Is Executive Coaching a Fad?

I’m sure you already know that Management Consulting is somewhat of a fashion business. Every now and then a new term (business process re-engineering, emotional intelligence, cloud computing) comes into general usage and everyone wants a slice of the action. Arguably, coaching has now entered this noeveau space.

While coaching has been around in the sports world forever, it was virtually unheard of in the business world until about 15 years ago. Since then it’s taken off like a Roman Candle firework. In growth terms, there has been an explosion of executive coaching, a growth segment in a stagnant marketplace. Why? 4 key reasons underpin the growth in coaching, customization, accuracy, realism and support. See if you agree.

1. Customization: In recent times, the world has become much more ‘customized’. You go to Burger King and have it your way– rather than eat the standard fare. You download the 2 Michael Bublé songs that your mother likes from the Apple Store, rather than purchase the 327 recordings he has released in the past 2 years (are you picking up on the envy factor here?). It’s all about customization. Coaching appeals to executives along the lines of that old Martini ad – any time, any place, anywhere. You decide what to talk about when and where it suits you. The mountain is brought to Mohammad.

2. Accuracy: In today’s organizations, senior executives have typically been through the 3rd level system. They understand Porters’ 5 Forces, the 4 P’s of Marketing and the concepts underpinning the 1-Minute Manager. They (normally) don’t lack the theory – but often become stuck around some gritty implementation detail or difficult interpersonal issue. Coaching provides support with pinpoint accuracy – aimed exactly at the issue which an executive is struggling with. It’s less ‘you need a better diet’ and more ‘you have a vitamin B12 deficiency’.

3. Realism: An occupational hazard for senior managers is getting an overinflated opinion of themselves. It is the nature of organization life that respect is afforded to the role along with the person. When people laugh at all of your jokes or allow you to interrupt the flow of conversation, you are probably being love bombed with deference (an irreversible social condition which can lead to senior executives becoming incredibly boring). Executive coaches introduce realism, helping executives see where they are strong (appreciative inquiry) and where they have development needs (unflinching feedback). The best coaches do this by supporting and challenging – encouraging skills development while confronting contradictory or inappropriate behaviors. They help executives understand thought patterns, set realistic goals and give accurate assessments of performance. Done well, coaching is a tough process for executives; there is no-where to hide. The upside is that it can be incredibly developmental.

4. Support: Being in a senior executive role is typically stressful. There are moments of self-doubt. External events can conspire to overturn wonderfully conceived plans; internal politicking can be akin to working in the Kremlin. The best coaches provide an underpinning of support, reminiscent of the Bill Withers lyrics in Lean on Me:
‘‘Sometimes, in our lives
We all have pain, we all have sorrow
But if we are wise, we know that there’s
Always tomorrow”

Coaches can salve the wounds following major skirmishes. In short, they help executives to continue to perform at the highest levels, avoiding burnout and keeping a sense of perspective, stopping the role becoming joyless.

Coached & Proud: In the pursuit of that perfect swing, most people have no problem owning up to using a golf coach. But when it comes to business, executives are much more reluctant to tell the world that someone is ‘working with me’ – as if this communicates managerial weakness. In my view accepting coaching is actually a sign of strength (on the assumptions that you work with someone who can really add value). No one has ‘all the bits’. While you don’t want to become dependant on an external person, periodic coaching can help to strengthen your game. Returning to the sports world, the very best golfers in the world continually hone their skills through coaching. Think about it. They are already brilliant golfers but recognize that no matter how good they are, the game can always be improved. As executives, shouldn’t we set the same ideal of continuous improvement for ourselves?

Choose Carefully: In recruitment decisions, selection is more art than science. My personal experience suggests that executives work best with coaches who:

a. Are successful in their own lives. It’s hard to take advice seriously from someone who seems to struggle with their own life (recognizing that no-one is ever in a perfect space). Note to Readers: If there is a guru coach who comes with all the answers pre-loaded, will someone immediately mail me the contact details!
b. People who are coaching minded. You don’t want someone who is so prescriptive that they continually tell you what to do. At the other extreme you don’t want to work with someone who would allow you to do anything, without any form of pushback or challenge. It’s a balancing act which combines insight, empathy and assertiveness in the correct proportions.
c. Coaches who understand the game. It’s difficult for someone to guide you through managing a difficult relationship with your Chairman or the Board, if they have spent all their life working on a North Sea oil rig (unlikely scenario, but you get the picture).

Executive coaching provides a form of brief therapy, which can be enormously valuable to senior managers, both professionally and personally. When the chemistry and skill mix is right, the coaching relationship is hugely beneficial. Having been on both sides of the table on this one, I believe that coaching has moved well beyond a managerial fashion. It’s part of the armory for executives and is here to stay.

Paul Mooney


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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3 Responses to Is Executive Coaching a Fad?

  1. carlos says:

    Coaching is another seductive US managent fad. In the end no different from late nite tv commercials.
    The answer is not coaching but thorough practical training BEFORE a person is asigned a job or promoted.

    Some common sense advice from a senior peer can be helpful. But the idea you can bring someone from outside the business to coach you in some broad business skills relevant to your business is just nuts. Well, it is another versio. Of the “Harvard MBA model”, get a bunch of smart talkers as professors and use them to “train” future business leaders to run a a business and !voila, you now have professional managers! Yep this is how GM stuffed with lots of “Harvard type MBAs”, got thoroughly beaten by the likes of Toyota and Honda in GMs own home market into chapter 11. Of course, at Toyota, do not believe an MBA constitutes training, at most some interesting chatby wordsmiths.

    The sooner we do away with the American concept of management, the better.

    Now, rhe US overflows with coaches yet US companies are not competitive in lots of markets in price or quality, excep when the company is a hyper innovator such as Apple or Google.

    Traini.g is what is needed forget about coaching which at most, helps one or two executives improve some interpersonal skills and the impact on companies is basically nil. But it is easier to consider “some coaching”, rather than admiting “I have no idea how to manage and lead people and I need deep training far broadet and deeper than what I can get from a coach.

    Another BS US fad is team boosting sessions where you get a group to play golf for two days, or go white water rafting, sit around a campfire, egc., and ecpect that somehow that will translate into a more productive team at work. Again, “train, do not entertain”. If you want to entertain do so, tgey deserve it, sometimes, but do not think that you can train entertaining…

    • Well, no one could accuse you of ‘sitting on the fence’! Thanks for taking the time to send the comments. You will not be surprised that we disagree on the benefits of coaching. I’m not sure if you have ever gone through this (and, even if you have, the quality of the coaching received has to be first-rate), but it can really add value to the individual. I’ve had a chance to work in over 20 countries, so the idea that coaching is an ‘American concept of management’ is not correct. I have more sympathy with your view on executive teambuilding (having both participated in and run dozens of events). Agreed: They need to be carefully facilitated and not just be an ‘outdoor exercise’ which is not connected to anything else.

      Based on your IP address, I suspect that you are writing in from outside of Ireland. So, here’s the challenge. If you are in Dublin, Ireland, let’s meet for an hour or so and have the debate face to face. If we keep an open mind, both of us might take something away from this.

      Warm regards


      Paul Mooney PhD. Managing Partner Tandem Consulting P: 01 8330897 M: 087 2439019 Latest Blog…

  2. carlos says:

    coaching is another good idea to help some professionals, managers and executives in need of personal help turned into supposedly middle of the road business tool by some people smart money clever marketing savvy manipulators.

    it is a smaller scale versin of the MBA industry; Harvard and the other business schools have convinced America and many around the World with the noteworthy exception of Germany and Japan, that an MBA turns you into a professional manager capable of manage organizations regardless of technology, market, culture, processes, etc.

    The results have been disastrous; the US industry has been destroyed, most US technology is obsolete except for a few limited areas, formerly prestigious US manufacturing and technology companies have been reduced to design and marketing outfits that no longer have the ability to manufacture what they sell and are progressively being destroyed; Kodak, GM, Hewlett Packard, etc. Even Apple lacks the technology and know how to manufacture the iphone in the US!

    Managers, executives, professionals need training. This requires above all careful development plans and action by each company so that those who run teams at all levels are fully trained and have demonstrated their ability BEFORE they are assigned to permanent responsibilities.

    By definition, academics can not prepare managers, executives or anything else. Even when those academics are former managers or executives or even currently practicing! This is so because you can not train people to do almost anything in a classroom setting.

    Si what they do at HBS and others is a lot on analysis of more of less “practical” cases which are not practical at all but just another theoretical way of teaching things that can only be learned by doing hands on on the job, under the guidance of a practicioner who knows how to actually perfom the specific tasks that need to be performed in because each situation and organization is unique.

    A properly trained and developed manager or executive will not need a coach and can not benefit from speaking to a coach, an outsider who knows nothing about the organization.
    Any significant challenge a manager has at work he or she must discuss with his or her team.

    If the problems are personal the need is for a coach, a psychologist or a psychiatrist.

    Perharps thw need for personal business coaches is another unintended effect of the “MBA star executive”, the “hero type”; upon whom American business practices place hiperhuman responsibilities they can not fullfill and crack.

    Coaching is another band aid trying to fix american management which, like the whole US, has lost its way because it has fallen in the hands of the hiper articulate liberals and hiper shorttermists who practice basically the life and management school of “better make money as fast as possible because sooner or later the primitive masses and their leaders will go after us”. so coaching is no more than another cleverly disguised seme to make money.

    There are a few US companies that practice sound management. Most practice management fads marketed by clever manipulators who often believe their own spinnung.

    The whole US has been turned into a giant Las Vegas of short term money money making any way possible.

    The US now reminds me of Germany in pre Hitler time; full of clever people, full of Nobel Prize winners, artists, politicians, stock exchange traders yet the middle class poorer by the day. The outcome was not pretty…

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