Executive coaching is an often misunderstood term which, amongst the uninitiated, can conjure a number of images from team building weekends, tank driving in the Norfolk broads, to sitting around cross legged listening to the desperate wailing of Wales. With that in mind, allow me to pop some of those recurring bubbles and set the record straight by highlighting some popular misconceptions about executive coaching.
Myth number 1 – Executive coaching is just mentoring.
There are many similarities between the two, but executive coaching is a less directive, more performance-driven process whereas mentors are far more likely to give advice. Coaches help you to find your own solutions by asking great questions, mentors will tell you great answers based upon their experience. In my view, both employ similar tools and both need to have directly-relevant career experience.
Take football for example, there’s a reason why most of the best coaches have risen through the ranks as players. Of course, there are exceptions to prove the rule and it may interest you to know Arsene Wenger only ever played for his village team… but names like his really are the exception. Great minds from other fields can often help to coach and mentor teams, but it takes another player to be a really great coach.
Myth number 2 – Executive coaching requires lots of qualifications.
It’s true that many great coaches have fancy diplomas and accreditations adorning their walls, but there are just as many who have taken another route to their career. There is no better experience for executive coaching than having demonstrable success working in a field that is relevant to each coachee. The greatest courses, teachers and universities in the world are no match for having walked a similar path and actually been in those same situations. Naturally, a good coach will need to have talent, great coaching skills and proper coaching credentials, but having ‘been there and done that’ is almost as important if not more so.
Myth Number 3- Executive coaches can coach in any field.
Going back to point one for a second here, it’s worth mentioning that anyone with good motivational and leadership qualities may be able to mentor or coach another person, but great coaches will have specialist industry specific skills and knowledge. I doubt even Arsene Wenger would be able to coach a FD through a Merger or get a business leader up to speed on their new appointment. To be relevant and useful a coach has to know their stuff and their stuff needs to be industry specific and they need to know what it’s like to be at the very top of their game.
Myth Number 4- Coaches with great testimonials make the best coaches.
Executive coaching is a very personal process and it’s not unusual for a coachee to be delighted with the process – even if the coach was only mediocre! Who wouldn’t enjoy a couple of hours off work each month being listened to intently by a nice, unassuming, empathetic coach? However, great coaches will make you feel uncomfortable. They will challenge you and they will cajole you into changing your behaviours and delivering results. Testimonials then can be too easily misinterpreted as gospel and it is far more important to study one’s whole body of work than browse through some carefully-selected, emotive quotes on a coach’s website. Testimonials are important, but they should be taken into consideration alongside more objective, results-driven information.
Myth Number 5- Long hours maketh the Coach
There are course of many successful coaches out there with glorious resumes and pages of gushing testimonials as long as their illustrious careers, but equally there are a good few who despite their many hours don’t honestly shine. Coaching involves talent and to be blunt you either have it or you don’t. When looking for a coach by all means take into account their resumes, their expertise and the length of their service, but focus on what real evidence there is of what they can practically do for your firm.
In the end, one has to admit there are similarities between coaches, trainers and mentors, but to get the best from them one really has to understand what separates them. It is these subtle nuances that can help determine which of these specialists you need and let’s be honest if you want anyone… it’s the best (wo)man for the job.