Leadership Perspectives

4 Ways to Benefit from Executive Coaching

Marie Peeler

Coaching is hard.  No, I don’t mean being a coach or coaching other people is hard.  I mean that being coached is hard.

I have to give credit every day to wise, brave people who open themselves up for coaching and go on to learn, grow, and truly benefit from the process.  It’s not something everyone can do… or is ready to do.

I also watch people flounder through the process, never quite getting it, and as a result never really getting the full benefit of coaching.

Unfortunately, if you search the Internet for “How to Benefit from Executive Coaching” you will find lots of articles extolling the benefits one can derive from being coached, but little that points out that these benefits are not automatic.  Getting any benefit at all – assuming one is working with a skilled coach – depends entirely on the person being coached.

People who are the most successful in coaching and benefit most from the process understand a few key truths.  Here’s what they do – and you can do – to benefit most from coaching:

  1. Know that we all work in dysfunctional organizations.  Yours is not exceptional in this regard.  It’s easy to believe that our circumstances are unique, that the structures in which we live and work are the only ones that are this broken.   Clients often feel that they are alone when they confide in a hushed voice “You see, THIS organization is really dysfunctional.”  I’m sure it is.  Because, to some degree, they all are. Now let’s get on with it.
  2. Recognize that it’s all about you.  This sounds so simple and self-evident but it’s a notion that a lot of us have difficulty taking to heart.  Even if the problems you face are not your fault, they’ve landed in your lap and are, therefore, your responsibility.  Just look at Louis Zamporini, the WWII POW who was the subject of the book and movie “Unbroken” or Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who famously landed his jet in the Hudson River after a bird strike.  Like them, whether you prevail will depend entirely on what you choose to do.  You’ll be far more successful if you stop looking for whom to blame and work with your coach to figure out your contribution to the solution.
  3. Accept that learning challenges our beliefs and is sometimes painful.  Our beliefs, especially our beliefs about ourselves and our place in the world, are like comfortable old friends.  They can be really tough to let go of.  But ingrained beliefs can get in the way of new learning.  So I often ask clients not to let go of their beliefs but to simply suspend them for a time in order to consider other possibilities.  Those that can do so successfully can later decide to either hold on to their beliefs or to adopt new beliefs – and thus new behaviors.
  4. Finish venting and do something.  Sometimes you just need to vent.  A coach can be a good person to talk through your frustrations with in a way that you can’t with, say, your direct reports or your boss.  And while it can be good to get things off your chest, it’s not productive to stay in venting mode, because it’s all about the past, it’s devoid of possibilities, and it doesn’t make a difference.  But things happen when we talk about the future and generate ideas for actions.  Successful people vent when they need to but get it over with and move on to getting things done.