Executive Coaching has come a long way in recent years. It has grown rapidly as an industry as business leaders, CEOs, managers and small business owners have realised how valuable it can be. In fact, it is so valuable that, globally, approximately USD$1.5 billion was spend on Executive Coaching in 2017 alone.
Coaching benefits all levels in an organisation
Most larger companies employ coaches for upper management. But coaching at all levels, in any organisation, increases employee satisfaction and productivity. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt says the best advice he ever got was to get a coach. And Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates believes ‘everyone should get a coach’. So what makes coaching so attractive? What do companies hope to gain?
A two-way relationship
Executive coaching is a two-way relationship between the leader and the coach. Business leaders who work with an executive coach can benefit by having an experienced accountability partner who assists them with effective leadership, optimal performance and career advancement, as well as identifying blind spots and roadblocks. It also enables the Executive to benefit from truthful, quality feedback, as the Coach is not an employee of the organisation and therefore is impartial.
It is future-focused and works from a platform of conversation, using inquiry and deep listening to increase the executive's self-awareness.
In one study, coaches were asked what the main skill that they coached. The overwhelming answer was ‘self-awareness’ followed by other skills (some of which are covered in what follows). However, looking more closely at these skills, a picture of emotional intelligence is revealed. An increase in self-awareness leads to in an increase of emotional intelligence, which is extremely important for leadership positions.
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional Intelligence is “the ability to recognise your emotions, understand what they are telling you and realise your emotions affect those around you. It also involves your perceptions of others. When you understand how they feel, you are able to manage relationships more effectively”.
This means that your own emotional self awareness helps you understand the emotions of others, and you respond with empathy to their needs. Interestingly, one study from Harvard University found that a key trait lacking amongst upper management was empathy. Executive Coaching enables companies to address this key trait of successful leadership that is lacking.
Benefits of Executive Coaching and Emotional Intelligence
Executive coaches work with clients to boost self-awareness and increase levels of empathy. The coach guides the client in acquiring skills associated with emotional intelligence. The following looks at some of the benefits of bringing emotional intelligence into the workplace.
As mentioned, one of the main topics coaches teach is self-awareness. People with high emotional intelligence are very aware of their own emotions. This awareness leads them to regulate their feelings.
This sounds simple, but is actually very important, because self-awareness is the catalyst by which growth occurs. Research shows that most of us don’t see ourselves very clearly, but this matters because self-awareness in business leaders is closely correlated with organisational productivity and profitability. Plus, people prefer to follow leaders who are self-aware. An effective Coach helps leaders develop the skills to see themselves more clearly and learn where they are strong and where they need to grow. Without that first step of self-awareness, people will blindly continue doing things in the same way.
Awareness of one’s emotions brings about an ability to control one’s emotions. This means the task of self-regulation is made more attainable. For example, imagine a scenario at work where you have to oversee a new employee and you have feelings of inferiority. However, your’e unable to identify what those feelings or emotions are. That is, you’re not self-aware. You just know that you’re uncomfortable when you deal with that person.
Being self-aware is the first step in controlling your emotions and handling this situation with ease. People with high emotional intelligence have better self-regulation skills. Self-discipline is not limited to uncomfortable emotions. As your Coach enables you to develop greater self-control, you’ll see greater self-regulation in your professional and personal life. You’ll also see improvements in time management, become better organised and have greater control over your work-life balance.
As mentioned earlier, empathy is something that’s often lacking in upper management. But it’s a key human trait if we’re to get along and work together. It enables us to appreciate how another person is feeling and is linked to the hormone oxytocin (which also reduces our aggression and stress levels).
Chances are if someone empathises with a problem you have, you feel it. Empathy leads to improved interactions with business colleagues and subordinates. People will easily be led by you and seek your advise. Great leaders are empathetic. Rene Schuster, former CEO of Telefonica Germany, expresses the importance of empathy in business this way: “Empathy is not a soft nurturing value, but a hard commercial tool that every business needs as part of their DNA."
Cognition is “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses”. If you think of your brain a muscle, you can understand how, through exercising your brain, cognition can improve.
One of the key components of emotional intelligence is the ability to view situations from other people’s perspective (which is where empathy comes in). When you consider things from someone else’s perspective you become open to other points of view, and you’re more open-minded and more flexible in your thinking, which has obvious benefits when working with and leading others.
When you start to achieve success, motivation to succeed increases. When we succeed, it raises the level of dopamine in the brain, which makes us feel good. Dopamine also motivates you to take action towards your goals (procrastination, self-doubt, and lack of enthusiasm are linked to low levels of dopamine).
Your motivation is also linked to self-awareness. When you are self-aware, you discover motivation within yourself. With self-regulation, you can control and guide your enthusiasm in the right direction. We all know if we’re motivated and achieving success we are also more satisfied within our work. It’s what makes us try harder, do the longer hours and overcome those difficult tasks.
Better Social Skills
Social skills are the skills we use to communicate and interact with each other, both verbally and non-verbally (body language, our appearance, how we present ourselves). Good social skills enable us to build and maintain healthy relationship, both at work and in our private lives. Leaders who have high emotional intelligence have advanced social skills. It means they work well within groups, and can lead without appearing dominating. It also means they are adept at negotiating outcomes, and are able to get buy-in from people so decisions feel like a win-win for all.
Leveraging your existing strengths
An effective Coach can help you identify and leverage your existing strengths. You may be aware of them, but could be underestimating them. An effective coach can help you see the value and uniqueness of those skills so you can learn how to use them more effectively.
Improved Leadership Skills
Leadership is “the action of leading a group of people or an organisation, or the ability to do this”. Leaders create a vision, set direction and map out where a team or organisation needs to go to achieve success. They must also use management skills to guide people to the right destination and guide them on the journey in a smooth, efficient, inspiring and exciting way.
As we have seen, people with high emotional intelligence are more self-aware and better at self-regulating. They make better team members and better leaders, in part because they are empathetic. Good leaders listen. They let their team members know they have been heard and understood and that you care about the situation.
Being the best you can be
As you can see there are many benefits to engaging an Executive Coach. These are only some of them. But it all starts with emotional intelligence and self-awareness, and you should see the positive effects of this fairly quickly once you develop skills in these areas. It’s also important to remember, you have to want to be coached. You have to want to grow. Like anything new, working with a Coach can be challenging and even a little scary as you confront certain things. But it can also be the catalyst you need to become the person you want to be.