By: Heidi Sundin
Much is written about the importance of mentoring and sponsorship to ensure women reach the higher levels of management. I also recommend working with an executive coach as you enter into executive roles.
Many people find themselves as managers and executives because they have shown exceptional technical skill and achievement. Through their technical success they have been promoted to higher levels in an organisation and find that they are taking on management and executive roles. Often this can happen without much consideration or training for the skills required to manage and lead – which are very different from the technical skills they have mastered.
As I have moved into senior management roles over the last few years I have worked with three executive coaches, and met many others, and I wanted to share some of my experiences working with an executive coach for those who many be considering working with a coach.
Focusing on your own values and what you stand for
Have you ever sat down and purposefully thought through your values? Or articulated with great clarity what you stand for? When I first started working with a coach I thought our sessions would immediately jump right into aspects of decision-making, negotiation, people management, etc. To my surprise our first sessions focused much more gaining a deeper understanding of my values, level of confidence, and what I stand for. As a leader much of what is going on inside affects what is happening outside and it is important to gain a handle on this before working on the more advanced management skills.
Flexibility in leadership and management style is critical
We all have our own way of interacting with others and first time managers often rely on their natural ability and talents. This is great and can work in many situations. What I have found as I have worked in different types of organisations with different organisations cultures, however, is that not all styles work in all situations. Working with an executive coach will help you understand what your style is and how to develop some more flexibility in the styles you have available. This means you are better able to read a situation and draw on a variety of communication, management or leadership style and tools that may be more effective in any given situation.
Work on different skills at different times
Initially starting out with the coach, the focus was to understand more about myself and the kind of leader I aspire to be. This is an important step. As your confidence as a leader develops and is grounded in your values, you can move to focus on other development areas such as presence and influence skills, advanced negotiation, how to be more effective in executive meetings, delegation techniques and delivering impactful speeches and presentations.
Working with a coach is different to having a mentor. Your executive coach will often have deep corporate and executive experience and be well trained in coaching, communications, management and behavioral sciences. As your relationship with your coach develops you may also find yourself working through specific scenarios that are happening at work, with your team or with your colleagues. Using your coach as a sounding board with these situations can often help give a confidential and independent perspective leading to a more positive outcome.
Coaching is an investment and in my experience – one well worth making to become a better leader.
Share your experiences of working with a coach or the questions you have about working with a coach.