By Tracy Tsai, ACC, CPC
In our women’s leadership development programs, we see firsthand the positive effect that coaching has on our participants. The executive coaching they receive is consistently rated as one of the most valuable aspects of our 4- and 6-month bootcamps. And it’s no wonder, as coaching provides participants with an opportunity to focus on overcoming the unique hurdles they are facing, given their individual attributes and the culture of their organizations.
For example, one of the women in our HNS Fast Track program used her coaching time to create a strategy for advancing her career in her male-dominated firm; another explored how to increase her influence in meetings, despite her introverted style.
Industry research supports this as well–80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% of individuals who receive coaching say they benefited from improved work performance, relationships and more effective communication skills.
So what does executive coaching provide women that makes it so beneficial?
1. A Fresh Perspective
Coaching provides a confidential, non-judgmental space for you to examine your unique challenges and work on your specific development areas. Unlike managers, mentors or other colleagues, coaches have no “skin in the game.” Their mission is to help you identify and ultimately achieve the goals that are most meaningful to you.
Because they are impartial third parties, coaches can help you gain a different perspective. They have the advantage of being detached enough from your situation to take a broader view, whereas you might be so involved in the details of an issue that you’re unable to see the forest for the trees. They can also point out your blind spots– habits or beliefs that may be holding you back from achieving your goals. For example, one of the high achieving women who attended our Accelerate bootcamp realized that she was sabotaging herself by listening to her inner critic before important meetings. With her coach’s help, she reframed the voice in her head to be encouraging and affirming, helping her to contribute powerfully in a group of senior leaders.
By offering you their observations and feedback, coaches can help you unlock possibilities that you may not have previously noticed or thought about. In many cases, coaches also bring with them a wealth of knowledge gained from having worked with others who’ve faced similar challenges, so they can help you brainstorm creative ideas and solutions.
One of the greatest benefits of coaching is the opportunity to learn more about yourself. Coaching increases your self-awareness and helps you to create change through intentional choices. In the “always-on” remote/hybrid work environment, we don’t often give ourselves an opportunity to pause, let alone to reflect on our leadership journeys. Working with a coach ensures that you set aside dedicated time to focus on yourself. Conversations with a coach also naturally push you to give voice to your thoughts,feelings and hopes for the future. Sometimes, simply hearing yourself articulate your thinking out loud can create new awareness about how you’re showing up, or how you might be limiting yourself.
In addition, executive coaching often includes a 360 degree feedback process where you solicit feedback from your manager,colleagues and direct reports. Learning how others perceive you increases awareness of what others value about you and what may hold you back. The coach plays an important role in helping you interpret and take action on this feedback. This is especially important with women who work in male-dominant organizations who may tend to overemphasize their shortcomings because their style is different from the norm.Reviewing your feedback with a coach can help you own your strengths and view your development opportunities more realistically.
3. A Plan of Action
Even if you understand what your areas of development are, it can be overwhelming to figure out what you need to do. Change won’t take place until you start taking action, but it can be paralyzing to take the first step. That’s where coaches come in. They help you develop an action plan for moving forward that is realistic and achievable. Coaches also help you anticipate and overcome potential obstacles to achieving your goals. Having a coach in your corner helps you stay focused and keeps you accountable to your commitments, even when things get busy (which can feel like most of the time!). They can also help you strategize the best ways to achieve your goals and offer feedback if something is not working.
In today’s work environment, we find that many of our program participants are experiencing signs of burnout. In these cases, coaches can serve as a much-needed sounding board and help create a plan that includes firmer boundaries and prioritizes self-care. Your coach is also an ally who can encourage you to advocate for yourself and ask for resources, information or increased support if you need it.
With all of the benefits that coaching brings, you may be sold on engaging one but are unsure how to go about it. Our bootcamps are a great option, as they include executive coaching along with training and peer group support over a four to six month timeframe that helps to enable real change. Another option is the International Coaching Federation, where you can search for a credentialed coach in different areas of specialty. We recommend meeting with several potential coaches before you select one that is the best fit for your goals and price range.
Once you’ve engaged a coach, how can you optimize the experience?
1. Be clear about what outcomes you’re looking for, and articulate these to your coach.
One of the most important steps in a coaching engagement is establishing what you want to get out of it, and clearly communicating that to your coach. There will be times when the coach asks you to tap into your own wisdom to solve a problem and times when they will fill in a knowledge gap. If you are looking for a specific approach, feel free to ask for it. Also, don’t hesitate to give your coach honest feedback about how the process is going for you. What would you like more or less of? The more you communicate with your coach, the better the experience will be for you.
2. Be open-minded.
Coaching is designed to be a thought-provoking process that helps you maximize your progress. This means that your coach may ask you questions that challenge your beliefs and push you outside of your comfort zone. Or they may make an observation about you or your behavior that takes you by surprise, or makes you feel defensive. If you have a strong reaction to something your coach says, be curious as to why. Growth requires change, and change can be uncomfortable. Remember that your coach is there to support you and help you reach your goals, so keep an open mind and know that it’s okay to be vulnerable.
3. Be prepared.
Before each meeting, ask yourself how you want to use this time. Do you want to share a success? Brainstorm how to handle a challenge? Or roleplay a difficult conversation you need to have? Coming to the meeting prepared will help you and your coach focus on what’s most important to you. Unlike training sessions, the agenda for your coaching session is driven by you. Your coach will follow your lead and co-create an experience based on what you want to get out of the session. In addition, it’s important to set aside time between meetings for reflection and to work on any assignments that you and your coach discuss. As you experiment with new behaviors, it’s helpful to journal or take note of what you’re learning, what’s going well and what you’re struggling with.
4. Be fully engaged.
Executive coaching requires a commitment, as meetings take place regularly over a period of time. We acknowledge this is not easy when you’re busy and have lots of responsibilities. But that means that you need to be strategic about managing your time and treat coaching as a priority. In the virtual work environment, it’s especially easy to be distracted by emails or messages that might pop up during your coaching meeting. Be intentional about removing these distractions prior to your coaching session so that you can fully engage in the conversation and get the most out of it.
We’ve seen how coaching can benefit individuals, but they also benefit organizations as well. A number of studies clearly show that coaching offers organizations a great return on investment (ROI). Research by Metrix Global showed that executive coaching had a 529% ROI, driven by improvements in productivity and employee satisfaction. In the same study, 77% of respondents said that coaching had a significant impact on at least one of nine business measurements.
Executive coaching for women is an investment that has proven to be a win-win scenario for both women and the organizations that they work with. Working with a coach can catapult women’s development, as it offers them new perspectives, an opportunity to become more self-aware, and an actionable plan they can use to help them achieve their desired goals.