Is Executive Coaching Right for You?

Be clear about what you would like to accomplish with your coach. Take the time to find a good one. And be ready to own 75 to 80 percent of the work in a coaching relationship.

Many executives and sponsoring companies spend thousands of dollars on executive coaching in an effort to “fix” a broken leader. You know, the boss who never communicates anything to her team and then lambastes them publicly for being incompetent when expectations are not met. Or the leader who spends the morning working on his fantasy football league, then takes all the credit for the hard work of the team. How about the VP who has nothing positive to say, hates his job, and takes it out on his people by nitpicking, micromanaging, and criticizing their work? Sound like anyone you know?

If you are a company looking to hire a coach to fix one of these folks, save your money and just fire them! If you are like one of the people mentioned above, please do not hire an executive coach. A psychiatrist, priest, or your mother will be more helpful. Executive coaching cannot fix leaders who are miscast, have a mental disorder, or were born in Jerksville.

“Are you cast as Gandalf but act like Edward Scissorhands?”

In other words, does the role you are in require wisdom, risk taking, and leadership like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings but your personality is more like the shy, sad, and innocent Edward Scissorhands? If so, do yourself and those reporting to you a favor and seek a role more akin to your personality. Ed is not a bad guy…he’s just in a bad role. Ed is destined to create great art with his unique talents. Gandalf was born to lead Hobbits through the dangerous mines of Moria. No coach can teach you to be someone you are not. Some coaches will claim that skill; they are liars. I’ve told several perspective clients, “You don’t need me; you need a new job.”

“Where are all the competent people in the world?”

Isn’t it amazing that everyone else is so stupid? Do you find it impossible to find good people? Don’t you feel like you just want to wake up from this dream about life on Planet Idiot? Why is it you have to do everything yourself in order for it to be right? If you are nodding your head in agreement, do not hire an executive coach. You are too far down the A Hole. The fact is you are too smart for everyone, including a coach. Please do not waste your time telling me how I should coach you because I am too stupid to understand someone of your intellect. Please understand that we all feel quite incompetent in your presence and are grateful to merely suffer in your brilliance. Please carry on while WE seek another career. It’s not you…it’s US.

“I think my cable box is watching me.”

Mental illness is a continuum we all exist on. We are all more or less mentally ill than the person sitting next to us. There is a point on that scale whereby an executive coach cannot help you. Coaches are not qualified to assist if you sob uncontrollably in meetings, are unable to leave your office without combing your mustache three times while facing north, or think the cable company is sending you subliminal messages through your box. Seriously, do not hire a coach to help you with something a trained professional in the science of psychology should be doing. Most companies have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)…use it.


“Small changes, big ripples.”

Most leaders underestimate their influence. When the leader gets the sniffles, their organization gets the flu. Every word you say, the clothes you wear, your non-verbal mannerisms are being intensely scrutinized and interpreted by the people counting on you for guidance, reassurance, promotions, raises, and love. Good leaders know that small changes in behavior create big ripples in their organizations. An innocent comment, a moment of quiet, or a silly facial expression at the right (or wrong) time can send a whole department into a tizzy if a leader is not careful.

Coaches can help to identify non-productive behaviors and work with an executive on alternate actions that improve performance, reduce stress, and raise likability. Likability? Really? Yes, friends, if people don’t like you, you cannot succeed in leadership. I have participated in hundreds of hiring panels, and I cannot recall one interview debrief resulting in a hire that started with, “I really hate that guy.” If you don’t want to be likable but want great success, go start another Apple. With guidance, reflection, and improved self-awareness, you can make those small behavioral changes that create the big ripples.

“Teach Me, Oh, Great One”

Many executives mistakenly believe coaches provide answers. The truth is you will pay us incredible sums of money to ask you questions. Coaching is such a great job. We just sit there, ask you questions, and then give you homework! Sometimes, we don’t do ANYTHING but tell you to go fill out some behavioral assessment. We don’t know any shortcuts, magic spells, or possess any holy wisdom…we’re just good (hold on, I have to wipe my eyes from laughing)…at asking questions. YOU have to do all the work, and WE get PAID! The best part is I don’t feel guilty for taking your money and don’t care if you like me. Good coaches provide honest feedback, call you out when you are BS’ing, and challenge your thinking. (Likability is for leaders, remember?)

“Coach or Rent-A-Friend?”

Some coaches are very friendly and want to be your “coach for life.” These are known in the business as “hookers.” Coaching, much like mentoring and some Broadway plays, should be a limited engagement. The coach or mentor you need today is not the same coach or mentor you will need in five years. If you want a long-term relationship, buy a dog or make a friend. A good coach will have a process to swiftly determine what the issues are and facilitate a plan of action. Once improvement is noticed and a long-term plan in set in place, the coach should leave you and move on to her next client. Talk to several coaches about their methods before you rent one.

If you are in a career that somewhat matches your skill set, basically enjoy what you do, and want to improve your productivity, influence, and likability, then executive coaching might be for you. Be clear about what you would like to accomplish with your coach. Take the time to find a good one. Be ready to own 75 to 80 percent of the work in a coaching relationship. Do your homework when the coach tells you to. And pay your bill promptly—please!

Jim Ruel is a Certified Executive Coach with more than 25 years of executive leadership with Fortune 500 companies. His unique sense of humor and view of corporate America provide readers and clients real-world perspectives and advice on how to succeed in leadership and life at work.


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