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What is Coaching and Why It Matters to the C-Suite

I recently had lunch with a colleague I worked with 10 years ago at a major Fortune 100 corporation. After exchanging pleasantries, my colleague quickly got to the point of the lunch meeting. I thought we were having a lunch to catch up after many years. We did catch up. However, my colleague revealed that with the new job that brought he and his wife to Houston came new challenges that revealed gaps in his ability to be an effective leader. He said his wife suggested he get the help of an executive coach so he reached out to me.

With that explanation, I posed the question to my colleague I pose to anyone seeking my help: “What is coaching?” I ask that question to understand what my potential client’s experience with coaching is and what their frame of reference will be as we enter a coaching relationship. My colleague reluctantly admitted he really did not know what coaching is in practice. In this article, I will explain the answer I gave my colleague about what coaching is and why it matters to the C-Suite executive.

What Coaching Is Not

Before I explain what coaching is, I would like to explain what coaching is not. The word coach, for many people, conjures up images of sports. From their youth, many people have played sports or attended sporting events at school. Many remember all too well the image of a shouting coach trying to motivate players or persuade an official to make calls favorable for their team.

For others, the word coach has a different connotation. Some think of a minister, a therapist, or a senior business leader. There are others who may think of a consultant as they conflate coaching with consulting. For many years, for example, I ran an independent computer consulting practice where I was paid for my expertise in providing the right answers and solutions for my clients. Coaching, however, is very different. As a certified coach, I am not paid to provide answers or solutions for my clients. This is different from sports coaching or consulting where the coach or consultant has more experience and expertise and they are paid to transfer this to the client. In fact, when taking the practical portion of the coaching certification exam, a coach who gives answers to a client fails the exam. As a certified coach, as the old saying goes, my job is to “teach clients how to fish rather than give them a fish.” During the certification process, the trainer would often tell us “the coach owns the process, the client owns the content.” Put another way, “coaching is a PROCESS expertise, not a CONTENT expertise” said Master Certified Coach and best selling author, Laura Berman Fortgang in a workshop I attended.

What Is Coaching

So, what is coaching? In his New York Times best-selling book: “You Already Know How to Be Great,” Alan Fine defines coaching very simply as “helping others improve their performance.” The International Coach Federation, the most recognized certification body in the coaching industry, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thoughtprovoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Early in my corporate career, during my time providing IT support for the financial services arm of General Electric, years before I envisioned myself as a professional coach, I remember the first time I heard the term coaching used in a professional setting. In those days, a coach was only hired as a last resort for someone who was not performing well. It was a secret whispered in the halls of the office. Hence, receiving coaching was considered an act of shame.

Years ago, when I first began working as an IT professional. We used to joke that anyone could call himself or herself an IT professional. All you had to do is show up and say: “I know how to fix computers!” and you were hired. Then the industry realized experience was not enough. There was a need for formal measurement of qualifications through certification. Now most IT professionals hold some sort of certification to validate their competency.

The same was true for many years in the coaching profession. Anyone who worked in human resources or as a business leader could call themselves a coach. As I experienced in the IT world, that led to various degrees of quality.

Today, things are very different. Organizations such as the International Coach Federation, the International Coaching Community and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council have raised the bar of the coaching profession by creating global ethics, standards and certification assessments. As a result, the global awareness of the power of coaching has increased. Effective coaching is recognized as an art and a science. Coaching is now considered a badge of honor! People are proud to say they have a coach! That means their company values them and wants to invest in their development because they view them as part of the company’s strategic plans and ultimate success.

Why Coaching Matters to the C-Suite

Top professional athletes such as Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Rory McIlroy recognize the need for a coach to stay on top of their game and maintain their edge throughout various stages of their career. “Corporate athletes” also need coaches. Consequently, many senior business leaders including those in the C-Suite now use a professional coach to help maintain their competitive edge.

For the C-Suite executive, engaging a professional coach facilitates continued investment in themselves by having the learning or the university brought to them in the comfort of their location or through technology. Having a coach also provides the C-Suite executive a sounding board, a confidant and an advisor to deal with the demands of their role.

Certified professional coaches specialize in life, career, business and executive coaching. Professional coaching is different than giving instruction, advice or sharing expert insights. Professional coaching is a very rewarding process that transforms individuals and organizations by helping them unlock their own rich potential, create new options and value leading to improved performance and satisfaction.

Eddie Turner is a C-Suite Advisor ™ and a change agent who has worked for several of the world’s “most admired companies.” He is an international speaker who is certified as an executive coach and facilitator. Eddie is a global workshop and program facilitator for the Association for Talent Development and for Harvard Business School Publishing. He has studied at Harvard and Northwestern Universities. Eddie “works with leaders to accelerate performance and drive business impact!”™ Contact Eddie at (312) 287-9800 or eddie@eddieturnerllc.com

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