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Executive Coaches Share Openly and Unselfishly: Dynamic Panel Discussion at ICF Annual Conference 2003

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Klaus: Whenever I have the initial conversation with a client, I find out who they are. Is it the executive in his or her role as an executive or is it the individual hiding behind the role? I not only work on the executive level, I also work on various other levels in the same organization—either on a coaching level or I’m facilitating leadership programs. That enables me to gain a lot of knowledge about the organization from different perspectives. I then have a better source and I can also bring questions into the coaching situation. It’s not only the client who comes up with the topics or with the issues, but I say, “OK, there’s this or that rumor in the organization, or I heard this, how do you relate to that and how does that relate to what we have talked about earlier?” So working on different levels in the organization has helped me to not just have the top executive view—because that’s a pretty isolated view.

Bill: One final comment about knowing the customer. I quote a German by the name of Kurt Lewin. Lewin wrote about certain experiences that are unfreezing. There’s a dissonance, things that don’t fit. There’s a mistake, there’s a failure, there’s something that’s occurred that essentially unfreezes us. In a post modem world, I think executives are faced with many experiences that unfreeze them, but what Lewin said is that unfreezing isn’t learning. The unfreezing is simply setting the conditions for learning. I think often as an executive coach I’m working with someone who’s been unfrozen—something has hit them square in the eye and they’re trying to figure out what happened. It’s a learning process. Yes, they’ve been very busy, they have no time to do stuff, but something has hit them and they’re suddenly saying “What just happened. My world isn’t the same anymore.” That’s why linking it to 360s , training programs, or strategic planning processes, often is effective because there’s an unfreezing that’s occurred and they need help with the next phrase of learning—and with the subsequent process of refreezing.

Male Versus Female

Moderator (Linda): Are there differences in the needs of male verses female leaders? If so, what are they?

Val: Tricky question. Male verses female. I don’t want to sound sexist so I’m going to make an observation from my personal practice. I’m not saying this about all women or all men, but I react to this question by saying that I coach senior executives who are about 60 percent male and 40 percent female. That is just how it is. There is one thing I tend to coach women executives on more than men: I find my women clients (even at really high levels) are often asking for permission to get in the game. They’re qualified, they have the skill, but it’s not about that. They’re still holding back a little bit. One of my favorite lines for my female clients, men too, but female much more is: “Are you going to be a player or are you going to be a pawn?” Which is it? And I have to push really hard like there’s not going to be an engraved invitation to play, jump in. I’m surprised at this point with so much progress for women, and it’s subtle at the higher levels, but it’s still there, they’re waiting for permission. So, that is one difference I’ve seen.

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