5) What kinds and styles of executive coaches are there?

01/01/2011 00:00

    Coaches may be subsumed into several categories, such as internal and external and hard and soft. The internal coach (mentor) knows corporate politics and understands the culture, not just "That is how it is done here", but "That is why it is done this way here.” His helping and sheltering hand can be the key to the political (networking) aspects of career advancement, as well as assisting with performance, the actions that have an impact on the bottom line.

    The external coach brings a different, broader, perspective. His role can be the key to both the tangible (quantifiable) and intangible aspects of improving performance, which certainly does not impede career advancement. In management, external coaching can in turn be divided into two main schools, reflecting the background of the coach. The first "soft" school is psychological/ behavioral, and the second "hard" school is management/business. An important initial decision is what kind of coaching, or coaching combination, is best suited for a particular executive/operation at a given point in time.

    Effective coaches from both schools have as many different styles as there are sports. At one extreme is "coaching by terror." (At the other is "coaching by love,” e.g. the doting parent.) One of the author's best "coaches" ever was his drill instructor at Paris Island when he enlisted in the Marine Corps. The recruits were firstly, in awe and secondly, terrified of him, and rightly so.

    Repercussions for unacceptable performance were swift and savage. (His renowned "motivational" motto was: "Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good.") The bar for "acceptable" was raised on a daily basis. He achieved remarkable results from those who made it through the training, consistently winning a variety of best platoon awards.

    His "coaching" inculcated both the self-discipline and the techniques to achieve difficult goals in a hostile environment. Furthermore one learned how to do that as a member of a small team within a large, complex organization. The impact of that coaching was dramatic, not just in the military but long term, academically and professionally.

    Do not underestimate the first cousin of "coaching by terror," viz. "management by terror" either. He is alive and well all over the world, including "touchy-feely" Silicon Valley -- and can be extraordinarily effective. The entrepreneurs who have built empires with this management style are legion. They, too, have had their mentors and coaches, not, of course "touchy-feely, wishy-washy peacenik" types, but "tough, hard-nosed make-it-happen" types, whose ruthlessness they admire, respect and can relate to. The success of the Marine Corps notwithstanding, that is not at all the style of Bridges. Our orientation is more towards bottom-up management, flat hierarchies and motivation through delegating responsibility and sharing rewards.


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