As a businessperson, have you ever asked yourself, “What exactly is an executive coach?” In this age of economic prosperity, organizations are increasingly using coaches to help employees develop in their careers. As the coaching trend continues to penetrate corporate America, it’s wise to further your understanding about who they are and what they do in case your paths may cross in the future.
To start, these coaches come in all different flavors. They range from retired executives of all types—the grizzled veterans of corporate wars—to PhD industrial/organizational (IO) psychologists, certified executive coaches trained and educated in organizational development, performance coaches, and individuals known as “life coaches.”
Today, there are more than 17,000 coaches registered through the International Coach Federation. Virtually anyone can hang out a shingle and call him- or herself a coach, so the coaching industry is attempting to better organize credentialing and assure there are no impostors parading around as executive coaches.
Types of executive coaches
To successfully traverse this rugged terrain, you should first understand your needs or those of an employee requesting or requiring coaching. Here are a few types of coaches who may match up to those needs:
- Many CEOs and senior-level executives aren’t interested in talking to a psychologist. They prefer someone who has walked in their shoes and can offer practical advice—more of a mentor than a classically trained coach. But, buyer beware: Triple-check the coach’s track record and seek out satisfied or unsatisfied clients/participants. You’ll want to truly understand the depth and breadth of the coach’s body of work. Don’t be the proverbial guinea pig.
- Other individuals may be drawn to academically trained coaches who understand and apply well-researched psychology and techniques to make a real difference in that person’s situation. In many cases, they have participated in some sort of accreditation and training, as well as completed a certain number of “practice” hours before plying their trade. However, these professionals may lack true business experience. Accordingly, you will need to assess the importance of this experience in the given situation.
- There are also life coaches. Such providers may not go through much if any substantive training, but could be appropriate in certain cases. In-depth references should be checked before using such vendors.
- Other coaches are viewed as masters of intervention, expected to right the bad behaviors of employees who don’t play well in the sandbox or are on their last leg before receiving a ticket out of an organization. Again, not everyone can coach or serve in this capacity. A certain degree of detachment and toughness is called for in such situations. ICF-certified coaches or PhD IO psychologists may be best suited for the task.
At the end of the day, the chemistry between the coach and individual is critical for any degree of success. Unfortunately, the coaching profession is not quite mature enough to easily access proven, quality services at the snap of a finger for all situations. However, there are conduits or clearinghouses that have spent time vetting the various types of coaches for all different needs. It would be wise to investigate such services so you don’t have to spend hours, weeks, or months trying to find the right coach for yourself or an employee.
The bottom line is that executive coaching is here to stay, thanks to its extremely positive potential impact on both organizations and individuals. All of us can, and should, be part of the coaching evolution. Take an active role in distinguishing between quality coaches and charlatans in order to find the best coaches for each situation.
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