The Dangers of Executive Coaching: What CEOs Need to Know

Executive trainers can be a powerful force in an organization, but they can also be dangerous if they gain too much influence over the CEO. Business hierarchies are fluid and can quickly move from discussions about improving a person's performance to implementing interventions that can help entire business units capture or retain market share. Unless these executive coaches have been trained in the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, they may abuse their power, often unintentionally. CEOs considering hiring an executive coach should be aware of the risks to avoid potentially disastrous outcomes for their organizations and themselves.

For example, a senior partner at a major private equity firm had received negative comments about his ability to delegate. He agreed to meet with an executive coach to work on this essential leadership skill, but the coach had been highly recommended and the two shared an instant relationship and began to meet frequently. However, what emerged in the following weeks was not what the organization needed or expected. It turned out that the executive reminded the coach of her recently deceased beloved father.

As a result, the coach lost all objectivity and went on to play the role of defender, which basically reinforced his client's erroneous belief that the negative comments he received were unfair and were not based on facts. This caused lasting internal conflicts in the organization and damaged the credibility of the director of human resources who had hired the coach. Executive coaching is essentially a framework to help motivated professionals learn new behaviors. Learning and adapting to new practices takes time and effort, so be wary of anyone who offers simple solutions or quick solutions.

Effectively executed, training results in what psychologist Dr. Robert Kegan refers to as “transformational learning”. Coaching involves a deep knowledge of the environment surrounding the executive and an awareness of behavioral reinforcements and cultural variables that may function as obstacles. A credible coach must be able to identify and articulate all the forces that maintain behavioral patterns and develop a convincing plan to address them.

They must also have a deep understanding of themselves, including their motivations, insecurities, personality strengths, weaknesses, etc. A good question when selecting an executive coach is whether they have been trained before and what that experience was like. What did they learn about themselves and what surprised them? What's more, coaches must not only be experts in understanding others but also in understanding themselves. An essential prerequisite is a coach who has not only received training in how people can change their behavior but who is aware of their own motivations.

Without safety measures that prevent coaches from training those whose problems are not due to lack of skills but to psychological problems, executives who receive training and the companies they work for will suffer. However, since the potential impact of an executive coach can be so high, his flaws, blind spots, and shortcomings must be rigorously understood before hiring him. As management guru Warren Bennis observes: “A lot of executive coaching is actually an acceptable form of psychotherapy”. Many selfish coaches are quite effective at creating dependencies on high-level executives who would otherwise be highly successful. You can easily overcome this obstacle and empower your managers with a personalized leadership training program. Once your managers are trained in training and have the right tools, they can begin to impact your employees through coach-coach relationships. To understand in which situations each coaching approach can be used, it is necessary to compare the frameworks in terms of their advantages and disadvantages.

For executive coaching to have a significant impact, think of it as an investment rather than a quick fix.

Barbara Kutella
Barbara Kutella

Incurable twitter nerd. Incurable baconaholic. Hipster-friendly bacon enthusiast. Professional twitter geek. Evil twitter trailblazer. Certified beer nerd.

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