4) What, then, is the role of the executive coach?
To contrast executive coaches with those from team sports: the latter have three key roles: "staffing," "training" and "strategy." Staffing consists of deciding who is on the team, what positions they are going to play, and attracting stars to the team. Training consists of improving the skills of individual players, and of the players in combination with one another. Strategy consists of analyzing the competitors and coming up with a plan to defeat them.
The major difference in executive coaching is that the coach does not exercise this kind of authority. In fact, for the coach even to suggest individuals for promotion, let alone termination, may well be counterproductive. People can start spending more time thinking about corporate politics and worrying about the unknown coach (the mysterious backroom kingmaker) than about getting their real work done. If a coach is involved in staffing, more appropriate is for him to assist in determining what kinds of individuals are best suited for which positions, and what ways should be used to attract, retain and develop them.
The general role of the coach is discussed in "The Wild West of Executive Coaching," Harvard Business Review, Alyssa M. Freas, November 2004. The article´s abstract states:
“. . .strategic coaching can bring leaders into alignment with organizational aims, while fostering cultural changes. . . one-on-one interaction with an objective third party can provide a focus that other forms of organizational support simply cannot."
The prejudice that coaching was used to help underachievers no longer applied. The article cites a 2004 survey by Right Management Consultants of Philadelphia. In the survey 86% of the respondents indicated that at their company coaching was aimed at managers who were considered future leaders.
"Coaching has evolved into the mainstream fast," says Michael Goldberg, president of Building Blocks Consulting (Manalapan, New Jersey), whose clients include New York Life and MetLife. "This is because there is a great demand in the workplace for immediate results, and coaching can help provide that." How? By providing feedback and guidance in real time, says Brian Underhill, a senior consultant at the Alliance for Strategic Leadership (Morgan Hill, California). He adds that coaching has the advantage of taking place "in the context of their current jobs."
In addition to assisting experienced senior managers with strategic challenges, executive coaches sometimes have a role in the transition to a new CEO. In this case coaching entails issues such as pre-boarding negotiations and accelerated integration of the new CEO (on-boarding, the first hundred days, managing the board, merging a new senior team).
Coaches can also play a role when a factory workforce, or entire division, is re-organized, when a quality initiative or new product is introduced, or when a strategic alliance, merger or acquisition is negotiated. An effective coach is not usually perceived as either a "deal maker" or a "deal breaker" but rather as an agent of change.
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