Executive Coaching Involves More than the Leader and Coach

Part 5 of The Six Truths of Executive Coaching

Puzzle with People Standing on TopThe truth is that to achieve the most impact from an executive coaching engagement, the leader being coached must involve his or her key stakeholders — those people who are key to their business success.

Taking this perspective, it is more than just the leader and his or her boss. It includes their peers, direct reports, and others such as key customers, vendors or suppliers. And, in many family-owned businesses, it includes family members who are often part of an ongoing family business council.

The world’s preeminent executive coach, Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, calls this process Stakeholder Centered Leadership Coaching. It’s the process we use at rd&partners to successfully coach hundreds of leaders and their teams. (I had the privilege of talking with Marshall on this process in a recent Leadership Leverage radio program, which you can listen to here). In brief, here’s how the process works:

Stakeholder-Centered Leadership Coaching requires:

  1. Gathering confidential feedback from those who work closest to the leader. Most often this is done using a 360-degree performance appraisal survey. The most frequent key stakeholders invited to participate are: the leader’s boss and his or her boss’s boss; direct reports, peers, and other leaders in the firm. In addition, some circumstances merit including selected vendors, suppliers, customers or even family members.
  2. Working together, the leader and coach evaluate the feedback from the 360-performance appraisal to determine the one development area that, if improved or sustained, will contribute directly to a mission-critical strategic initiative (as discussed in the previous article in this series).

The Heart of the Process:

  • The leader asks for specific suggestions from each key stakeholder about how to best achieve a positive change in the identified development area. For example, a leader might ask each stakeholder, “Over the next month, what suggestions can you offer about how I can become a more effective decision maker?”
  • Whatever the feedback is from each key stakeholder the leader simply says “thank you” and indicates that they will consider the suggestion, promising to follow up monthly.
  • The leader follows up as promised, and asks the stakeholders whether they have observed improvement in the development area. Such monthly follow-up with stakeholders allows the leader (and coach) to obtain instant feedback, and confirm sustained practice or launch development adjustments accordingly.
  • This monthly commitment is the key to ensuring everyone has a vested stake in the coaching process. In this way, the key stakeholders are not only active participants in the executive coaching process, they are actually the ones who determine its success. In other words, the success of coaching is not simply defined by the leader or the coach!

Two Rules for Identifying and Selecting Key Stakeholders

Of course, selecting those key stakeholders to be engaged in the leader’s development is critical to making this process work. Here are two essential rules:

Rule # 1: Select those who know the leader well.

A key stakeholder must have sufficient experience working with the leader to provide valid responses on the 360-degree performance appraisal tool, because those statements are based on observable behaviors. A helpful rule of thumb is to choose those who have worked with the leader for a minimum of 6 months and who fully understand the leader’s role.

Rule #2: Select a cross-section of people.

Select key stakeholders who have had a wide variety of experiences with the leader, who have worked on various projects with varying degrees of success. That is both some good and some bad. Including such variety provides a more complete and balanced picture of the leader’s perceived strengths and areas for further development.

Setting Expectations is Why It Works

Involving key stakeholders is really about setting (and measuring) expectations. Here are three practical steps to get you started.

Step 1: Set Conscious Expectations

Your developmental actions should be focused on how your behavior as a leader impacts your stakeholders. If you aren’t thinking about it on a daily basis, the odds don’t favor much positive change in your selected area for development.

Step 2: Monitor Expectations

Since you set developmental expectations at the beginning of the coaching process by asking for their suggestions, make sure to check in monthly with your key stakeholders to ask how they think you are doing. This ongoing communication reinforces expectations in a positive way.

Step 3: Influence Expectations

If expectations are not met after your monthly check-in, the best way to influence your stakeholders to set appropriate expectations is to tell them why their suggestion did not work for you, and ask for alternative suggestions going forward.

Executive Coaching without a Support System is a Waste of Time and Money

If the process of Executive Coaching does not involve those working closest with the leader, the key stakeholders, it will be next to impossible to measure its impact on the organization’s mission-critical initiatives.

Make sure you set yourself – and your organization – up for success by involving the key stakeholders in the process from the outset, and using their input to monitor the progress of the coaching relationship.

In the next article in the series, Truth Five: The Cost of Coaching? Paper Clips! I’ll show you exactly how your investment in executive coaching can offer you significant return on investment (ROI) — and help you to accurately calculate it.

Until then,

Dr. Rob Denker

Image: Salvatore Vuono

About The Author:

Rob Denker is the Managing Principal of rd&partners. He helps leaders consistently see tangible, real-world benefits by making behavioral changes that are directly linked to the organization’s strategic initiatives, and their own effectiveness as a leader. Connect with Rob and rd&partners on LinkedIn.

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