What is Executive Coaching?

 

Hi my name is Sari van Poelje, I’m the director of Intact Academy and Team Agility. At Intact Academy, we train up from beginner to advanced executive coach, and then to team coach, supervisor and business coach. People can do the whole thing and also become ICF accredited. In Team Agility, we help businesses innovate more quickly than their products to accelerate time to market. And that’s become more important than ever in the world today. 

I want to speak to you about what executive coaching is. I’ve been an executive coach since 1992. So now is the time for me to pass on some of my experience and knowledge on the executive coaching front. Let’s start with a simple question. What is coaching? There are so many different definitions around, what do people actually do in coaching? 

There are a couple of people who’ve written about it. Whitmore in 2002, said it’s about unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their performance. Obviously, he worked in business settings, so words like potential and performance are important in that kind of world. Zeus and Skiffington in 2004 said it’s a collaborative relationship to bring about sustainable behavioural change and transform the quality of life. 

That’s much closer to what I do. This idea of collaborative relationships is really important to me. Within executive coaching, you take on a coaching role, and your client has a client role. But it’s a collaboration, I’m 50% responsible for what happens and my client is too. We co-create that space and the relationship. 

It’s also important that the relationship is so central, because I think whatever method or tool you use, in the end, it’s the relationship that’s the healing. Often our clients come to us divided, and giving them undivided attention within the relationship is the healing. It’s also about sustainable behavioural change. I’m always really happy if people think differently, and learn a couple of concepts, and they feel better; that’s all great. But in the end, certainly in the organizational setting that I work in, it’s not so much what you think, or what you feel, it’s about what you do. 

Knowing what to do is the highest form of wisdom, knowing when to do it is the next step in learning. 

The other part of this definition is transforming quality of life. Clients come to you because they’re in distress, they have an immediate problem, and they want it solved. For instance, someone gets fired, they’re in distress. They want to find some help with that. That can be solved within five sessions within 10 sessions, certainly. The value of executive coaching is that within that process of personal and professional development, you help people to change the quality of life long-term. It’s not about giving people a fish. It’s about teaching people to fish.

What’s important in the executive coaching relationship is the collaborative relationship, sustainable behavioural change, and in the end, transforming quality of life.

Within the scope of executive coaching there are four different levels. 

Level 1: Theoretical & Technical: What to do.

Sometimes clients come to me saying, I’m involved in an organisational change. I’ve never helped change an organisation system on such a large scale. Can you help me do that? Can you coach me to take my role within that change as a leader? 

At level one executive coaching is about theoretical and technical knowledge. So what can you do? 

Level 2: Procedural Knowledge: How to do things. 

Sometimes clients come to me and they say, Well, I’m a leader, I’m involved in organisational change. I’ve done it before, but none of my change efforts have worked. This happens too often to mention. They know what to do, but they don’t know how to do it. 

Level 3: Judgment in timing & pacing: When

There’s a third level of executive coaching, where people come to me and they say, Okay, I’m a leader. I know what to do, I know how to do it. But really, I need to know when to do it. Because we’ve had so many changes in our organisation, is this the right timing? When do I step forward and say we need to change?

In executive coaching we also help people decide not what to do, or how to do it, but to develop judgment and timing. Timing is everything when you’re a leader.

Level 4: Purpose & identity: Who am I?

The fourth level is executives looking for coaching, and they say, I know what to do, how to do it. I’ve even got some inkling of when to do it. But I’m faced at the moment with a deeper problem. And that is, I don’t know who I am anymore. I’ve been in the corporate world so long I’ve learned to move with the winds of change. But in that process, I’ve lost some sense of my purpose and who I am. 

Level four executive coaching is really about purpose and identity. Who are you in this process in this role? 

So, look at your own clients. What do you do during executive coaching? And at what level are you coaching? What does that mean for who you are as a coach and what you should be doing?