HOW DO CHIEF EXECUTIVES EXPERIENCE COACHING?

Report
Jacqui Summons
2013
To see whether the experience of CEOs being
coached by external coaches would uncover any
useful findings about:
 The type of coaching which they most valued
 Whether there were any common themes
reported in the relationship between coach
and coachee
 How they decided which coach to work with
 What they actually experienced in the sessions
and what impact, if any, they believe coaching
had on their performance
I
had worked in a close relationship with 6 /7
CEOs ( as HR Director)
 Observed at close hand the “loneliness” of
the number one position
 Seen benefits of executive coaching (and
times when it was rejected with a high cost)
This background proved to be both a benefit
and a disadvantage…
 New
insights into the way in which executive
coaching is experienced by leaders of smaller
businesses
 Coaching was generally sought by the CEOs
and not set up as an organisational wide
initiative
 Many previous studies carried out into the
impact of executive coaching had focussed
on organisationally driven coaching
programmes (often through the observations
of others, not in the “voice” of the CEO)
 The
findings could be of interest to other
CEOs that are considering using the support
of an executive coach, particularly in their
first CEO role
 They may provide some insight for executive
coaches wishing to coach CEOs about some of
the drivers for this group and what they
particularly value about coaching.
 Boards, Chairmen, PE Investors may gain a
greater understanding of the benefits of
coaching for CEOs
 Phenomenological
research study explored
the experience that five Chief Executive
Officers (CEOs) had when being coached by
executive coaches.
 An in depth review of their experiences as
described by them in detailed semi
structured interviews, lasting between 1 and
2 hours.
 Results were shared with experienced
Executive Coaches (not the coaches of the
participants)
Name
( Pseudonym used
to protect
confidentiality)
Ken
Size and type of Organisation
CEO
experience
Length of time working with
coach
A privately owned employee
communication consultancy
CEO for about
7 years since
starting the
business.
5 years working with the same
coach
Currently working with a career
coach in between roles, but had
previously worked with an
Executive Coach when CEO of the
logistics business
For the last two years, since
starting CEO role.
About 40 employees, 4 million
turnover.
James
Not currently in role. Previously
CEO of logistics business
(approximately 200M revenue)
Has held the
role of CEO for
several years
Charles
Listed on LSE since 2005 Clinical
trials management and patient
recruitment organisation in
Europe. Operated from 24 sites in
8 countries
CEO of a privately owned
recruitment company founded in
2010
Has held CEO
post in current
company only,
since 2011
Andrew
Kris
Land development company (PE
backed)
Is in his first
CEO role and
has been in
that role since
2010.
In his first CEO
role since 2012
Approximately 2 years
Approximately 2 years
How did the
methodology work?
What did I discover?
“ I almost take on a different personality.
No, what I mean is I am in a place where
I totally relax. My mind is clear. I feel like I am
talking to myself. I feel that I can say almost
anything and it is acceptable….. I don’t need
to impress or motivate or inspire…
What did I need?
Drivers for coaching






Desire for self-development prompts
desire for coaching
Need to build competence quickly when
starting a business
Need for a trusted confidante
Feeling a gap in existing network, feeling
isolated
Feeling loneliness
Fear of sharing concerns with team or
Chairman
Transition as a catalyst

Transition was a driver for coaching:
o Starting a business
o Exiting from a business
o Career change
o First CEO role
Pre coaching views on development

Committed and interested in the
development of themselves and others
Natural desire to improve themselves
Readily self-reflective


Pre coaching concerns about
coaching


Scepticism exists for some pre-coaching
Aware that it can be seen as a sign of
weakness to be coached
How did I choose a coach and how did coaching
relationship develop?
Choosing a coach



Contracting



Confidentiality


Relationship with Coach





It took time to select a coach, process of
selection was generally quite informal
In some cases more than one coach was met
before a final decision was made
Selection seemed to be one of chemistry and
“fit”
Informal
Dealt with timing of sessions and requirement
for 360 feedback in some cases, but little
further detail
There was some limited discussion about
objectives (particularly to demonstrate ROI)
Divergence of views about whether coach
should work with CEO and senior team
Trust is a critical point for all regardless of
direction on this point
Described as a unique relationship, not
similar to that which they have with others
Many hold coaches in very high esteem
Relationship seems close on a one to one
basis
One description of a “caring” relationship
Limited concern about dependency
What was the Coaching like?
Timing, location, preparation and follow
up





Model, structure and process




CEO feeling in sessions




Sessions were every 4-6 weeks lasting 23 hours
All sessions were off site
Considerable preparation was done by
CEO for sessions
“homework” sometimes set by
coach/reading materials suggested
Follow up sometimes includes note
taking and always working on agreed
actions
CEOs didn’t recognise “models”, but
talked through structure
Coach reminded client of agreed areas to
work on and values in some cases and
challenged divergence from these
In some, but not all, cases 360 feedback
and psychometric testing supplemented
the process in sessions early on.
Clients valued the alternative perspective
that the coach often presented
Relaxed
Able to open up and say things to coach
that they would not say to others
Reflective space and time away from the
day to day work
Could be a tiring process
What did I value and did I feel that I
benefited from Coaching?
What did I value in my coach?

Did I benefit from Coaching?






Value a sounding board, but do not
need a coach with business or
leadership background
Value a challenging approach
Being able to get through strategic
goals more quickly and making sense
of a multitude of competing priorities
Dealing more effectively with
Stakeholders
Handling difficult relationships more
effectively, particularly within the team
Increasing the effectiveness of their
teams
Becoming more self-reflective and
adapting behaviours as a result of this
self-reflection
 Consulted
5 Executive coaches with
extensive experience of coaching at CEO
level
 Confirmed some findings but strongly
challenged some too
 Overall a useful way of keeping my mind
“open” as I concluded
 Reaffirmed my view of usefulness of research
– quite welcome in the dark days of writing
up!!
"Leadership is a lonely thing. When you have to
make tough decisions in relation to strategy or
very important issues you have to take them in
the end alone.”
CEO of Lloyds, Antonio Horta-Osorio
(interviewed by Robert Peston 2013)

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