A Case for Coaching: Why Executive Coaching is the Best Leadership Development Strategy in Today's Turbulent Times


Career Partners International – San Franciso Bay Area / Torchiana Mastrov & Sapiro

Organizations are caught in a dilemma.  The recent global economic meltdown has required many companies to cut back drastically and tighten belts wherever possible – including cutting their commitment and resources dedicated to leadership development.  At the same time, a majority of CEOs across industries and geographies view maximizing the productivity of their current leaders and developing the next generation of leaders as mission critical.  A 2008 Aon Consulting survey found that 56% of employers in the US are experiencing a leadership shortage that is impeding their organization's performance. In addition, succession planning is taking on a new urgency in many organizations as the baby boom generation of managers heads toward retirement.

How can companies reconcile their need to develop leaders while still managing costs and ensuring a return on investment?  We believe that one-on-one executive coaching is the best answer to that question.  Business school programs meet certain development needs, but tend to be generic and at times academic.  More targeted in-house leadership initiatives help to align leaders with corporate culture and strategy, and have the added advantage of building internal networks.  But once again, large leadership programs tend to be a shotgun-type approach to development with potentially uneven and difficult to measure benefits.  Only executive coaching provides:

  • Development that is specific to the individual leader and their unique needs at this point in time
  • Clearly defined measurable objectives and outcomes that are collectively agreed to by the boss, the leader being coached, and the coach
  • Observable behavioral change and business impact in four to six months

In this article we will look at how coaching can benefit your next generation of leaders; leaders you are brining into your organization from the outside; and current leaders who need to up their game to meet new strategic and global challenges.  We will also discuss the background and experience you should look for in an executive coach and the characteristics of qualified vendors of coaching services.

Developing the Next Generation of Leaders

Leaders used to be developed internally by progressively moving up the middle-management ranks.  Incremental promotions allowed them to be tested in lower risk assignments and to develop skills over a more extended period of time.  Their direct managers were often available to provide hands-on coaching and mentoring along the way.  In today’s flatter organizations, mid-management jobs have been eliminated and more traditional career paths have become a thing of the past.  Greater demands mean that bosses are no longer able to give more junior executives the time and attention they feel they deserve.  Global and virtual organizations provide less visibility and less one-on-one access.

An external executive coach can help fill the development gap.  Coaches help the aspiring leader understand what is required to be successful in organizational terms, develop their own leadership template, and create a goal oriented development plan that will increase the probability that they will move to the next level of the organization.  As an objective third party, the coach can provide necessary feedback, appropriate encouragement, and a sounding board for grappling with management and leadership challenges and opportunities.  Collaborating with the leader’s boss, the coaching engagement ensures milestones are measured along the way and the end goals are clearly met.

Integrating External Hires

As much as we all want to develop and promote internal talent, we sometimes need to look outside the organization for the executive competencies and experience that we weren’t able to anticipate.  Bringing in talent from the outside has its own difficulties. Research shows that there is an approximately 50% chance that an executive who is hired today will ultimately be considered a failure. 

When we do hire from the outside, the challenge is to integrate new executives and maximize their contribution in the shortest time possible. Sixty percent of senior executives see the inability to "develop or adapt" as the number one derailer of aspiring leaders.  One-on-one coaching helps the new leader avoid derailments by providing an experienced but unbiased thought partner in grappling with the challenges of a new organization, identifying the relevant success metrics with the new team, and quickly building credibility with the colleagues that are critical to achieving strategic business objectives. 

Four key factors that lead to derailment:

  • Not understanding the culture and/or lack of political savvy to navigate the culture
  • Lack of clarity about their new boss’ expectations of them
  • Inability to build effective relationships with peers and subordinates
  • Reliance on what worked for them in the past rather than what is needed now

Upping the Game of Current Executives

The number of executive competencies required for success has grown exponentially.  Talented leaders – smart, sophisticated business people who are technically literate, globally astute, and operationally agile – have been identified as the most important organizational resource over the next 20 years. This means that the ongoing development of current leaders has to be a priority.  They are prone to the same derailments as leaders brought in from outside the organization.

Coaching helps experienced leaders redefine their success metrics, reassess their leadership style, realign their priorities, prepare for an uncertain future, and lead their new multigenerational teams to success.   As Fortune Magazine has correctly noted, “Coaching bridges the growing chasm between what managers are being asked to do and what they have been trained to do.”

Selecting Leadership Development Vendors and Executive Coaches

Organizations that are using coaching to maximize leadership bench strength and get the best return on development dollars are increasingly looking for coaching vendors who can provide:

  • a cadre of pre-qualified coaches
  • consistent coaching services across organizational boundaries
  • validated and appropriate coaching tools and techniques
  • an understanding of global leadership issues
  • partnership with the organization in defining, tracking and measuring success

Executive coaches should be highly credentialed business executives and senior practitioners in the areas of leadership development and organizational performance.  Coaches must be able to demonstrate a balance of diverse and relevant business experience, an understanding of organizational dynamics, and proven executive coaching capabilities.

In choosing a coach, it is important to understand the types of assignments the coach has done in the past, the methodology and tools they use to ensure coaching assignments produce meaningful and measurable business results, and that they are committed to the highest standards of professional ethics.

Qualifications for Executive Coaches:

  • 5-10 years business management experience
  • A level of business acumen that creates instant credibility with senior leaders
  • Over 5 years of corporate coaching experience
  • Graduate level education in the behavioral sciences and/or business management
  • Proven capabilities in the use of assessment, feedback and coaching tools
  • Broad experience and expertise in organizational change  and leadership development 

In Conclusion

Futurists tell us that there have been more changes in our world in the last fifty years than in the previous 50,000 years – and that in the next fifty years we can expect even more radical changes.  The recent global financial crisis is just one example of what may be ahead.  In this environment successful organizations will not be able to leave leadership development to chance.  Executive coaching provides a development strategy that meets today’s needs while preparing your leadership team for the future.  The results can be clearly defined and measured.  ROI can be directly observed in changed leadership behavior, increased leadership competency, and greater organizational impact.  Organizations providing executive coaching can be your strategic partner in preparing your leadership team for today’s and tomorrow’s turbulent times.

The Career Partners International – San Francisco Bay Area firm, Torchiana Mastrov & Sapiro, is a leading provider of Executive Search, Leadership Development and Career Management services and a founding member of Career Partners International.

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