Why Coaching?

Coaching Comes of Age
by Joshua Elkin
Executives of nonprofits have unique challenges; in particular, not only must they demonstrate the impact and the results of their initiatives, but they also have to navigate the complexities of working successfully and strategically with a full board and a board chair. Coaching can be a very powerful resource to help nonprofit executives build a positive and collaborative working relationship with their board.
The Expanding Presence of Coaching
We need to celebrate a significant change in the landscape of executive leadership development - the dramatic increased presence of coaching in the nonprofit and for-profit sectors. The changes are clearly evident both in the sheer quantity of coaching that is taking place, as well as in the evolution of the likely target audience for the coaching services. According to a recent presentation of research by the Boda Group (a leadership development firm based in Boston), coaching has undergone a dramatic transformation within the last 20 years. In 1990, coaching was most often recommended as a last ditch intervention to help a weak performing executive or senior manager. In 2000, coaching had evolved to the point of being introduced as an option for those leaders whose performance level was on the fence, and who were deemed to have potential to improve their work as a result of coaching. Today, according to Boda, coaching is routinely used as a leadership development tool for top performers, and for a broad range of senior executives, both individually and as teams. In fact, coaching is even seen as a skill that leaders themselves can learn and use in the supervision of their direct reports.

“The use of executive coaching has increased markedly during recent years and now is regarded as a major leadership development practice in corporate organizations around the world. It has been estimated that more than 70% of organizations with formal leadership development initiatives employ coaching as an important part of that mix.” (Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice, September, 2009, p. 117)

Why a Change Now? What is Fueling the Pull toward Coaching?
What accounts for this sea change? A number of factors are simultaneously contributing to the growing acceptance of coaching interventions:

  • the positive impact of coaching which is being documented in evidence-based journals;
  • the increasingly challenging job of providing leadership in a more complex and faster-moving world;
  • the recognition that one-shot, group interventions to promote leadership development do not stick; and
  • the increased awareness that fostering change and growth in adults takes time and requires ongoing support if it is to last.

What is Coaching? What is Executive/Leadership Coaching?
Definitions abound, reflecting a robust and expanding field. The International Coaching Federation (ICF), as the largest umbrella organization which certifies and advocates for the coaching field, defines coaching as: “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” While this definition applies to executive and leadership coaching, the following more detailed definition incorporates a more organizational perspective:
Executive coaching is an experiential and individualized leader development process that builds a leader’s capacity to achieve short and long-term organizational goals, and to enhance personal satisfaction and fulfillment. It is conducted through one-on-one and/or group interactions, driven by data from multiple perspectives, and based on mutual trust and respect. The organization, an executive, and the executive coach work in partnership to achieve maximum impact. (based on the Executive Coaching Handbook, of the executivecoachingforum.com, 2008)
Coaching also has great value for the board chair and other volunteer leaders as well; in fact, the coaching of the top volunteer-executive leadership team can prove to be a highly strategic intervention. Such coaching deserves serious consideration, whether focused on the board chair alone, or on the volunteer-executive dyad. So much of the resiliency, strategic thinking, role clarification, and positive momentum is generated through an effective and well-maintained partnership of the top professional and the top volunteer leader. Coaching has much to offer this leadership team.
Three Levels of Learning
Executive coaching is, in its very essence, a learning activity for leaders committed to their organizations’ ongoing improvement and success. It operates on at least three distinct levels:

  • tactical problem solving;
  • developing leadership capabilities and new ways of thinking, being, and acting that generalize to other situations and roles; and
  • learning how to learn – developing skills and habits of self-reflection that ensure that learning will continue after coaching ends.

The third level holds out the prospect of avoiding long-term dependency on a coach, and sustaining a leader whose learning and self-reflection will fuel continuous professional and personal development throughout his/her career.

Atul Gawande
In the absence of guidance, how may people can do. . . complex tasks at the level we require? With a diploma, a few will achieve sustained mastery; with a good coach, many could. We treat guidance for professionals as a luxury – you can guess what gets cut first when school-district budgets are slashed. But coaching may prove essential to the success of modern society.