserate.

The bottom line is that, given that the coach is competent, coaching will work when the executive is willing to really listen to the coach and to seriously consider his or her suggestions.

Coaching Goals

A good executive coach will lay out some specific goals that the executive must achieve within a certain time frame. Some of these goals may have to do with behavior modification (the way the exec is treating subordinates, peers, or customers), financial planning, time management and strategic planning.

It is extremely important that the arrangement with the coach calls for a "sunset" provision. That is, the goals must be met by a certain time or the consultancy ends. Badly lagging time frames mean that either the coach is not effective or the executive is not taking the coach's advice. Either way, it is usually time for the executive to move on and figure out some other way to get at whatever is impeding the executive's progress.

A Successful Engagement

I went online and read many laudatory letters from executives to coaching firms to thank them for the effectiveness of their coaching services. The letters are invariably quite specific. They clearly enunciate what exactly the coach did to enhance the fortunes of the company.

Some of the letters that I read talk about the change of morale within a firm, others about the improvement in customer relations, still others about the increase in productivity and profits. The point is that the letters invariably thank the firm for achieving specific goals and tasks.

Do You Need an Executive Coach?

I suppose that the simple answer is that if you think that you need a coach, then you do. Try to step back from your situation and ask yourself what isn't working for you. Or, on a more positive note, ask yourself what you think you can do to improve the fortunes of your company, its in-house morale and its relations with customers and clients.

Then try to honestly assess whether or not you feel that you can implement changes on your own, or whether you need some outside advice. Don't be hesitant to seek outside advice if you feel that you may not be looking at your situation objectively, or if you simply think that another person's point of view might give you a broader perspective.

In any event, if you do decide to go this route, interview more than one firm to see how each approaches its tasks. Recommendations from friends and associates can be invaluable when you are looking for the "right" firm.

One final point: I recently came across an alternative to executive coaching called The Alternative Board (TAB). This is a nationwide franchise operation that forms local boards made up primarily of self-employed executives who meet monthly to exchange ideas, engage in peer review and make recommendations to one another.

The concept seems good to me because what is going on is, to a decent extent, good old executive coaching. The only difference is that your coaches are fellow entrepreneurs. The approach seems quite sound, though I haven't spoken to any actual board members of TAB to ask them if they are satisfied.

Think about whether you need executive coaching. The very process of reflection can go a long way and might give you some great ideas on how you can improve your company.

Good luck!


Theodore F. di Stefano is a founder and managing partner at Capital Source Partners, which provides a wide range of investment banking services to the small and medium-sized business. He is also a frequent speaker to business groups on financial and corporate governance matters. He can be contacted at Ted@capitalsourcepartners.com.


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