Vaya Insights
Overcoming Co-Dependent Executive Coaching

By Rob Kjar, Ph.D.,
Senior Managing Consultant, Vaya Group

Executive coaching has continued to be a trend in many organizations and, with the proliferation of licensing bodies and virtual technology, anyone can become a coach. The vast wasteland of coaching has many accidental positive outcomes and many well-planned but ineffective ones, too. Some coaching gurus advocate a “say no evil, hear no evil, see no evil” hands-off approach while others advocate an up-in-your-grill drill sergeant style or a personal life coach who can roll out your yoga mat while you meditate on life’s more transcendental states. It’s the free market, so things will work out eventually.

A while back, I was asked to coach a leader who already had a coach, and I wondered, “Why me, when the company is already making an investment in someone who has been with this leader for more than three years?” The question became the answer. I learned that I wasn’t being asked to coach in addition to the other coach, I was being asked to replace them. Why? Because the once results-driven objectives of coaching had been replaced with a kind of co-dependency that lacked accountability.

Executive coaching can deliver real value, particularly when accompanied by a comprehensive assessment, an engaged immediate manager, specific behavioral goals, and feedback from honest stakeholders.

However, executive coaching success can often depend too much on the expertise of the coach. This has led to what I like to call the overly selective coach chemistry request. It happens sometimes when a call comes in: “Hey Rob, we need a coach who has been a plant manager in an overseas plastic injection molding business; oh, and someone who is preferably male, vegan, likes to bowl, and has a love of New Orleans jazz...” Okay, the jazz may not have been asked for, but you get the idea.

This dependence on a specific type of coach led me to think about a better alternative that exists today, and some organizations are just beginning to take notice of it: group coaching. It puts the coach at the center of a group of your best leaders to guide them to outcomes that are highly relevant because they are the originators. In a group coaching situation, the coach helps a small number of leaders explore how they can multiply best practices across the group, build key network connections from others in the group, identify and solve common organizational challenges, and explore together topics important to their success.

Working with one group recently, I discovered that the leaders were energized by the possibility of learning from each other, being able to observe a coach in action with one of their peers and creating their own agenda. Another group that was part of an intact team saw new ways of working and defining shared accountabilities and distinguishing those from individual accountabilities. In this way, they were able to stop talking about the concept of holding each other accountable – for something that was undefined – and made concrete commitments with the expectation of providing regular feedback to each other.

If your executive coaching is losing its way or has become a rehabilitation home for underperformers rather than an accelerator for top performers, try something different. Add accountability in the form
of assessment, stakeholder references, or try something different and put them in a group coaching situation where they can leverage each other to maximize the investment and multiply the benefits.


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