Coaching: It's Not Just for the Less Experienced

More than half of C-suite and other senior leaders are not effective at coaching and grooming the talent that will lead their organizations into the future. That was the finding of a recent Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) study, How High Performance Organizations Accelerate Executive Leadership Development.

Coaching front-line leaders has long been an accepted and expected component of mid-level leadership development programs. Moreover, giving coaching and feedback on behavior and job performance is an accepted responsibility for those leaders. However, coaching isn’t just a way to guide the less experienced; it’s also an effective strategy for developing and retaining current and future executives. In fact, coaching executives is correlated to increased profitability and market performance, according to recent i4cp research, which also found that more than half (51%) of respondents said that leaders who are ineffective at coaching and managing their high-potential employees are the top hindrance to the success of high-potential development.

CEOs still concerned about leadership development

CEOs and boards of directors continue to struggle with why they haven't seen their top lines grow, their market shares increase, and more specifically, why their talent pools are so thin and their benches so limited. Some are challenging their learning and development departments to explain why HR's extensive and expensive programs are not delivering on promised results.

Leadership development has consistently ranked as one of the top 10 most critical human capital issues for the past five years in i4cp's Building a Change-Ready Organization: Critical Human Capital Issues 2013. CHROs and CLOs have at times tortured executive development programs and processes looking for the right solution that will fill their succession pools and leadership pipelines with high-quality talent. Eighty percent of respondents from high-performing organizations who participated in the annual study reported that leadership development was critical to their organization’s success, yet only 27% reported that they were effective at it. More CEOs and boards are becoming impatient and asking different questions: "Why are our leaders NOT ready when needed?"

What’s not working in leadership development?

Perhaps a glimpse in the mirror is in order. One possible answer seemed to come through loud and clear in i4cp’s report, How High-performance Organizations Accelerate Executive Leadership Development. Thirty-five percent of respondents from high-performance organizations say that those managing high-potential employees—including the officers and senior leaders of their organization—are not effective at coaching.

For years, learning professionals have reinforced the value of coaching and performance management in changing behaviors and developing leaders. Yet this critical competency is seldom included on lists of skills used to develop and select officers and/or senior leaders. If officers are not selected or held accountable for developing their talent, why is there any surprise that their talent is not prepared when called upon? Officers are in the best position to provide the coaching and guidance to help prepare their emerging leaders, and to help assure the future success of the business.

Progress is apparent

Many HR leaders may say that progress has been made in recent years, mostly in front-line and mid-level management positions. There are several indicators of this. Mainstream integration of emotional intelligence and the inclusion of coaching skills and programs in mid-management curricula are just two examples. Other HR professionals point to the growing interest in changing performance management processes that emphasize more dialogue and coaching with employees as additional evidence that progress is being made.

Coaches still need coaching

What does seem surprising is how little Coaching and Developing Talent is included as a critical competency in most executive selection, development, and especially performance expectations and reward systems. It almost seems that some executives believe coaching is something done mostly with lower-level leaders and not necessary once one reaches senior management.

One of the most valuable and effective sources for the development of high-potential talent already exists in each organization, and often remains overlooked. Officers and senior leaders already know the business, customers, finances, culture and expectations of the organization. Time to competence and contribution are quicker, and organizational commitment stronger than most other options.

Perhaps this is where to start:
  • Require Coaching and Developing Talent as a critical competency in the selection criteria for all future officers and senior leaders;
  • Begin developing coaching and feedback skills in current officers and senior leaders;
  • Hold all officers and senior leaders accountable for the development of their people.

After all, coaching is the practice most highly correlated to market performance with a 21% difference between high performance and low-performance organizations, clearly a competitive advantage.