Weak Spots are Sweet Spots: How Executive Coaching Delivers Value
High-level executives and key players are, like all human beings, creatures of habit. When something seems to work—whether a manufacturing decision, communication strategy or HR policy—the approach is repeated and strengthened. Unsuccessful approaches are likewise devalued. This is how experience is built. It's how executives and key players learn from the past and become seasoned leaders in their fields.
The problem is, experience can be a strength and a weakness in modern day leadership. Innovation, flux and fluidity, being bold, courageous and vulnerable are the new rules of the game. Sure, key players need to rely on their experience. They must use the skills and traits that put them in leadership positions to begin with. And yet, those very skills and traits can become unconscious habits that slow an organisation down.
As the Spanish proverb states, “habits begin as cobwebs and end up as cables”. Always following the well-trodden path can bring about a state of costly rigidity.
Executive coaching is an exploration of “these cobwebs and cables”, these skills and traits that run across organisations. An executive may be too rigid in one area and too slack in another. He or she may be a great communicator who lacks the ability to think outside the box, or a natural innovator who lacks the confidence to stand behind his/her ideas. When a key player actively explores these personal (and interpersonal) dynamics through a one-to-one coaching relationship, seeds are sown that bring tangible value. Michael Jordan had a similar approach toward his game. “If you push me towards something that you think is a weakness,” he once said, “then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”
The coaching process drives key players to find their weak spots through potent questions and challenge, pointed dialogue, and freedom to think out loud. Since the coach is not a member of the organisation, nor a business consultant, the key player is free to explore his or her own thought-processes in a confidential environment, and apply this knowledge directly to real-life situations. This element of "on-the-fly" learning is one of the most powerful, immediate benefits coaching has to offer.
Let's say an executive is preparing for a meeting in which a key initiative will be discussed. The executive has several ideas which he thinks are good, but doubts his ability to convey them effectively to the group. An executive coach can empower that executive to find the basis of this uncertainty—be it personal, professional or a combination of the two—and create a bold strategy for the meeting. Discussion, rehearsals, and even audio/visual aids may be used.
What if the executive takes this new strategy to the meeting, but the ideas aren't used? The organisation still benefits from an executive whose self-awareness and confidence have grown. Key players in the financial and technical sides of a business are often in need of such improvements, as their positions require them to constantly simplify and communicate specialised information to others in the organisation.
Here’s another example: A key player exhibits a high-energy leadership style all the time, and doesn't understand why her colleagues don't seem to respond. Coaching can help her uncover the reasons for this. The chance to see herself through a different lens creates a broader perspective on her own behaviour, and how it might affect the organisation as a whole.
Executive coaching is not a panacea by any means. Traditional forms of business training will always be necessary—but can they, all by themselves, maximise an organisation's potential? What about navigating change with confidence, inspiring professional growth in others, or identifying problems before they escalate?
Coaching seems abstract to some people because it addresses intangible factors beneath the surface of an organisation - interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, awareness of one's weaknesses. None of these factors are mentioned in balance sheets, but they influence the numbers more than we realise. Shining a light on weak spots, and seeing them sweet spots for improvement, is how executive coaching translates into tangible value.
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