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  • Eric Hicks

How Coaching Adds Value

What is the "secret sauce" behind the coaching experience?

As executive coaches, we are often asked three questions about what we do for a living. While there are many variations, the theme is usually the same:

“Isn’t coaching for people who are not performing well or just aren’t good leaders?”

“How exactly do you coach people when you don’t have expertise in what they do?”

“Why does anyone need a coach to tell them what they already know?”

All of these really ask the same thing: How does coaching add value?

Consider this—elite athletes would not think of trying to compete at the highest level of their sport without someone to observe, encourage, and provide feedback.

Usain Bolt, unquestionably the world’s fastest sprinter over the past 15 years, won nine gold medals in the 100, 200 and 400-meter relay events for three straight Olympic games. Even with his incredible work ethic and athleticism, he still credits his coach, Glen Mills, for pushing him to new personal records.

"There's times when you want to doubt yourself," he admitted before crediting his coach for helping him believe he can go faster.

Top performing executives who enlist the service of an executive coach are no different than top athletes in their desire to become elite performers. Gone are the days when the word “coaching” was synonymous with “problem fixing.” Today, most organizations hire coaches for their top performers as a perk and performance benefit. Coaching, done well, provides a framework for growth that can dramatically improve performance.

In addition to helping individual leaders grow, coaching also helps companies leverage their existing leadership development agenda across the organization. We’ll examine both coaching benefits and how they relate to each other.

How Coaching Helps Individual Leaders Grow and Develop

For the leader being coached, there are six primary benefits of coaching.

Self-Discovery: Coaching and the techniques used in coaching help leaders see themselves as others see them. The coaching process creates moments of personal insight that can result in new ways of motivating performance in oneself and others. Most people have at least one or two weaknesses that are blind spots as well as one or two unrealized strengths. Coaching can help leaders understand what areas to minimize and maximize to reach their potential.

Proactive Engagement: Great coaches encourage their clients to seek higher levels of performance before problems arise. Coaching helps executives avoid complacency by continually seeking growth opportunities. Leadership requires more than maintaining good performance. Leaders who are not continually moving forward will be passed up by those who are.

Innovation: Coaching helps leaders continually examine their vision, and then challenge themselves to seek new breakthrough thinking versus settling for old models and processes. As the saying goes—the thinking that solved yesterday’s problems is not the same as the thinking needed to solve tomorrow’s problems.

Problem Solving: Coaching helps leaders take ownership and address problems with new thinking and positive engagement. Procrastination is called out as executives are challenged to bring their best thinking to problem solving. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, is fond of saying, “Problems don’t age well.” A great coach can challenge a client to stop waiting for a problem to resolve itself and start exploring ways to overcome it.

Accountability: Coaching helps leaders to own and be accountable for their personal action plans. Coaches work to ask deep probing questions, but generally do not provide advice or solutions. When coaching clients come up with their own solutions versus an expert’s suggestions, they tend to hold themselves more accountable for their actions.

Strength-Based Leadership Development: Coaching is first and foremost a strength activating exercise. Leaders become better at leading people when they bring their talents forward in a more focused and strategic manner. Coaching helps leaders focus their best talents on their goals and objectives. Focusing on strengths has an added benefit of minimizing weaknesses or at least making them less noticeable.

There is much empirical data that speaks to the value of coaching. A recent study by the International Coach Federation (ICF) found that 60 percent of respondents from organizations with strong coaching cultures report their revenue to be above average, compared to their peer group. In another study conducted by ICF, 91 percent of respondents who engaged in coaching reported some to great satisfaction in the value they received.

Coaching provides a personalized and dynamic plan-act-review cycle with accountability that few other leadership development interventions can match. Most importantly, the very nature of the coaching relationship is one of self-discovery and self-creation, which helps leaders find personal motivation to permanently change and improve their performance.

This is an excerpt from a new book by Lance Hazzard and Eric Hicks: Accelerating Leadership: How to Integrate Executive Coaching in Your Organization. Find out more at

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