“Coaching within an organisation is not a technique, it’s a way of achieving results” 

Zeus and Skiffington

The foundations of coaching

Executive coaching can trace its roots to the principles and practices of sports psychology.  Sports coaching grew as a discipline in the 1970’s and executive coaching emerged as a discipline in the 1980s.   Tim Gallwey is recognised by many as the father of executive coaching – having revolutionised sports coaching in 1974 with his publication of the Inner Game of Tennis and later moving onto business coaching with the publication of The Inner Game of Work[1]. In his books he assesses the difference between the ‘outer game’ and the ‘inner game’, with the latter concerned with having the right mental approach to work.  He identified some of the key obstacles to peak performance and a coaching methodology to give coachees more control over their inner game and mental state.  He acted as an executive coach with some top corporations including AT&T, Coca-Cola, Apple and Rolls Royce.

The Coach

An executive coach should be an experienced, qualified professional who typically works with executives and high potential managers to improve self-awareness, support goal setting, challenge thinking and unlock potential.  Coaching is a confidential, safe space for executives to explore their motivations, blockages, performance and career path.  A coach is not a consultant and generally does not give advice or suggest specific solutions to problems, but rather acts as a sounding board and guides clients to make decisions and solve their own problems.

Executive Coaching

Coaching gurus Zeus and Skiffington[2] define executive coaching as

‘individualised, one-to-one relationship designed to assist executives in developing and enhancing their professional effectiveness and on-the-job performance’

In larger organisations at the more senior levels professional coaching, usually external to the organisation, can be offered as part of a personal development suite. Executive coaching is often focused on behavioural changes and/or specific goals.  Coaches will support executive and senior leaders with challenges such as prioritisation, influencing, relationships, leadership skills, career planning and sometimes areas such as work/life balance and resilience.  In some cases, coaching interventions are used as a corrective measure following performance reviews or 360-degree feedback – this can cause challenges with buy-in.  If a manager feels the coaching has been imposed it can be difficult to establish trust at the start, however if the manager has elected to undertake coaching they tend to be more open to learn and embrace the process.

The coaching process

Coaching is different to other forms of learning in that it tends to be one to one, individualised and conducted over a period of time.

  • Coaching tends to be goal and action based, non-directive and focused on work (only straying into personal issues if directly relevant to work). Coaching at senior levels is usually focussed on improving job performance in specific strategic areas and addressing complex challenges such as significant change.
  • The role of the coach is to facilitate, gain insight and support – a professional rather than personal role.
  • Coaching tends to be for a fixed period, typically 6-12 months (though this can vary). Sessions are usually face to face, though digital coaching is on the rise combining digital tools such as webinars, video conferences and online support that is easily accessible and fits into the schedule of busy executives.
  • The coach listens, asks questions, challenges thinking, reflects and reframes. Coaching, particularly at senior levels, is often a paid activity.
  • Coaching at senior levels tends to be professionals from outside the organisation. However, there is an increasing focus on managers as coaches as the most effective way to motivate teams, improve performance and support career progression.

Coaching is on an apparent upwards trajectory according to a recent CIPD survey where the majority (three quarters) of respondents offer coaching services and a further 13% planning to offer coaching services in the future[3].  Forbes estimates that coaching is a $2 billion global industry[4] with growing numbers of coaches, professional coaching organisations and coaching-related research.

Coaching has a measurable impact on retention, engagement and performance. To put is simply, there is a growing recognition that coaching works– so what are you waiting for.

Further blogs in this coaching series will consider ‘Is your company ready for coaching’ and ‘Are your managers coaches?’

[1] Gallwey, T. (2000) The inner game of work. New York: Random House
[2] Zeus, P. and Skiffington, S. (2002) The coaching at work toolkit. 1st ed. Sydney: McGraw-Hill.
[3] CIPD 2015 Learning and development annual survey. London: CIPD
[4]Forbes, The Success And Failure Of The Coaching Industry, October 2017