The Role of Executive Coaching

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Executive coaching has grown in popularity.18 Some people have even hung

out their shingles as full-time executive coaches. Professional societies have

been formed of executive coaches19; people can be certified as executive

coaches20; and in some quarters executive coaches rank right up there with

personal trainers as an executive perk. Executive coaching competencies have

been identified, and they are distinct from more general coaching competencies.

But the importance of executive coaching in succession cannot be understated.

One strategy is to go ahead and promote people who are clearly not ready

for more demanding managerial (or technical) responsibility and then give

those people executive coaches as a way to offer them real-time, on-the-job

training. While that is not a strategy that the author of this book advocates, it

is one that is being used in organizations where the leaders fell asleep on

succession matters until it was too late.

There are two kinds of executive coaches. They should be clearly distinguished.

A job content coach provides guidance to individuals who are not up to

snuff on the job content. An example would be to assign the organization’s

retired CEO to the current CEO as a coach. The former CEO clearly understands

what the job entails and can provide guidance accordingly.

A process coach is different. Akin to a process consultant, a process executive

coach focuses on the image that the executive projects, the impact that he

or she has on a group, and how he or she works with a group to achieve

results. No knowledge of the job content is needed. But what is needed is

awareness of the specialized competencies associated with process consultation,

an organization development intervention invented by Edgar Schein.22

The executive coaching process should be clearly focused and implemented.

It begins with establishing a contract between the coach and the

coachee that sets forth the goals of the effort and describes the schedule. Nondisclosure

agreements are typical, especially when the coach is made privy to

sensitive, even proprietary, information during the course of the consulting

engagement. The work plan for the consulting effort is clearly stated. Not all

work has to be carried out face-to-face, and it is possible to arrange phone

conversations, Web conversations, instant chats, and other real-time, virtually

enabled approaches to the executive coaching process. Executive coaches may

also administer psychological assessments to the executive, ranging from those

that are available off-the-shelf to those that require a license or degree to administer.

The Role of Mentoring

A mentor is simply a teacher. Mentoring is thus the process of teaching others.

In common language, a mentor is a helper who assists people in learning. The

person receiving help is called a mentee or a prote´ge´. Mentors should not be

confused with sponsors. A sponsor is someone who actually opens doors and

provides access to visibility, people, and assignments or experiences; a mentor

is someone who provides advice. Of course, it is possible that mentors can

become sponsors or that sponsors can engage in mentoring.

Mentoring has fired the imagination of managers and others, and much

has been written about it in recent years.23One reason is that mentors can help

build bench strength and talent in organizations by providing support to others

to build their competencies in line with company needs. Mentoring, like

coaching and executive coaching, can thus provide a means to the end of

building bench strength. But mentoring implies something different from

coaching. While a coach provides support and direction just as a mentor does,

a mentor is interested in helping someone succeed. By definition, mentors are

usually not the immediate organizational supervisors of those they mentor,

since a reporting relationship may interfere with the objectivity essential to a

true helping relationship. (In short, a mentor cannot stand to gain or lose by

his or her mentee, but a coach can. In fact, just as athletic coaches are selfinterested

in how well their players perform, so are immediate supervisors.)

Mentoring programs may be established by organizations. They may be

formal (planned) or informal (unplanned). A typical approach to a formal program

is that the organization’s HR department will play matchmaker, pairing

up a promising person who wants a mentor to someone who is at least one

or more levels above that person on the organization chart but outside the

immediate chain of command. The HR department may even pay for breakfast,

lunch, or dinner for the two people to meet and determine if their relationship

might have promise. If so, then they continue it on their own without further

HR department involvement. Also, typically, a formal mentoring program may

involve training for aspiring mentors and/or mentees, since people do not just

naturally know how to play these parts. (The CD-ROM included with this book

provides a short program on mentoring.)

In an informal mentoring program—which is an oxymoron, since something

unplanned cannot really be a ‘‘program’’—individuals are merely encouraged

to seek out and approach others who may be helpful to them and to

their development. Successful people have almost always had mentors. Consequently,

mentoring requires mentees to take initiative to seek out those who

might help them and then ask for help. That help could be situation-specific,

such as ‘‘How do I deal with this situation?’’ or comprehensive, such as ‘‘How

do I systematically prepare myself for the future and then follow through on

my plan for individual development?’’

Mentors are helpful because they may be in the job that the mentees aspire

to, and hence they are well positioned to offer advice. After all, one key assumption

of succession planning and management is that individuals cannot

direct their own development for the simple reason that they have no experience

base to draw on. And it is in exactly this respect that a mentor can help.

How can mentoring play a role in succession planning and management?

The relationship should be obvious. In closing developmental gaps between

the competencies that individuals possess now and what they need to possess

to qualify for advancement, they must seek out people, work assignments, and

other experiences that will prepare them for the future and will equip them

with the competencies they need. Mentors can provide advice about what people

to seek, what work assignments to seek, and (perhaps most important

though sometimes overlooked) mentors can provide advice on handling company

politics that may help or hinder progress. To gain the most from a mentoring

effort, start with a plan. That plan can be prepared by the mentee to

‘‘ask for help,’’ but should be very clear about what help is needed.

A unique problem to consider in mentoring is the so-called developmental

dilemma. The development dilemma takes its name from a special problem

that may come up in the mentoring process. In the years following the Clarence

Thomas and Anita Hill scandal that rocked the nation, cross-gender mentoring

has been complicated by concerns over appearances. The point is that

older male executives who mentor younger female executives, or older female

executives who mentor younger male executives, may be misperceived in

those relationships. Typically a mentoring relationship requires interactions

such as meetings behind closed doors, breakfast, lunch or dinner meetings, or

other meetings in otherwise less than formal settings. Since tongue wagging is

a popular pastime, it is common for others to talk about what they think they

see. The situation is so bad in some quarters that older executives will have

mentoring meetings only if they can bring a third person along as chaperone

or else meet in open air areas where everything can be seen.

How can this problem be handled? Some ways that the organization can

help is to:

1. Provide advice about how to deal with the problems of perceptions and

how to manage them.

2. Take steps to clarify for others who may see two people meeting to

clarify, casually but in advance, what the meeting is about and why it is

being conducted to give those who wag their tongues less to talk about.

3. Ignore the problem all together and only deal with rumors as they

spring up.

4. Provide training to mentors and mentees, covering cross-gender issues

as part of the discussion.