"Be yourself; everyone else is already taken"

Having an objective view of your strengths and weaknesses as a leader isn’t always easy, which is why getting some external help can make all the difference.

Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and, just for a few minutes, think about how you would describe your leadership style. Dig deeper... ask yourself what type of leader do want to be? Where do I want to take my team and how am I going to get them there? Are you really able to recognise specific strengths and weaknesses? Do you really know yourself as well as you thought?

First and foremost you have to have a clear idea of who you want to be as a leader. What do you want to be known for? What legacy do you wish to leave? Can you identify the leadership skills you lack? Are you really clear about what type of leader your team – and indeed the whole organisation – needs?

BusinessDictionary.com defines a leader as someone who “steps up in times of crisis, and is able to think and act creatively in difficult situations. Unlike management, leadership cannot be taught, although it may be learned and enhanced through coaching or mentoring.”

These unanswered questions are where a coach can be incredibly valuable. An executive coach is somebody who can boldly hold a mirror up to your face and help you to truly face those challenging issues . But what is executive coaching and what can it do for your leadership development, your team and your organisation?

Leadership as we all know is about handling constantly changing contexts and is not a question of “one size fits all.” Consequently, you need to adapt your style to fit these ever-changing contexts in a globalised digital world. And this is why it’s beneficial to gain a deeper systematic understanding of additional leadership styles; after all, the more approaches you’re familiar with, the more tools you’ll be able to use to lead effectively.

How can executive coaching work?

The fundamental purpose of the coach is to continuously support the client and through the coaching process enable the client to realise his or her own answers. It is the client who determines the objectives all the while mindful that the coach will encourage them to be responsible for their development.

Thus coaching is action-oriented process, focussing on the present and the future. Indeed, many large global companies see the value of coaching and they even developed in house coaching departments.

There are numerous reasons for choosing coaching to work on problems, behaviours or performance. Indeed executive coaching can benefit those who want to develop their leadership and management skills. They appreciate that their behaviour and their development impacts the team and in turn the organisation.

We all need help to put things into perspective and it is not easy to self evaluate. Therefore having a coach brings an unbiased perspective to those internal conversations. A coach creates a safe space and has the ability to tell us certain things we don’t necessarily want to hear. Although executive coaching has proven results and executive development is a critical aspect of all organisations, it is neglected far too often.

1. Reflection: Here are a few fundamental questions to ask yourself before hiring a coach: What does your current situation look like? What are the symptoms you see regarding your context? What are the goals you want to accomplish? How will you reach these goals? When will you know that these goals have been met?  Are you committed to your developing your leadership? (You are more likely to succeed if you are committed, whatever the issue).

The role of the coach

Obviously, hiring a coach is the first step and the better you know about the coach, their process and your goal, the clearer the decision will be. A good coach is empathetic and tough at the same time by asking questions that trigger self-reflection.

Some of the coach’s roles include: contributing, supporting and guiding client to achieve his or her goals; unreservedly helping the client to plan a strategy; allowing the client to define the schedule of each of the sessions; and listening attentively without judgement.

2. Questions: Finally, it’s important to thoroughly question potential coaches.

Do they understand the professional challenges I have? How can I integrate the coaching process into my context? Are the sessions confidential? (That must be the priority!) How much experience do they have in your industry? Can they provide references? Ask for a description of the structure and content of the coaching process.

Granted it is not as easy as it sounds, but leadership is like any other business process, where we need to focus on what we can change. Thus, leadership coaching takes time but should provide a tool kit that you can apply in a simple steadfast manner.

When I look back at my own career I wish I had invested time in coaching. Sure, I have a close network of good friends and family but an executive coach is impartially focused on you and they are there to develop a customised method for your leadership development. The executive coach emphasies on those potential hazardous topics that might impact interpersonal, strategic, and management skills.

Make sure you communicate with your coach about your objectives and interview your chosen coach beforehand. Remember, coaching is an important relationship, so make sure a connection exists between you and the coach you choose. Also, establish what indicators you want to use to measure success. This is something you two can even develop in one of your sessions, so you can know exactly what you are working towards.

There is a lot of work that goes into finding the right coach but a good executive coach can really make a huge difference to you, your leadership, your team and the organisation.

Give it a try, because you’re worth it! 

Sunita Sehmi

Sunita Sehmi is an executive coach, trainer and consultant. In addition to her own consultancy service Walk The Talk, Sunita also works as a coach for the High Potential Leadership Programme at IMD Business School and as a business mentor at the Branson School of Entrepreneurship.