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ATD Blog

Get the Most From Executive Coaching in Your Agency

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Executive coaching has gained popularity in the past decade as an integral part of the talent management strategy in many organizations. Because it is one-on-one and tailored to the individual, coaching is often used to prepare leaders for roles of increased executive responsibility or as a support mechanism as they transition into these roles.

Simply offering executive coaching to leaders and hiring and assigning either an internal or external coach to work with your leaders may not yield the results you seek. Here are three essentials to consider.

Define Executive Coaching and Why You Are Using It

Coaching is one of those words that means different things to different people. We often think of sports coaches when we hear the word, but the term has expanded into other industries. Today, there are money coaches, life coaches, and weight-loss coaches, to name a few. When someone is assigned an executive coach, there are endless possibilities for how to interpret what the coach will do.

What is executive coaching in your organization? What is the executive coach there to do? Be specific. For instance, executive coaching is not a substitute for performance management or feedback from the person’s manager, yet it is often used that way. For greater success, clearly define what executive coaching is and what it isn’t. Be transparent about what the client can expect, as well as the roles of the coach, client, client’s manager, and other stakeholders in the organization.


Select the Right Coaches

Coaching is an unregulated field, with little to no barriers to entry. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) has taken steps to define common coaching guidelines, ethics, and standards of practice. The global organization also certifies coaches according to adherence to its guidelines. When you are dealing with an ICF certified coach, at least you know that the coach has demonstrated the defined coaching competencies through practice and testing and has undergone formal coaching training from an approved organization.


However, an ICF certification does not necessarily connote ability to work with executives in complex organizations. So, merely relying on coach training or coach certification as the criteria to select your executive coaches is not enough. Instead, clearly define the intangibles characteristics that will enable a coach to be successful when working with leaders in your agency, such as systems thinking, political and business savvy, and so forth. What’s more, be sure to include those guidelines in your coach selection criteria.

Be Clear and Consistent About Confidentiality Guidelines

When an organization invests in executive coaching, the organization is a key stakeholder in the development of that leader. However, the organization is not the key client to the executive coach; the leader is. For the coaching engagement to be successful, the content of the conversations the coach has with the client must be confidential. The International Coaching Federation also defines confidentiality guidelines that all ICF-certified coaches must abide. Being clear and transparent about expectations, confidentiality, and the content of feedback loops to all stakeholders is critical.

Put It All Together

Executive coaching can be a tremendous leadership talent development tool when it is well-defined and an intentional part of an overall strategy. Being clear about what coaching is and what you are using it for, selecting the right coaches, and establishing agreed upon and transparent guidelines—about everything from meeting expectations to confidentiality--are essential for success.

About the Author

Janet Ioli is senior adjunct professorial lecturer in the Department of Public Administration and Policy at American University. She is an executive coach, leadership and organizational development consultant, and an engaging speaker and workshop leader. Her experience helping people become better leaders and navigate through change spans over twenty five years. During this time, Janet has designed and led a myriad of executive leadership programs, provided one-on-one or group executive coaching, created strategies and processes to improve organizational effectiveness, and led human resources and leadership development and talent management functions in Fortune 200 companies. Contact her at [email protected].

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