5 Myths of Executive Coaching

Executive coaching – one-to-one development of C-Suite leaders as a business tool – is exploding in popularity. As of 2019, business coaching is a $15 billion industry with an annualized growth rate of 5.6%, according to IBIS World. In 2018, The International Coach Federation estimated that – including business, career, and life coaches – there were about 53,300 coaches worldwide, up from 47,500 part-time and full-time coaches in 2011. According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), “The growth of the corporate coaching industry has been rapid. Similar to personal training in the private realm, coaching in the business environment is quickly becoming mainstream. It is branching out to all areas of organizational management.”

Because it can be delivered virtually and because it can help stem feelings of isolation so many managers are feeling during the pandemic, executive coaching has remained popular. This coaching phenomena is exceedingly topical. Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short and Moneyball, devoted his 2020 podcast season to the subject of coaching and how it’s now more mainstream. According to Lewis, “there are people all over who don’t know why they’re good at something or how to get better.” This, he says, is what coaching is here to help with.

While it has become more mainstream and more accessible than ever, executive coaching still has a certain air of mystery about it. Do my organization’s CEO and other executives have a coach? Are any of my colleagues being coached? Coaching is somewhat shrouded in secrecy. Is coaching still afforded only to high-level executives at the largest of companies? Not anymore. Experts agree that coaching has major benefits at all levels of leadership. Today, companies are teaming their front-line managers with business coaches because of coaching’s value, success, and potential to improve performance.

Unsure of whether executive coaching is right for you or your company? Here are five myths that we dispel to reveal the real truths of executive coaching.

Myth #1: Executive coaches are only brought in to fix toxic behavior

Years ago, coaches were typically brought in to address bad conduct of otherwise well-performing executives. Nowadays, this is no longer the norm. Today’s coaches work with high-achievers to further develop skills. Coaching is not usually remedial. Executive coaching focuses on personal and professional development, which can help prevent toxic behavior before it even arises.

Coaching is an investment in already successful, experienced executives and high-potential leaders to accelerate skill and relationship development. It’s more about helping talented leaders use their skills more effectively, not about taking corrective action. Additionally, leaders today rely on their coach to act as an objective sounding board. They also help them avoid potential blind spots.

According to SHRM, “C-suite coaching clients are typically looking for a thinking partner with whom to discuss decision options, expand perspectives, balance work and home activities, and strategize through difficult or unusual circumstances.” This focus on personal balance and relationship development directly impacts not only your leaders’ skills and understanding of how to use them, but also the success of your company.

Myth #2: Coaching is a hard sell (“My executives would bristle at the suggestion of coaching.”)

Executives and HR leaders who would like to develop talent through coaching might think they won’t be able to “sell” the idea of coaching. Telling someone he needs a coach might seem a lot like telling him he needs a breath mint – it’s awkward. But in reality, that’s not at all how the conversation goes. It’s more like telling someone they’ve won something. The employee should hear that they’ve been selected to participate in a benefit program because top management (or the board) is recognizing their strengths, needs, and potential, and is investing in them. As author, business consultant, and coach Ram Charan writes in HBR, “As coaching has become more common, any stigma attached to receiving it at the individual level has disappeared. Now, it is often considered a badge of honor.”

This myth that coaching is a hard sell may stem from the tendency to confuse coaching with teaching.

Coaching is “person-focused,” not “curriculum-focused.” Coaches strive to help the person develop their own skills and potential. And while many people don’t gravitate toward classroom style schooling, most people love to see their performance improve. This is an outcome commonly associated with coaching.

Myth #3: Executive coaching is expensive

Another myth that floats around executive coaching today is that it is expensive, but the actual cost might surprise you. With the rise in popularity of coaches, many leadership development companies now offer affordable coaching specifically for small and medium businesses – products that are affordable and successful.

Sure, some executive coaches command huge dollars. For example, former CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and authors of commercially successful books are highly paid coaches. So yes, the more famous and highly credentialed the coach, the higher the cost. However, there is great talent in today’s coaching ranks. The entire coaching product is based on the proven methodologies of the coaching organization and its ability to nurture coaching talent. IMPACT Group, as an example, hires experienced and well-credentialed coaches from the start, and then trains them in our methodologies. Most importantly, we have a continuous learning culture in which our coaches learn from each other — as well as our best practices.

Another trick of the trade is HR alignment. Great firms work with HR to customize the scope of the coaching program to meet the organization’s development and budgetary needs. And  remember that the success of coaching depends on the relationship between the executive and the coach. In the end, coaching is only expensive if you have the wrong coach.

Read more about our High IMPACT Coaching™ program here.

Myth #4: Coaching offers little value: coaches only influence behaviors

Good things happen when talented people are matched with talented coaches. Ram Charan’s books have sold millions of copies. He has coached more than a dozen leaders who went on to become CEOs. Would these leaders have made it to the top without coaching? While no one knows for sure, Charan believes coaches are “an essential part of the leader’s learning process, providing knowledge, opinions, and judgments in critical areas.”

Understanding the power of coaching is crucial to the successful design of your program. Coaching can help leaders see themselves and others more clearly, and help them form people-oriented relationships. Coaches help people develop skills, not just influence actions. This skill development involves learning how to leverage your own strengths and develop your weaknesses. And these are skills that can be used throughout your career.

Myth #5: Coaching is only for executives

Coaching has broken free from its origins in the C-Suite. It’s now a valuable tool in developing front-line and mid-level leaders. By shifting the focus of coaching to a broader base of leaders within the company, coaching can help build more productive relationships. In turn, this helps fill your succession pipelines.

HBR discusses this reality, explaining how executive coaching can “help a capable executive perform at an even higher level” and is “useful for developing high-potential prospects for purposes of succession planning. Many organizations are looking toward the future and considering global expansion, which has brought into focus the need for new global leadership skills. It also requires a more deliberate and structured pipelines of future leaders.”

What is the truth of executive coaching?

We now know that “executive” coaching isn’t remedial, it’s not just for executives, and it’s embraced by leaders at all levels. Compared to other investments companies make, coaching isn’t necessarily expensive – and it gets results.

Michael Lewis summed it up this way: coaching gives those who use it an edge. “It’s like you’re nobody unless you have a mind coach, right? I mean, if everyone else has a mind coach, and you don’t, how can you compete?” Coaching works. And competitive people with ambitions to be their best know it works.

Some organizations may keep coaching programs under the radar because they don’t want others to know what’s working. So maybe executive coaching remains “shrouded in secrecy” for a reason. Think of your competition. They could be deploying coaching more widely than you might have imagined. Do their leaders have an edge?

Get your leaders good coaching. Here’s how:

According to SHRM, “executive coaching is a practical, goal-focused form of one-on-one development.” In today’s age, executive coaching has become a necessary resource. It is used by many businesses to help improve workplace relations and business output. In the face of change and uncertainty, coaches help stabilize positive momentum forward. IMPACT Group’s Priority IMPACT Coaching™ program is a new, moderately priced, six-week program that teams your front-line leaders and middle managers with a coach to help them address priorities today. It’s a great way to combat anxiety and feelings of isolation among your best performing leaders.

Let IMPACT Group introduce your organization to the benefits of coaching your top leaders, as well as relocation integration coaching, leadership development coaching, and career transition coaching. Particularly now, as many of your high-performing leaders are struggling with the effects of prolonged isolation from remote working, you may want to review the 9 Reasons Your Team Needs a Coach Now.