Executive Coaching: Does it Deliver?

Do you believe that your performance could be improved through coaching? Perhaps you’re somewhat skeptical, like the author of a US book called: “You go, girl! That’ll be $300” (Savage, 2006). I’ve been working in this particular space for 15+ years and have come to believe that the very best coaches are in the questions rather than the answers business. Let me demonstrate this by detailing a typical listing of questions.

Value Judgment: It’s important to stress that coaches shouldn’t have any particular views that they impose on clients. For example, someone might be interested in extrinsic rewards (money, power, recognition, social status) and that’s what works for them. Other people may express intrinsic values around personal growth, doing a good job, coaching or helping others, a need to feel that they are making a difference and so on. A coach’s job is to help you uncover your goals, not to impose their values on you.

Under the Bonnet: To make Executive Coaching more concrete, let’s have an in-depth look at the type of questions we would normally use during an actual coaching session. Sometime Executives want specific help in one area only. Other times it’s more broadly based. Everyone is different and we don’t follow a cookie-cutter list. But this will give you a flavour of the types of questions that we might explore together. The sequence outlined is fairly typical.

Current Job: The starting point is getting a good understanding of your current role –

  • Exactly what it is you do.
  • Do you like your current role and describe it in an upbeat way?
  • Are there elements in the current role that frustrate you?
  • What things are you particularly proud of?
  • What things would you do differently if it were possible to turn the clock back?  
  • Do you like the people you work with?
  • Where do you get your energy from?
  • What is it that you like about the organization and the things that you don’t like or disagree with?
  • Have you seen other leaders lose their way in this organization?
  • What happened?
  • Do you think that people like working for you?
  • How do you know?

Early Life Experiences: In relation to ‘who you are today’ I’m always interested in personal history. How you became who you are now. So, we drill into a bit of personal history. We might explore questions like:

  • Tell me about your family when you were growing up.
  • What would you say were the key values or beliefs in your family?
  • How did these impact you (then and now)?
  • What experiences (early life or business) had the greatest impact on you?
  • Is there anything that you learned then that you try to pass on to your own immediate family now?
  • How close are you to your family or origin?
  • Is there any unfinished business for you in relation to your original family?

Leadership Models: It often helps if I have an understanding on what leaders you admire most and why? Having identified these, I might ask

  • Whether their leadership style differs from your own?
  • Which are the leadership moments that you are most proud of in your own career?
  • Who were/are your mentors and what key lessons did you learn from these?

Being Happy: It’s important for me to understand what an executive sets as personal ambitions. So, I might ask questions like:

  • What sort of things motivate you?
  • If you think of a time in your life when you felt really happy and successful, what were you doing at that time?
  • If you were asked to describe a ‘perfect year’ what might this look like?
  • What life goals (financial, family, career) do you have at this point?
  • How well have these been articulated?
  • What’s next for you?
  • What do you still want to achieve?
  • And finally, in terms of legacy, what would you like to leave behind?
  • What are you doing now to ensure that this is going to happen?

Development Needs: To uncover your development needs we might explore questions like:

  • What are you key capabilities at this point?
  • How do you learn best (is it doing, reading, formal training etc?)?
  • What are your key development needs?
  • How do you know?
  • Have there been instances when you were dissatisfied with your leadership ability or received constructive feedback from others?
  • Are you consciously developing your leadership abilities/how?
  • What leadership experiences do you need now to climb to the next level?
  • Do people like working for you?
  • How do you know?
  • If you could change 1 or 2 things about yourself, what would they be?

Personal Life: Finally, we might explore topics like:

  • What are the most important things to you in your personal life?
  • In terms of life goals (financial, family, career), how well have these been articulated?
  • If you were asked to describe a ‘perfect year’ what would this look like?
  • In terms of friendships, how solid is your external network?
  • Are you spending the correct amount of time on the things in your life that are important to you?
  • How do you stay grounded?
  • Does the thought of getting older impact you in any way?
  • Will your life and time commitments change, as you get older?
  • What is the most difficult trade-off in all of the above?

Coaching has become a well accepted part of the business landscape. It’s gone well beyond the ‘remedial’ label and now focuses on staff who are high potential. In a memorable phrase Marcia Reynolds, former President of International Coach Federation (ICF) said that ‘coaching is coming out of its diapers’. Is there anything in this process for you? The best sports players in the world receive continuous coaching.  Should we settle for anything less for ourselves?


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