The leader, executive coaching - and lack of ego

Executive coaching is about senior people becoming more effective at work, not only in the short-term but also (and especially) in the medium- and long-term too.  I’m reflecting on the value they get from their executive coaching programmes, which shows up in a whole variety of ways, some of which seem to me to be absolutely fundamental – the foundation stones on which results are built. One of those foundation stones is the need for the coach (and the coaching) to be ‘ego-free’ (or at least ‘ego-minimised’).  In other words, executive coaching isn’t about the coach ‘getting the coaching client to achieve’ their goals, and it’s certainly not about getting the coaching client to go in the direction that the coach favours, or about the coach having as a priority to demonstrate how competent or skilled they are.  Rather it’s about the coach shining a torch on the executive’s true capabilities, on options for overcoming challenges and barriers, and on paths forward, so that the client builds their self-awareness and awareness of others, and has a learning experience on their own terms, not on the coach’s terms.

If the coaching client is going to achieve meaningful and lasting results, the coach has to get out of the way: they need to open doors (and windows) but the executive’s success will be what they create for themselves.

It’s a tricky balance because both of them have a duty to the organisation which employs the executive and purchases the service from the coach.  Besides the fact that there may be an organisational agenda for the executive (‘what if I don’t achieve the objectives?’) the coach may also feel pressure because the organisation’s judgement of their value often hinges on the executive’s success.  And yet if the coach allows that overlay to take centre stage, then the quality of their coaching, their capacity to be present and their focus on enabling rather than directing could be compromised.

Executives sometimes tell me that part of the value they gain from their coaching with me comes from my being present but not intrusive. This shows up as my trusting the client to explore and evaluate whatever path is right for them, trusting my own capabilities and my own quality standards, and the two of us trusting the relationship between us to enable results to happen.

Fascinatingly, the same can be said of the leadership task itself: the effective leader gets their own ego out of the way, and trusts their team as well as their own capabilities. And both leader and team members need a trusting relationship to connect them, resource them, motivate them and build their resilience.

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