Why an executive coach is now essential for CEOs


Running a business “can be a lonely place”, observes the CEO of a British retail chain, who wishes to remain anonymous. “But that was further amplified during the pandemic.”

To combat isolation, he called on his executive coach to help him “resolve complex and confidential issues that can be difficult to discuss” with people connected to the company. “Being challenged and guided on a monthly basis by an independent person allowed me to be well prepared to answer complex questions.” This helped him solve problems at a “faster pace”.

Over the past few years, as companies have faced multiple shocks – lockdowns, supply chain issues, skills shortages and high inflation – many senior executives have sought the support of coaches. Magdalena Mook, chief executive of the International Coaching Federation, a global professional association for coaches that offers its own certification system, observes that “the demand for coaching continues to rise”.

Bhushan Sethi, global co-head of people and organization at PwC US, the professional services firm, sees this trend intensifying in the near term: “Leaders don’t have playbooks for hybrid work, high inflation . New and emerging managers have not been through a recession.

Sally Bonneywell, executive coach for CEOs and board members, agrees. “People are saying stagflation is here, demand has fallen, and many leaders have never faced this before, especially when interest rates cause them to worry about their own situation. They must contain their own anxiety and [also that of] their direct reports.

Coaches offer different perspectives

Coaches act as a sounding board and help leaders prioritize competing demands. A senior manager of a shoe retailer, which deals with factory closures in Vietnam and supply chain issues, says, “If I want to talk about finance, I’ll talk to the finance manager. If I want to give my best, I will talk to the coach.

This was also the case for Andrea Lucard, head of general affairs at the ASBL Genevoise Medicines for Malaria Venture: “It was useful to have a professional mirror — not your friend, your partner, your boss or your colleague. . The best coaches aren’t people who tell you what to do.

Successive pandemic lockdowns have accelerated the demand for online coaching on technology platforms such as Coach Hub. Instead of finding coaches through referrals or expensive brokers, these offer the service on a large scale to employers as well as individuals. Some in the industry describe the growth of the platforms as Uberization, making a once-premium service accessible to more people. This change provides benefits, such as convenience for clients and work for coaches, but it also creates anxiety among coaches about diluting quality and lowering fees.

The number of coaches has jumped, according to the ICF, which saw its workforce drop from 33,594 in 2019 to 56,076 at the end of June. Its latest survey (in 2019) estimated the total global coaching revenue at $2.8 billion, an increase of 21% from 2015, due to the increase in the number of coaches, while the average rate fees have dropped.

Better Up, a coaching platform, analyzed hundreds of thousands of its own sessions, which showed that since March 2020, there has been an increase in discussions about “stress management and self-care”, as well as on “managing difficult conversations and conflicts” and “communication and cooperation”.

Coaches observe that the pandemic has heightened demand for their services as leaders have spent more time working remotely, leading to a lack of human connection. They now need help overcoming the challenges of a hybrid environment. Burak Koyuncu, senior vice president at LHH, a recruitment consultancy, says, “Coaching makes people feel connected with someone.

Coping with pandemic fallout and burnout

Coaching can help leaders cope with the upheavals of the pandemic. Suzi Read, director of talent development, diversity, equity and inclusion at Kindred Group, the online gaming company, says: “People have fundamentally changed. Many organizations underestimate what people have gone through and [they need] an opportunity to take stock, find out what their values ​​are and make sense of things.

The pandemic blurring of work and life spheres was reflected in the sessions with clients. Rachel Morris, who coaches senior and middle managers, says she’s had more conversations “about self-harm and suicide, which is usually the kind of stuff you bring to a therapist.” Such questions are beyond the expertise and remit of coaches, who would suggest seeking help from a counselor or psychiatrist. But a coach can help clients prioritize their own well-being. Nick Caesar, lead coach at NatWest’s in-house coaching center, says coaches who talk about “mental fitness or mental toughness” become more “appealing to someone who might not go to a therapist.”

Better technology, better coaching?

The growth of coaching has been facilitated by technology. Carol Braddick, a coach who also studies the future of the industry, points out that this is a “broad” term, covering everything from coaching bots that go through formula questions to highly experienced coaches that talk to customers via Zoom.

Currently, artificial intelligence complements the work of coaches. Recent research shows that by leveraging large datasets from many coaching sessions, AI could become “more effective in helping clients achieve their goals, such as choosing the best selection of tools and exercises or questions to ask”. The study notes that while a bot could help automate some processes, it is “unlikely to take over the entire coaching process. . . AI coaching is likely to be used with success after proper identification of the problem . . . guiding clients through many stages of a systematic coaching process”.

Online platforms have opened up coaching to a wider audience. They can help employers identify problems within the organization. Some fear, however, that the platforms risk making coaching transactional. There are also concerns that a lack of transparency about fees could lead to lower rates and “a race to the bottom,” says Catherine Devitt, CEO of Meyler Campbell, which trains executive coaches.

Jonathan Passmore, professor of coaching and behavior change at Henley Business School and senior vice president of coaching on the CoachHub platform, points out that in the early 2000s, fees were prohibitive. “We have seen a gradual trend, as more coaches join, coaching is offered to more executives [and] lower management [and] wages have gone down. The contribution rate reflects this. The ICF, for example, has rates from $91 to $500 per hour, but a top coach can charge a lot more than that.

Technology platforms provide administrative benefits, says Passmore: “Many [coaches] hate chasing payments. A platform lets them do things they love to do, coaching, and takes the win out of work, data collection, GDPR, and billing issues. He adds that this work is often complementary to the coaches’ own practices.

David Sole, executive coach and co-founder of School for CEOs, an executive development organization, is optimistic about the impact on his own business. “Coaching is an unregulated industry. Despite the EMCC [European Mentoring and Coaching Council] and the ICF, anyone can set up tomorrow as a coach. You will always have this kind of challenge. The top of the range [and] people who have been around for a while are slightly better protected against the disruptive element of technology platforms.

The retail CEO is certain that coaching will continue to play an important role for him. “There is no doubt that inflationary pressures and discussions of a possible recession will mean that companies will have many more challenges to face.”

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