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How performance coaching unlocks executive potential

In an evolving business environment, coaches can help leaders to tap into their emotional intelligence


'Performance coaching is a relatively new form of executive development and is representative of a very supportive and people-focused culture' Stock image

'Performance coaching is a relatively new form of executive development and is representative of a very supportive and people-focused culture' Stock image

'Performance coaching is a relatively new form of executive development and is representative of a very supportive and people-focused culture' Stock image

A London-based company acquired a new business in Manchester and appointed one of its own senior executives to lead the acquired team. Let's call him John. After 16 years heading up the finance function in the parent company, John had a tremendous track record of success.

John was keen to make an impact quite quickly. After all, his personal reputation depended on it. However, after eight months in the new role, the walls started to tumble down in the new company. Sales went backwards, margin slipped and there was an exodus of key people.

Now, I know acquisitions can be rife with disruption and uncertainty. After all, change is not easy. But because of the scale of the bad news, the London board became very concerned. I was then invited to support the transition.

It became very clear to me in my 'discovery' that John was working on many of the right things to get the new business into shape.

He led a cull of aged, unprofitable products. He identified cost savings in the sales department and halved the marketing budget.

From a pure commercial perspective, all of these initiatives were bang on. However, I felt that he completely missed the opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of the new Manchester crew. There were too many negative sentiments about his style of management and complete lack of empathy and respect. This negative perception of John was impacting on his ability to influence and get things done, and therefore was having a massive effect on his performance.

John was facing a catastrophic failure, which would have been a terrible shame for him and all else concerned. To prevent that, I proposed the company invest in John's development and he be given a performance coach to work with on a one-to-one basis.

After eight weeks, I saw visible improvements in John and in the Manchester team. They started to pull together and the business stabilised.


Performance Coaching explained

Performance coaching is a relatively new form of executive development and is representative of a very supportive and people-focused culture.

It is a professional process whereby a qualified person supports and challenges a client to improve performance. It helps the client to gain self-awareness, clarify goals, achieve development objectives and unlock their potential.

I met with Mary Carroll, a professionally trained executive coach with a background in psychoanalysis, from Dublin-based iDetermine.

"Coaching is a process of facilitated learning to improve performance. It invariably involves growth or change. We support clients to change their attitude, their thinking and perspectives when appropriate. Then we work to change behaviours," she said.

When working with a client, a coach takes time to understand the current challenges. These are usually identified with an emotional quotient survey. This is a well-researched and structured methodology - completed by the client - that effectively identifies the gap between current and ideal thinking. Through meetings, a coach will carefully and sensitively bring the learner on a path of change to improve performance.

EI versus IQ

Emotional intelligence (EI) is an often overlooked competency that, in its absence, can cause an executive untold career failure.

It's even said that most deals are 50pc emotion and 50pc economics. But far too often, emphasis is put on technical skills and industry knowledge as the be all and end all. EI is referred to as the ability to recognise, evaluate and regulate your own emotions, the emotions of those around you, and of groups of people.

One of the key differences between EI and IQ is that IQ will generally stay the same throughout a lifetime but EI can change and be improved, especially when an individual works with a coach. Some people may still view IQ as a superior type of intelligence but, in fact, IQ and EI complement each other. But in the long run, EI trumps IQ.

The case study above shows how John was brilliant technically but blind to his own shortcomings in managing people. In a modern world, that just won't cut it any more. To think that you can get on and succeed without an appropriate level of emotional intelligence is futile.

Things to know about Executive Performance Coaching:

• Regulation. This is an unregulated industry and there are many former athletes, lawyers, business academics and consultants putting themselves out there as professional coaches. I'm not saying they're not qualified to do it but you do need to know that your coach is a professional and well-experienced. There are a number of coaching models, psychometric tools and emotional intelligence surveys in the marketplace. Ask up front for detail.

• Chemistry trumps accreditation. Although accreditation is important, what's even more important is the need to ensure good chemistry between you and your coach. You'll get a feeling very quickly about whether you can trust this person. After all, you're likely to share some of your innermost and private thoughts and concerns with them.

• Coaching versus mentoring. A mentor advises the individual on what they think is the best course of action. A coach will never tell the individual what to do, as their style is to facilitate thinking but be non-directive.

• Honesty is key. As you work through the process, there may be times when the coach should challenge your thinking and/or behaviours. Or they may have to call out that the process is not working. A good coach will, of course, put your needs ahead of their own need to earn fees.

• 4-6 sessions. There is no set time scale but typically, you can expect to meet your coach four to six times over the space of a few months.

The Last Word

The case study outlined above is one scenario where coaching proved to be an ideal intervention. But don't see coaching just as a remedial thing for when things go wrong.

In fact, many organisations now have a culture of engaging coaches to work with their senior and high-potential executives.

Furthermore, hiring smart people should not be limited to those that just have a high IQ. EI is now a fundamental part of many leadership framework programmes.

Alan O'Neill, author of Premium is the New Black, is managing director of Kara Change Management, specialists in strategy, culture and people development. Go to www.kara.ie

Sunday Indo Business