Executive coaching has origins in the 1940-60s. Senior managers were offered counselling by organisational psychologists to excel in their work. It really took off in 1992 after John Whitmore published his book Coaching for Performance. Executive coaching has become a symbol of kudos. Coaching is slowly becoming more mainstream. Yet I continue to come across people who perceive coaching as still being a privilege of the few in their organisations. Not the language of the many. Organisations are often either ignorant to this or do little to challenge this perception.
‘Consequences’ of executive coaching
Organisations fail to see the picture that the sole use of coaching for ‘executives’ and the absence of ‘universal’ coaching portrays to employees. Peter Hawkins (2020) cites an incident in South Africa working with the government on a ‘Coaching Culture Strategy’. In a response to a question a frontline manager stated:
‘It sounds like the people in the big offices, big cars and big pay checks get the big coaches. I think this is very expensive personal development for the very already highly privileged.’
Quite thought provoking when put like that. There has to be a coaching way that supports the unique roles of senior leaders, yet treats everyone as equal contributors to performance and therefore deserving of similar development opportunities. Coaching is too much of a powerful approach to be limited to the few. Denying access to coaching for the many will impact on the success of individuals and organisations alike. It is also disappointing to see organisations where executives reap the benefits of coaching but do not promote it to the masses. I worked in an organisation where the CEO had regular coaching through a top coaching firm. It was rolled out to other senior managers too. However it was so hard to get sign off to initiate a simple in-house small programme and pilot.
Seeing it differently
If coaching to so important for senior leaders – improving awareness, developing mindsets and behaviours, enhancing performance, ‘maximising potential’, developing autonomy and ownership etc, etc. Then surely coaching is equally applicable for managers, team leaders and employees?
Coaching of the few potentially only changes the culture between the few. Coaching in the organisation per se will have a much more dramatic cultural effect and change.
The tide is turning. It is slowly moving more towards coaching. However, put simply, expecting employees to perform, every day, then access to the tools that enable this performance needs to be present, now.
Thinking about it, coaching is the most accessible and basic performance ‘tools’, forms of development and approaches to communication in an organisation. Initiated by leaders, line managers and employees alike. After initial development the financial costs are minimal compared to other development activities, to bring about coaching. Interestingly, by adding up the costs of executive coaching for the top team there is a strong chance that this funding could have trained a significant number of internal coaches and managers. Or even helped develop a programme for organisational coaching.
Equality of access
I am not suggesting not undertaking coaching for senior leaders. I simply advocate equal accessibility for all to coaching. As a minimum, all line managers and team leaders as enablers of employee performance trained in coaching. Senior managers, HR and L&D teams pushing to build coaching into organisational strategies, policies and processes. Challenging the status quo around the perception and adoption of organisational coaching practices. Employees should not be afraid to ask and push for coaching and where appropriate receiving training in it. Similarly, making coaching an integral part of every leadership and management programmes – both receiving and delivering coaching is essential.
‘New world order’
Finally, the times we now find ourselves in require a radical rethink of how we engage, lead and enable employees. The older ways won’t be as effective. Directive, command and control will not yield results in our increasingly dispersed world. Utilising employee expertise, harnessing team creativity, power and agility is the way forward. Now is the opportunity for coaching to be a staple across and within organisations.
Interested in talking about coaching for your organisation? Contact Abintus now. Abintus offer virtual and face to face coaching and coach development opportunities. They work with teams and organisations to help initiate and embed coaching practices and cultures.