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Are Executive Coaches Too Nice?

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There is a particular brand of ice cream I do not eat.

It has nothing to do with the product ingredients, flavor varieties or even the brand’s political views.  It has to do with (yes, I know this is immature) a long-held grudge from one of the few times I was fired as an executive coach.

About 15 years ago, five of us were inaugural coaches for an ice cream company’s first-ever 360 feedback and coaching program.  We were thrilled to be included, as this looked like a fun company.  We each dutifully reviewed the top brass’ 360 reports and worked individually with them one-on-one in sessions that (at the time) felt quite productive and fulfilling.

Three days later, we received our feedback scores verbally.  I was expecting decent-to-wonderful results, especially since I’d only received great scores in all my past efforts.  So the words seemed to strike my eardrums in muffled slow motion: “They aren’t rehiring you.  They said you were too tough on the participants.  All the coaches were.  We’re replacing all of you.”

What??  I was too tough on the participants?  If anything, I thought I was too nice!  Now that feedback was “cold” (pun intended).

Over the years, I’ve put up with plenty from my coached executives: missed appointments, uncompleted homework, not practicing the new desired behavior in between sessions, etc. I’m sure you’re familiar with the line, “We’ve just been absolutely up to our necks, so I had no time to try to be nice to people this past week!”

As coaches, we constantly struggle with finding the right balance between:
* Offering a friendly, safe place to dialogue versus holding executives accountable
* Opening new positive avenues of growth versus hitting them over the head with harsh, negative 360 feedback
* Balancing offering encouragement and support versus speaking truth

And this balance is not an absolute; every coaching engagement is very different.

Research Says Coaches Are Too Nice…depending on who you ask

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