The executive coaching field has grown significantly over the last decade as leaders greatly benefit by having a personal coach. Yet despite numerous resources and successes, the advantages of executive coaching remain elusive: misnomers, misunderstandings and myths block the full truth.
Of course, coaches tout the advantages, but some messages are interpreted as simply self-promoting. Due to the personal and confidential nature of coaching, leaders aren’t prone to proclaim its advantages. Thus, the business world receives incomplete information about coaching, where unfortunate myths taint its significance.
When case studies, testimonials and statistical research debunk common coaching myths, skeptical leaders often shift their perspective and agree to give coaching a fair shake. Those who do are pleasantly surprised and wonder why they went so long without the assistance of an executive coach.
I Don’t Need a Coach
A common mindset causes leaders to believe they don’t need help. They feel their skills and knowledge are sufficient to do their jobs. After all, they’ve been doing their jobs all along, and things seem to be alright; stuff is getting done.
This kind of perspective represents an “iceberg outlook” where only a surface-oriented assessment is made. What lies below the surface is either unknown or ignored. If a leader’s experience or skill level prevent seeing what lurks under the surface, their ship is in danger.
Sometimes leaders are so inundated with day-to-day crises they are robbed of the opportunities to step back and evaluate what might be hiding below the waves. Alternatively, if dangers are suspected down there, some leaders aren’t willing to face them; exploration is postponed until a more “opportune” time arrives.
It’s not uncommon for leaders to envision the most positive outlook. They reason that they can manage their challenges, and coaching won’t be of much benefit. This myth is unfounded, as proven by many leadership stories and case studies.
Human behavior experts agree our self-assessments are flawed because we generally see what we want to see. The Psychology Today article,“Metaperceptions: How Do You See Yourself?” describes how we paint ourselves in the most positive light. But the best source of objective information about a leader’s abilities and tendencies is from another set of eyes. This is where a trained executive coach is invaluable.
Executive coaches have the skills to assess circumstances without the influence of personal or emotional ties, or organizational tradition. They are trained to diagnose issues from observation, discussions and experience. When a leader sees the truth about their situation, their coach can guide them through the process to address issues with fresh perspectives, thinking and behaviors.
The best leaders learn that there’s nothing wrong with having blind spots. Everyone does. The key is to identify and overcome them. More and more leaders credit the added viewpoint of a qualified executive coach who leads them to see what they never saw themselves. They are also thankful for a coach’s ability to guide them through a process to discover their own solutions.
Being Coached is Too Awkward
Some leaders believe the myth that having a coach is an awkward admission of inadequacy; there’s something wrong with them, and they need serious help. This is unfortunate for two reasons. First, there is nothing wrong with needing help. Everyone needs help from time to time, and leadership doesn’t elevate a person to a royal level above this human trait.
Being true to oneself is a key aspect to humility, openness and transparency—traits that leadership experts describe as essential to effective management. Employees trust leaders who are humble, transparent, and willing to learn. They distrust leaders who pridefully separate themselves from their people.
Secondly, the thrust of executive coaching is not to expose grievous shortcomings in the leader. Effective coaching is designed to build upon the skills a leader already has, and to maximize their potential. Certainly, this involves addressing a blind spot or areas that need improving, but the emphasis is to get even better at leading.
Coaches inject perspectives and pose questions to help a leader gain clarity in what their people need and how best to provide it. This strengthens an organization, often with subtle adjustments. Leaders are not torn down by their coaches, rather, they are built up—similar to how a good athletic coach guides an athlete to be the best they can be.
Some leaders reject vulnerability in the presence of an executive coach as seeming weak or unknowledgeable, further explained by Vik Kapoor in Forbes. The myth is that the leader is inferior to the coach and must bear their soul to them, forcing the leader to deal with insecurities, weaknesses or failures.
Many executive coaches are not psychologists. Their process does not include intensive analysis, nor do they dive in to a client’s past, personal life or private matters. Leaders are not put in vulnerable positions.
The best leaders have learned that while hard skills such as decision-making, analysis, delegating and control are certainly part of effective management (in the proper proportions), the most powerful leadership tools are softer skills: transparency, humility, empathy, honesty and personal engagement. Leaders unfamiliar with soft skills may feel vulnerable with an executive coach who emphasizes these as part of the coaching process. Great leaders grasp these opportunities to learn and grow their skills in order to become even better at leading.
I Can’t Justify Coaching
Some leaders believe the myth that executive coaching is an unnecessary expense with little return on investment. Unfortunately, the current business culture seeks more short-term gains to justify expenditures. Part of this myth hinges on the belief that the benefits of executive coaching are short term.
Many of today’s top leaders who have executive coaches testify that they have gained better skills and mindsets from their coaching experiences. Their enhanced skillsets have long-term advantages that make them better leaders, and as they continue to apply what they’ve learned the effect only continues. Just as an athlete who is well coached advances in their accomplishments far beyond the current season, well coached leaders become better every year thereafter.
Misconceptions also lie in an underappreciation for what the leader will gain. Contrary to myth, well-coached leaders don’t gain skills in only practices or procedures. They don’t acquire greater expertise in only leadership theory. Leaders benefit from coaching by developing better mindsets, perspectives and attitudes about leading. They can apply themselves in areas they couldn’t before. The benefits touch every aspect of what they do, with long-lasting effects. They become more capable of tackling greater challenges with more effective results, and this makes for a more rewarding career.
But a disproportionate focus on how the leader benefits, rather than the organization as a whole, also fuels this coaching myth. Gallup’s extensive research demonstrates how organizations benefit when the leader’s skills and awareness grow. Employees are more satisfied and engaged. Their productivity and work ethic rise. Efficiency and profitability also rise. Turnover and absenteeism drop. Customer satisfaction is boosted, and that spells prosperity for everyone.
Organizations respond in significant ways when leaders enhance their capabilities through executive coaching. Statistically, the financial return of a well-coached leader can exceed the initial expense many-fold. Organizations that appreciate this extend coaching access to leaders beyond the front office. The potential gains are often immeasurable.
Don’t let myths prevent you and your leaders from becoming all they can be through the benefits of executive coaches!