Even More Myths around Executive Coaching

von Karsten Drath

What can I expect from working with an executive coach? Not many other professions have so many myths about them. In our previous blogs we have unraveled most of these stereotypes. Here are some more insights on this special type of professional service.

Managers become Dependent on their Coach

HR departments in particular are often concerned that managers may become dependent on their coach resulting in situations where they can’t take any decision without checking back with their paid sparring partner. Clearly, there are cases where this has happened. However, it is the fundamental understanding of a professional coach, certainly within Leadership Choices, that the client is creative, capable and competent to find the right solutions for himself if he decides to let go of overly narrow mental models and dysfunctional beliefs. As such the role of an executive coach is always to become superfluous as a result of the coaching process. Within Leadership Choices, we ensure the right level of professionalism through regular quality assurance calls with the client, carried out by a third party.   

I Can’t Change my Personality

With growing experience and seniority often comes the belief in managers that they are too senior to change - which sometimes results in some sort of resistance towards executive development. However, there are two fundamental misunderstandings coming with this assumption. First, nobody can actually change their personality, especially not just by deciding it. A person with a missing ‘attention to detail’ can learn to focus on the nitty-gritty but there will always be a tendency and a risk to miss out on small things when under pressure. This leads to the second misunderstanding. Coaching is not about changing the personality of a person to compensate potential shortcomings or weaknesses. This is hardly possible and way too time consuming. Much rather the coach will work with the client in order to find strategies around how a particular strength can be used to substitute a weakness. Maybe the client has a jovial, warm-hearted side. This could help him to win somebody over to cover the needed but tedious details of his work. Or he is very structured, which could allow him to plan for times and circumstances where he can be focusing on details for an hour or two. If he is very extraverted, he might need a person with him to go through the fine print without losing faith. Neuroscience shows us that we are never too senior to learn new behaviors. In fact a 60-year-old can still learn as easily and effectively as a 10-year-old, there are just different strategies used by the brain in order to store the information. However, both are equally effective.

Coaches do Miracles 

Sometimes the expectations placed on an executive coaching process are unrealistic or just too high. Again, it is impossible to change the personality of a person. The only thing that is doable for a coach is to increase the self-awareness of a client and to strengthen his motivation to change. Once both are achieved the coach will work with the client to find strategies to manage potential derailment behavior and to find personality traits which can serve as substitutes for the perceived shortcomings of a leader. The higher the motivation to change on the side of the client and the stronger the bond between coach and client the more possible it becomes to achieve remarkable changes – which may in turn look like miracles to the outside world. 

Karsten Drath works with top managers and their teams to improve their leadership effectiveness and resilience. He is a certified Executive Coach and Psychotherapist, a published author and keynote speaker, and is one of the Managing Partners of Leadership Choices, an international consultancy focusing on leadership development at Top Management level. Looking back on more than 15 years of own leadership experience in several international roles he knows the challenges that come with the executive lifestyle and also how to cope with them.