Executive coaching: towards a mindful future

Smart Communication
September 30, 2017
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Executive coaching: towards a mindful future

In an increasingly globalised and interconnected marketplace, the private, public, charitable and creative sectors must cultivate leaders who are visible, and who can deal with change quickly and calmly. It’s not just leaders – talented professionals at all levels need to be resilient yet adaptable in a rapidly changing world.

Truly forward looking, insightful leaders will know how to bring out the exceptional qualities of their personnel and their organisations; these qualities include accountability, transparency in communications, and the ability to  foster confidence and clarity in group operations.

Not surprisingly, organisations led by such leaders are the most “engaged” and motivated whether the sector private or public, education, health or financial services.  Against a back-drop where responsive and empathetic leadership is more crucial than ever, executive coaching has flourished. This is particularly the case where the coach assigned can offer an expert view of how to accelerate high potential talent combined with a sympathetic understanding of the organisation’s goals.

More than ever before, organisations of all shapes and sizes can only thrive if their culture is underpinned by an honest and collaborative dialogue led by the chief executive, and, often more crucially, enabled by other leaders and employees. This spirit of dialogue should also inform the organisation’s dealings with customers and local communities.  We are all too acutely aware when this visible communication goes well (or badly) thanks to the digital reality and media exposure of our times.  Good public relations management is essential, both within the organisation and in the relationship that the organisation enjoys with the outside world.

Executive coaching can play a critical role in helping leaders confidently shape the quality of the people interactions required to secure differentiated added value with customers, colleagues and other critical stakeholders.



Executive coaching as a catalyst for change

Much has changed since the early days when executive coaching was first adopted in large, often US-based corporations, to “encourage” the improved performance of executives.

Coaching and mentoring have progressively, and with some resistance, become central to organisational health and personal development since the 1980s. Whilst both involve working with a senior professional to build and unlock success, the differences lie in the application and the methodology by which these goals are achieved., Whilst mentoring is more comparable to the teacher/pupil relationship, it is perhaps useful to view coaching as more of an open dialogue, a non-directive form of development where the coachee is triggered to explore their own unique capabilities rather than try to emulate a role model.

Executive coaching has now well outgrown its reputation as a remedial strategy for employees who risk falling behind.   There are clear and distinct role-related and personal  growth rationales for choosing to invest time and money in the services of a professional coach:

  1. Role-related –– coaching helps to accelerate professional skills, entrepreneurship and creative enquiry within an organisation. Furthermore, the risks and responsibilities of running an organisation or team can be numerous, taxing and lead to feelings of isolation. Executive coaching offers a chance for professionals to further their development and gain access to professional, objective support in their professional journey.
  2. Personal growth: – particularly now there is increasing recognition of the importance of retaining strong talent, working with an executive coach can be a highly motivating boost for the ambitious professional. The experience is often validating yet challenging as the working relationship enables the client to step more confidently out of their comfort zone.


The Prevalence of Executive Coaching

Now in an era where an increasing proportion of large organisations have some form of leadership development strategy, executive coaching typically represents the most significant area of spend.  Business Schools and Management Development professional bodies confirm this trend.

  • In its latest Learning Priorities survey, Henley Business School identified 85% of top level executives forecast an increase in their learning and development budget over the forthcoming financial year. Within that budget, individual coaching was seen as a key development tool by 80% of the respondents
  • The survey also revealed that developing leadership capability was a key priority for senior management teams in the future. 83% of the respondents in the Henley survey planned to use coaching in their organisation.

Return on Investment of Executive Coaching

Return on Investment is a somewhat shaky metric for understanding the success of executive coaching; indeed an American Management Association survey revealed that there are few appropriate formal procedures for measuring ROI in an organisation. (Under normal circumstances, Return on Investment is a straightforward ratio of money made divided by the cost of the overall activity. )

Organisations that have derived meaningful metrics have done so to suit the needs of the specific organisation.  These organisations are able to derive a picture of the overall benefits by identifying self-assessments of improvement, gathering feedback from colleagues and managers on specific aspects of change in business results or organisational development, using the feedback of peers and managers


The Benefits of Executive  Coaching

The ‘business’ case for executive coaching goes far beyond hard metrics of additional profit made as a result of working with an Executive coach.. That is not to say that significant improvement in financial results will not transpire; it all depends on the objectives set,  where the attention and focus is put in the coaching relationship, the “coach-ability” and proactivity of the coachee and also, to be fair, other factors beyond the scope of the coaching relationship.

Numerous evaluations now exist on the merits of Executive Coaching.  An unusual and interesting evaluation of Executive Coaching by Executives in the Ivey Business Journal (Ungagged: Executives On Executive Coaching) provides a helpful and concise list of 5 benefits:

  • Continuous one-on-one attention
  • Expanded thinking through dialogue with a curious outsider
  • Self-awareness, including blind spots
  • Personal accountability for development
  • Just-in-time learning.


These benefits often dramatically shift the Executive’s perspective, accelerating their performance and improving relationships with others.  Executive coaching at its best is transformational., focusing on unlocking potential in a way that goes beyond expectations.  The most professionally satisfying results occur when the Executive is able to more truly live the values they hold as important and bring them to life in how they engage with others.

Future articles will put the spotlight on how Executive Coaching can deliver benefits in specific areas of leadership development:

  1. Helping with transition into new roles
  2. Developing emotional intelligence
  3. Conflict management
  4. Bringing personal values into work



Towards a  Mindful Future for Executive Coaching

In our fast paced, media and digital-savvy organissations with an ever increasing magnitude of  real-time communication, effective human interaction can become difficult. Indeed, the very technology that is intended to improve communication can magnify communication blunders and mishaps in dramatic and damaging ways that require involvement by professions who have the discipline to think then act as they repair the fall out.

As outlined at this beginning of this guide our organisations need professionals who can positively and constructively tackle change with flair, harnessing resilience and adaptable skills to navigate their organisations confidently.

Professionals who operate in modern times have to be especially quick thinking and skilful in handling complex communication and change; the allure of mindfulness training and coaching has met with some success for this reason. Intuitively many professionals seek reliable and more sophisticated solutions to personal effectiveness problems

Insights drawn from neuroscience, mindfulness traditions and positive psychology are all becoming more popular and heavily utilised in the pursuit of personal and professional effectiveness.  Going forwards executive coaches need to be more avid students and masters of their own mind if they want to help other professionals do the same. Mindful examination and objective reflection on underlying behavioural patterns and emotional responses is just the foundation.  These disciplines can also become more incorporated into honest self-appraisal and coach supervision practices.

The ultimate catalyst of new levels of professional success, for Executives and coaches alike, is a strong and honest determination to break free from outmoded habits into new and more courageous territory.  The strength of this determination may need to be refreshed from time to time but, ultimately, without consistent motivation and a clear vision of the goal, plans for transformation will wither.  This approach is demonstrated by anyone who has reached a position of excellence in his or her field.  The best Executive coaches know how to help their clients dig deep and flourish to enjoy life’s triumphs.




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