Executive Coaching Can Level-Up Your Leaders — If You Get it Right - AIIR Consulting

Executive coaching is an essential tool for leaders. But, not all executive coaching is created equal. Four key questions to ask.

For decades, leaders have dealt with volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and change. But, as we wrote in our Trend Report, 2020 revealed to us what the Harvard Business Review called a new normal of change that is perpetual, happening all the time; pervasive, occurring in multiple areas at once; and exponential, accelerating at an increasingly rapid rate.

Unfortunately, too many leaders aren’t prepared for this new normal. At a November conference of more than 500 leadership development professionals, nearly 91% of those polled said their leaders were struggling to lead through this new type of change. None described their leaders as thriving.

Executive coaching will be an essential tool for helping leaders adjust to the new normal of change. The benefits of executive coaching are well documented. A global survey of coaching clients by the International Coach Federation (ICF) reported that the median financial return for companies investing in coaching was seven times the initial investment. And, multiple studies have shown organizations that invested in executive coaching and leadership development during past crises fared better not only during those crises but over the long term.

However, not all coaching is created equal. And for every executive coach creating value for their clients, there are scores of unaccredited, inexperienced coaches doing the opposite. Here are four key questions to ask when choosing a coaching provider.

1. Are they coaching the same way they did a decade ago, or are they preparing leaders for the challenges they face today?

Leaders have long struggled with complexity. In fact, even before the pandemic, 68% of business leaders felt overwhelmed by the rapid pace of change. As executive coach Dana M. Smith | AIIR Annapolis shared, “The pandemic expedited that which was already afoot.”

“For today’s leaders, coaching is about helping to shift mindsets to manage unprecedented uncertainty,” said coach Allie Wilkinson | AIIR Boston. “This involves fostering a learning approach, helping leaders let go of narratives that are no longer true, helping them see polarities instead of problems, and helping them create the agility required to navigate uncertainty.”

While 1:1 interactions with a coach are invaluable, to help leaders meet the challenges of 2021 and beyond, coaching must leverage learning and technology in a way that creates impact beyond 1:1 sessions. At AIIR, for example, we equip our world-class coaches with a proprietary coaching platform. This not only facilitates more frequent, on-demand 1:1 interactions with coaches but also empowers coaches to share important learning that leverages cutting-edge psychological research and neuroscience to upskill leaders in critical areas like:

  • Cultivating resilience 
  • Learning to thrive in a VUCA environment
  • Bringing purpose to your work 
  • The impact of our socio-political environment
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • How to stay motivated while working remotely
  • Creating boundaries in the new work environment 
  • Mental health and wellness
  • Leading a virtual team

2. Are they leveraging technology creatively and sensitively to meet coachees in the moment?

While most of the industry has been stuck in the past, our article on virtual coaching explains that there are also coaching providers who rely too much on technology. Some of the newest entrants into the industry use chatbots, AI, and pools of generic coaches to create an on-demand coaching experience. But this shiny delivery system often comes at the cost of human connection, and we know from experience that it is still the strength of the coach-coachee bond that determines coaching’s ability to create long-term positive outcomes.

In 2021, leaders need coaches who are capable of adapting to their needs and meeting them in the moment. For example, though AIIR pioneered the use of telepresence coaching, we recognize that 2020 has left many of us with Zoom fatigue.

“We need to be flexible given the varied work styles, development needs, and organizational constraints or our potential clients,” said coach David Ehrmann | AIIR Boston. “One of my clients checks in with me when he is out walking after work because this is the time when he 'disconnects' and can reflect on his leadership practice. One size doesn't fit all.”

3. Is there oversight?

As challenging as the past year and beginning of 2021 have been for leaders, it is important to acknowledge that coaches are human beings dealing with many of the same challenges. As such, it is important that coaches have a system of support that helps them overcome these challenges and gives them an understanding of how their experience may be impacting their work as coaches.

“Coaches need to be trained on skills related to leading change, managing emotional stress, and navigating issues like racial equity in the workplace,” said coach Nataliya Adelson | AIIR Princeton, NJ. “Coaches need to be equipped with the right mindset and skills to help their clients become effective leaders.”

At AIIR, for example, our coaches have access to other members of the AIIR Global Coaching Network, a coaching community of seasoned executive coaches around the world. And, we bring our coaches together in a monthly Discovery meeting to share best practices and learn from each other in service to our clients. 

“Globally, no one is standing on known footing because none of us can predict tomorrow in the way we used to be able to,” said coach Judy Lubin | Chicago. “What I have been doing, and what I believe we need to be doing, is modeling for our clients how to approach complexity and uncertainty.”

4. Can they measure results?

As we stated before, the ROI of executive coaching is well documented, with more than 25% of companies reporting ROI between 10 to 49 times their initial investment. But in a largely unregulated industry, it can be hard to prove results beyond the coachee having a positive experience.

In 2019, we launched the most extensive study of coaching outcomes ever conducted. We were determined to go beyond ROI and satisfaction so our clients could see the true impact of their investment in executive coaching. Our data science team identified and designed a proprietary assessment to measure the competencies essential for successful leaders, then built that assessment into every one of our coaching engagements. 

This data-driven approach allows us to gain a baseline understanding of where our clients start, how much progress they’ve made by the end of the coaching experience, and the organizational impact of that progress.

Choose Carefully

At AIIR, our mission is to help leaders navigate change and shape a better future. Executive coaching is an ideal vehicle to help leaders level-up and take on the challenges they face today and those they will face tomorrow. But only if you choose the right coaching provider.

For more information about how AIIR approaches executive coaching, check out my colleague’s article about the importance of finding the right coach, or visit our Executive Coaching service page.

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AIIR Consulting

AIIR Consulting is a global leadership development consultancy dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and performance of leaders and their organizations. Through the strategic integration of coaching and technology, AIIR Consulting brings agile leadership development to today’s connected leader.

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