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Differences in Personal and Executive Coaching

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Executive development coaching is the integration of leadership training with coaching. This may be found in many Executive MBA programs where coaching of the student is part of the curriculum. The intent is to help students integrate learning into action, to explore barriers to learning, develop communication strategies with team and cohort members, and/or to debrief assessments and enhance self-awareness.  As a development coach for the EMBA program at University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, I worked with a group of coaches to coach with the students over the course of their studies. We debriefed a number of assessments and defined and coached against development objectives.  Because the students were fully employed while attending the EMBA program, the development objectives included diverse academic-inspired objectives as well as at-work objectives.  For example, one client’s objectives included working more effectively with a difficult team in deploying learnings from leadership competency readings and assessments that were presented in the curriculum.

Executive performance coaching occurs when the intent of the coaching relationship is to assist the client in a whole-life approach to performance enhancement. This type of executive coaching may come closest to personal coaching when as the starting point of the engagement is to optimize the executive’s productivity and focus.  The organization benefits from this coaching in terms of higher executive productivity as well as lower executive attrition.  An example of this type of coaching is a program I work with, The Pinnacle Program by Corporate Balance Concepts. The Pinnacle Program co-creates an agenda for the executive that includes health, personal, and work goals that are designed by the client, free of organizational objectives other than enhancement of the performance of the executive. While clients focus on key work competencies, they also see tremendous benefits from coaching on life balance or health issues that, once resolved through coaching, free the client to achieve significantly higher performance in the workplace.  In fact, in one study we found that attrition was profoundly positively impacted by coaching, most likely due to the coaching intervention that allowed a safe space for the client to talk about and manage concerns about the workplace or personal issues that could have led them to leave the firm and with solutions uncovered in the coaching have provided them a path to stay with the organization.  Leaders who award the Pinnacle Program to their people often state in the intake interview that they know something is compromising the performance of their reports, but suspect it has to do with a morale issue that they are not sharing or perhaps personal issues that the leader doesn’t feel comfortable asking about. For example, one client was navigating a complex divorce just at the start of the engagement.  By allowing the client to process the emotional and logistic demands of this event, the client was able to better manage showing up at work with greater commitment and energy.  Frequently clients come to the coaching with me unclear about their future career development and ready to leave their organization.  By discussing how they can be proactive in crafting their careers within their organizations, departure is often avoided.

Aligned executive coaching falls between executive performance coaching and programmatic coaching in its balance between personal and organizational goals. In this situation, the coach is contracted by the organization, and the coaching includes alignment meetings with the client’s boss and/or HR personnel. Goals can include both personal client goals and organizational goals. By aligning the executive and boss, there is often buy-in to the executive’s development and increased support of the personal and professional goals that help create a more optimum performance by and partnership between the client and boss. The client and I craft the alignment meetings together before we set up the three-way meeting with the boss to determine what we want to cover.  In that meeting, the client is responsible for sharing some of the client-developed objectives while the coach and boss listen.  Then the coach can facilitate a conversation with the boss to add to that list or define how they perceive those development objectives, thus giving the client a better sense of the metrics for success and what it will look like to be a good leader in the eyes of the boss.  One specific technique my clients occasionally use in the meeting is having me ask questions of their bosses they wouldn’t ask themselves such as, “what are the client’s greatest strengths in your eyes?”

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