This article was based on episode 198 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Get a resource packet that consists of CFAR’s boldest thinking on executive coaching, strategy, culture, and organizational behavior. This valuable resource includes learnings and writings of CFAR’s top leaders and has never before been available to the public, and is only available to members of The Modern Manager. Become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.
Dr. Richard Levin is an executive coaching legend. He founded the very first executive coaching firm back in the 1980’s! Richard began his career as a psychologist and discovered that many of his clients were high-powered executive leaders. One of them bluntly told Richard, “If you call yourself something other than ‘therapist’, more executives would be comfortable coming to you.” Voila, the world’s first “executive coach” was born.
Richard shares with me his personal approach to executive coaching, the different ways coaching is shifting in today’s workplace, and how managers can make the case for coaching to their boss or employees.
WHAT IS EXECUTIVE COACHING, ANYWAYS?
Is coaching advising? Is it therapy? How does it differ from mentoring? I get this question a lot from clients. I love how Richard holistically defines executive coaching. Put simply, it’s a way of helping leaders become their best selves. Coaching conversations can include everything from how well clients are taking care of themselves to how they are communicating with their colleagues (up, down, and sideways) to how confident they are when speaking in front of a group. Coaching can address almost any needs that arise in a workplace context.
As coaches, it’s our job to inspire and motivate our clients to reach their organization’s expectations and unlock their full potential. Ideally, that means we help someone make sense of a situation and come up with their own answers. When people create their own solutions, they are more likely to implement them. But Richard and I both agree that with our years of experience, we also see the value in offering advice from our bird’s eye view. Advice is best phrased in a way that empowers the client to reflect on their own experiences and what feels right for them. For example, I often say things like, “Let’s put some options on the table and see if any of these sound interesting.”
One advantage of executive coaching is that - unlike therapists - coaches are able to go in and observe a manager with his employees in the workplace itself. They can see how problematic interactions happen in real time instead of only relying on self reporting. Coaches can then become even better thought partners with their clients because they have firsthand information.
HOW EXECUTIVE COACHING IS EVOLVING
It’s been 37 years since Richard started executive coaching, and a lot has changed. For example, with so many team interactions occurring over Zoom now, coaches can virtually observe teams in action without the need to travel or be physically intrusive. Coaches are also interacting with teams in new ways. In large organizations, you may have one coach for every manager at a certain level. These coaches can talk with one another to decipher common problems and spot trends which may signify systemic issues, such as the need for more flexible scheduling to accommodate parental needs. In addition, some coaches are now starting to work with consultants to lift the entire organization. Once a whole-system’s issue has been identified, such as disempowered decision-making, a consultant can work with the organization to evolve their processes and norms to improve decision-making speed and effectiveness.
HOW TO MAKE THE CASE FOR COACHING
Executive coaching is not reserved just for those in the C-Suite. It’s for any high potential employee who wants to improve. While executive coaches cover a broad array of topics, specialized coaches, like media or presentation coaches, are ideal for those who need to develop specific skills to effectively perform in their current or future jobs.
If you want to work with an executive coach, Richard encourages you to speak with your boss about whether resources are available to support your growth. (That means asking if your organization provides funding or reimbursement for coaching.) Be clear about how you want to develop and the impact you believe coaching will have on your ability to deliver results.
While coaching absolutely improves performance, Richard leans away from coaching as a tool for performance improvement. A coach can only help those who want to grow. Alternatively, it’s an ideal way to invest in those who are actively trying to improve but need an extra boost. For coaching to work, the individual needs to be able to identify what they want to develop and buy into the coaching approach. If they do, they are a prime candidate to experience the power of coaching for professional development.
Even today, more than 30+ years after Richard first launched executive coaching into the world, there’s still some hesitancy around the concept, especially when making coaching available to managers throughout an organization. Executive coaching is a powerful way to gain perspective and support in becoming our best selves at work. Coaching isn’t just for the top leaders. It’s for any dedicated person who wants to perform better. We all can use thought partners who work with us to discover solutions. I’m so grateful to Dr. Richard Levin and all of the executive coaches who brought the powerful idea of coaching into our office vocabulary. Their pioneering of this field paved the way for me to do the work I do to help managers create an environment in which people get to be their best selves and do their best work.
KEEP UP WITH RICHARD
Website Bio: https://www.cfar.com/Levin/
Get a resource packet that consists of CFAR’s boldest thinking on executive coaching, strategy, culture, and organizational behavior. This valuable resource includes learnings and writings of CFAR’s top leaders and has never before been available to the public, and is only available to members of The Modern Manager. Become a member at themodernmanager.com/join.
This article was based on episode 198 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.