Qualities of a competent executive coach

Of late there has been a proliferation of persons calling themselves executive coaches. It would appear the coaching craze has caught up with many Zimbabweans like a pandemic. On a hind sight one is compelled to dig deeper and bring to light what executive coaching is all about before many out there are shortchanged.

People management issues with Robert Mandeya

Although a great deal has been written on this topic, the body of knowledge still seems to be unintegrated and leaves some individuals entering the field somewhat unsure and confused about the unique nature of executive coaching. Similarly, many different coaching models are presented in the literature, which may exacerbate the confusion.

Competency model

Just a week ago I penned something about a competent framework for general management purposes. In the same vein, an evaluation of coaching models as well as the development needs of individuals being trained as coaches, locally and internationally, has led to some experts in this field to believe that there is a need for a competence executive coaching model.

Analysis of current models

A review of current models focuses mostly on the tasks involved in a coaching process without describing the competences (outcomes) and the assessment criteria (criteria of success) in each phase. A competence model, however, can be used to describe the coaching process, the various competences and the assessment criteria with which trainers can determine the effectiveness of an executive coaching training programme and coaches can also evaluate their own performance.

Development and evaluation

As a point of departure, it may be necessary to distinguish this concept from other related concepts, which may be more familiar to practicing coaches and mentors. In particular a lot out there may already be providing services that include mentoring, facilitation, consultation and counseling and may consider adding executive coaching to the list.

However, in order to develop and describe such a competence model, executive coaching should first be distinguished from other interventions such as facilitation and counseling. Executive coaching should also be defined, the roles and services of executive coaches clarified and the profile, competencies and qualities (characteristics) analysed.

Distinguishing coaching

Executive coaching differs from the above mentioned concepts in many ways. According to Torrance (1984) and Underhill (2007), mentor relationships are usually informal relationships that are based on proximity, common experience and the chemistry between the mentor and mentee. Mentors are usually older, seasoned professionals who take newer professionals under their wings. These mentors often worked in positions similar to those of the new leaders and are therefore able to provide information, guidance and encouragement relating specifically to the job. However, Douglas and McCauley (1999) argue that although one-on-one mentoring programmes may have advantages, they are frequently in conflict with the organisational culture.

Position of organisations

Douglas and McCauley also believe that mentoring programmes are not adequately supported by organisations when they are not part of a larger management development strategy. In response to these criticisms literature suggests that organisations have begun to implement alternative developmental programmes, which include executive coaching. It is believed that executive coaches may be able to provide a wider range of services to the coachee, which are not limited to specialist functional knowledge and which are aligned with the organisation’s broader developmental strategy and culture. Because of increasing debate, it is becoming clearer that coaching and mentoring needs to be defined differently in different contexts.

Understanding executive coaching

Whilst it is clear that from time to time, executive coaches may assume the role as facilitator, but in essence the role of executive coach is far broader. Koortzen and Cilliers (2002) conceptualise facilitation from a person-centred approach as a process of providing an open and trusting climate where opportunities for learning can take place.

Basically coaching occurs in the workplace with the intention of improving a manager’s interpersonal skills and ultimately his or her workplace performance. It is more issue-focused. Now with executive coaching the coaching partnership often begins when the leader is engaged in a dilemma and feels trapped. The essence of executive coaching is to help leaders become “unstuck” from their dilemmas and assist them to transfer their learning into results for the organisation. In other words, coaches bring the kind of trained (yet natural) curiosity of a journalist or an anthropologist to the leader’s work situation. In addition, coaches typically share conceptual frameworks, images and metaphors with executives and encourage rigour in the way leaders organise their thinking, visioning, planning and expectations. According to O’Neill (2000) and Stern (2007) coaches challenge executives to their own competence or learning edge, and build leaders’ capacity to manage their own anxiety in tough situations.

Action-learning process

Kampa-Kokesch and White (2002) conceptualise executive coaching as a formal, ongoing relationship between an individual or team with managerial authority and responsibility in an organisation, and a consultant who possesses knowledge of behaviour change and organisational functioning. The goal of this relationship is to create measurable behaviour change in the individual or collection of individuals (the team). The resultant effect of this relationship is increased individual and organisational performance.

It is the roles, services and profiles of executive coaches which will be analysed and presented before a prominent executive coaching model is provided as background to the competence executive coaching model. In future instalments I will delve into the specific roles of Executive Coaches.

Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw, info@lird.co.zw or +263 772 466 925.