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What Do Executive Coaches Lack?
Too many executive coaches lack the business experience necessary to help clients. But others say such experience isn’t necessary to effect real change — and in some cases, it may even be a hindrance.
By Andrew R. McIlvaine
CB Bowman believes there’s a problem in the world of executive coaching.
“I was speaking with the head of HR for a major consumer-goods business, and he told me he had to go through 23 executive coaches before he found one who understood business,” says Bowman, the owner of Plainfield, N.J.-based Executive Leadership.
“I started querying other people, and they agreed that it’s very hard to find good executive coaches with actual bottom-line business experience,” she says. “They end up having to teach the coaches about business before they can actually get down to the business of coaching!”
“We’re not trying to take business away from other coaching-certification groups,” says Bowman, who has worked in brand management at General Foods and held senior-level positions in the outplacement industry.
“There are too many lightweights in the field,” says Andrew Neitlich, founder and director of the Center for Executive Coaching in Sarasota, Fla., and co-author of an upcoming book, Guerilla Marketing for Coaches. “These are people who just ask open-ended questions that don’t go anywhere, and they leave executives rolling their eyes and saying, ‘That was a waste of time.’ “
There are plenty of organizations out there that offer coaching certification, and there’s even an organization that certifies the courses they offer: The Lexington, Ky.-based International Coach Federation, which has 17,000 members worldwide. The ICF develops standards for coaching, holds regular meetings and has built a network of certified coaches.
“At a minimum, an individual who wants to work as a coach should have completed 60 hours of coach-specific training and gained mastery of the 11 core coaching competencies,” says Magda Mook, the ICF’s executive director.
The ICF does not, however, certify courses or standards specific to executive coaching. Instead, the organization addresses coaching standards in general, whether it’s for life coaching, leadership coaching or executive coaching, says Mook.
Actual business experience can be useful for executive coaches, she says, but it is not necessary.
“We do know, based on research conducted for us by PricewaterhouseCoopers, that clients value any previous business experience a coach may have that could help them understand the position in which the clients find themselves in,” says Mook.
“Having said that, our position is that as long as a coach is truly well-educated in core coaching competencies, he or she should be very capable of helping business people in any situation where coaching may be of value,” she says.
According to a study from AMA Enterprise, by the New York-based American Management Association, individuals are twice as likely to request coaching than to refuse it.
Slightly more than one-third (35 percent) of polled senior managers and executives at 230 organizations said they “sometimes” refuse to accept coaching, while nearly half (45 percent) “sometimes” request it.
“The findings,” says Sandi Edwards, senior vice president at AMA Enterprise, “certainly suggest that a coaching engagement needs to be handled with tact. … Today, [coaching] is more about development than remedying problems, and smart self-starters at the middle level may have come to see coaching as key to their advancement.”
The question of whether business experience is necessary depends on the definition of executive coaching, says Karl Corbett, managing partner at Cincinnati-based Sherpa Coaching, which trains and certifies executive coaches.
“If you’re talking about providing specific training, then yes, experience in a particular business is necessary. But if you define coaching as changing business behavior, than anyone who develops, enhances and refines the skills of coaching can coach anyone,” he says. “There are executive coaches who can go into a hospitality or manufacturing firm and change the behavior of top executives without knowing a thing about those industries.”
Corbett says executive coaching consists of a series of meetings between a business leader and a trained facilitator that results in positive changes to the leader’s behavior.
“If you work with an executive coach, you go through a series of diagnostic exercises, journaling and homework assignments to help the client discover, on their own, whether their business behaviors are hurting them, and then the facilitator works with them to change those behaviors,” he says.
Most of the time, such coaching is kept secret, according to the AMA Enterprise study, with two-thirds of organizations always keeping it quiet and one-quarter “sometimes” keeping it confidential.
Only 11 percent seldom or never keep coaching confidential, which, Edwards says, indicates a “continuing ambivalence … despite its gaining ground as a sign of status.”
As for high-level business experience, Neidlich says, such knowledge may even be a hindrance to effective executive coaching.
“A coach who’s also an executive could suffer from the same blind spots as the client,” he says. “You can make the argument that, in the Western world, there’s an abundance of people who can make good analytic decisions. But there’s a shortage of people who understand how to engage and relate to other people.”
Neitlich says psychotherapists and ministers have completed his program and, despite lacking business experience, have gone on to become highly effective executive coaches.
Coaches who wish to join ACEC will also need to have an advanced business experience……., and be certified to administer high-level assessments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
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