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Why hire an Executive Coach? – Mary T. O’Sullivan

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

“A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you always knew you could be” – Tom Landry

How do people achieve greatness? Practice? Yes. Repetition? Yes. Discipline? Yes. And how can greatness be achieved by yourself? Almost impossible. All great athletes, like Tom Brady, have many coaches. Great celebrities like Oprah have multiple coaches. Health and wellness coaches, nutrition coaches, workout coaches, meditation coaches. People rely on the expertise and training of professional coaches to enhance their lives and realize their true potential.

So, how do coaches work with you to create that magic in your life that you seek?

There are usually five key areas that coaches help to focus on:

  1. Clarify your direction and vision.
  2. Strategize your actions
  3. Upgrade any of your skill gaps
  4. Optimize your physical environment
  5. Master your inner game, your mindset or psychology.

All credentialed coaches must work in accordance with the ICF Coaching Competencies, and a good coaching process is based in these areas of competency:

1. First, credentialed coaches are bound by the ICF Code of Ethics and must adhere to their code of strict confidentiality in all dealings with their clients.

2. Then, the coach works with you to establish the coaching focus for the session. This competency (Establishing the Coaching Agreement) keeps the conversation on track and avoids tangential discussions. The question “Is this what you want to coach about today?” is asked if the session veers away from the original topic. For example, if you start off with “I don’t know what to do about dealing with tardiness” and in the middle of the session starts talking about how you don’t get along with your boss, the conversation is off track. It’s up to the coach to continue to keep the discussion within the guidelines established at the outset of the session.

3. One of the key elements of working with clients is to establish trust. You must feel confident that you are being heard, receiving proper feedback, being asked powerful questions to help gain

insight into your behavior or growth obstacles during the coaching engagement. Depending on your attitude or mindset, this process can take a few sessions to unfold.

4. Active listening, reflection and reframing are also included in a good coaching process. You should always have the coach’s full, uninterrupted attention for the hour. 

Here’s what that looks like according to the ICF Competencies:

  1. Attends to the client and the client’s agenda and not to the coach’s agenda for the client.
  2. Hears the client’s concerns, goals, values, and beliefs about what is and is not possible.
  3. Distinguishes between the words, the tone of voice, and the body language.
  4. Summarizes, paraphrases, reiterates, and mirrors back what client has said to ensure clarity and understanding.
  5. Encourages, accepts, explores, and reinforces the client’s expression of feelings, perceptions, concerns, beliefs, suggestions, etc.
  6. Integrates and builds on client’s ideas and suggestions.
  7. “Bottom-lines” or understands the essence of the client’s communication and helps the client get there rather than engaging in long, descriptive stories.
  8. Allows the client to vent or “clear” the situation without judgment or attachment to move on to next steps.

5. Powerful questions, that is the ability to ask questions that reveal the information needed for the greatest benefit to the coaching engagement and you. Powerful questions are open ended questions that begin with the words “When, Where, What, How”. The “why” question is never used, as “why” can put you on the defensive. Rather than asking “are you starting your project soon?” A competent coach will ask, “When will you start your project?” Or rather than ask “Did you lose your temper when a person disagreed with you?”, I like to ask, “What was important about the person’s opinion that caused you to lose your temper?” The idea is to stimulate conversation with  you and to avoid  you shutting down with a simple “yes” or “no” answer.

  • Speaking directly, that is to always be clear and direct when speaking with you about the agenda, the reason you are coaching and too often use metaphor and analogies when making a point. Examples are: “It sounds like you jumped into a swift moving river” or, “Maybe what you said could be thought to be as tactful as a bull in a china shop”.
  • It’s always the coach’s job to create awareness for you. The coach guides  you into self-reflection and self-examination as well as role playing and scenarios to help you see the reality of where he or she stands in the organization. I ask clients to turn their situation around and look at an event from someone else’s perspective. Often clients have never thought to empathize or identify with others. They need reflection in order to become competent at that skill. I’ve often suggested that clients get outside (forest bathing), go to a museum, or sit in a church with elaborate stained-glass windows to quiet their minds and to think about their situation differently. Clients have bundled up in February and stood on the beach for 20 minutes to gain some perspective on their circumstances. The results are life changing.
  • We also spend time designing future actions and setting goals and timelines for their achievements.  Questions like, “What do you want to do about that?” and “What would it be like for you in one year to have exactly what you want?” This way, we can take excursions into your future self, and  you can establish a vision that strategic actions can be attached to.
  • Planning and accountability become crucial parts of the discussions as this is where your effort comes in. When a plan to achieve a goal is made, I suggest that the client find a friend or mentor to work with to ensure that the goals are being achieved. I also encourage keeping a diary or notebook of the plans and the steps the client has taken within a week to move toward completing that plan. We review the accountability when the client struggles to meet his or her goals.
  • Within this framework, you develop a clearer picture of what decision making looks like and what the consequences are when actions are not followed through.

For any number of reasons, family, friends, or co-worker may not be able to provide you with the guidance that you need. A good coach speaks your language, using real world experience to help you be your best self, and avoid the minefields and obstacles that can slow you  down or stop you from moving forward. Research has shown that hiring a coach provides value beyond the fee you pay. Some of the things you will walk away with are, crystalized goals, defined career trajectory, become a better leader, work on a career transition, improve communication skills, sharpened and upgraded abilities, and managed work-life balance.

The number one result that clients mention after a coaching engagement is a more satisfying work and home life. Coaching helps them reach the goal that everyone wants, and that is happiness.

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their ow performance. It’s helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” – Tim Galloway


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Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach, Society of Human Resource Management, “Senior Certified Professional. Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas. Member, Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society. Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University. Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM.

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