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Executive Coaching - a personal letter

Dear Executive,

Coaching Executives: What is it about? What does it seek to do?

It is about assisting, supporting and encouraging executives to find answers to:

  • How they can develop and achieve their best performance
  • How they can translate their knowledge into action
  • How they assess the issues that they are confronting that are limiting or preventing them from reaching their potential

    The approach that I take as a coach is to use my skills as a collaborator and communicator. The key to coaching is sensible, well-controlled conversation and skills practising with clear follow-ups. My depth of experience in corporate and people management at senior levels in CSR (10 years) AGC (3 years) and of course, Chase (15 years), has equipped me well for this. As an external coach I am finding that the ability to discuss and draw out the issues with the "counselee", so that together insights and shared analysis are developed - is the key.

    Examples of the types of coaching I have encountered and successfully worked on include:

    Senior Executives
    I have worked closely over a long period with senior department heads, from managers of sugar mills and refineries to mine managers to functional head managers to investment and client banking team heads i.e. a big cross-section of management and their "Direct Reports". I think my extensive time in the HR head role and Board member at Chase through the 15 years of 1985 to 2000 and the financial success of the institution in that period is a testimony in part to the ability I demonstrated as a coach.

    More recently my work has been with executives in the accounting, legal, and IT professions. It is nice to see appreciation for this work reflected in the testimonials.

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    Executive coaching can emerge in a wide variety of applications

    Skills coaching
    This can develop as an agenda on a wide variety of performance development applications EG. To mention just a few that I know well:

  • Networking and building sound influencing relationships in a global matrix -dealing with different cultures, building trust across e mails and telephone sensibly, follow up processes.
  • Communications skills - such as active listening, questioning techniques, use of body language and in general building an open communications environment. Or there may be a particular issues with presentation skills- either written /report writing or up front delivery in meetings
  • Motivation building skills - such as empowering techniques, goal setting- building commitment through sensible involvement, development planning, team building.
  • Strategic planning skills such as defining purpose, vision, mission and reinforcing corporate values, building SMART objectives and machinery to track execution.

    The point is that quite often senior executives have missed out on practical development and training opportunities that would have better positioned them for confidently handling their new portfolios. It makes very good business sense to invest in one on one coaching at this stage of their career to maximise their potential. Almost always senior executives have great knowledge and special experience, which might be put into action more effectively. This means the institution or firm is not maximising the differentiating factor that the executive's talent represents.

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    Other executive coaching applications that Dalcross might cover with executives include discussion of life style conflicts around work life balance and time management, career development planning, developing a culture of coaching through the management philosophy and training programmes in the firm (a quite common application these days further validating the importance of this subject in the new economy era!). Each of these has different implications for consulting approach.

    Self Awareness
    Executive Coaching will mostly have a focus in time spent on the counselees' self-knowledge, self-observation and capability to review and provide feedback constructively. The coach is seeking to get the counselee to build a greater awareness of self and their potential to have positive impact on their own and the organization goals. Many times the issue stopping action is lack of confidence, fear of the unknown, lack of perspective, difficulty in dealing with ambiguity. It is the task of the executive coach to help the client find their potential and to help develop the confidence to practise different techniques to enable realising that potential.


    It is likely, therefore, that discussion will turn to any internal instruments that are used to assess the counselee, eg appraisals, 360 feed back, end of year assessments, profiles. Indeed it is highly likely in some cases that new feedback would be sought and the counselee would be invited to participate in questionnaires, role plays designed to help provide insight into or practise skills and techniques that may help establish a confidence to try new techniques.

    As an experienced practitioner, I have encountered many such applications and have the ability to tailor an experience, discussion, survey, and questionnaire appropriately. I also am spending a significant amount of consulting time as a trainer in performance management skills which gives me a practical "coaching machinery" to apply in coaching situations.

    Importantly it should be personalised and geared towards the individual's needs and aspirations.

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    Establishing the Assignment

    It is my strong view that the intervention should be voluntary and that the rules of involvement be agreed up front (eg confidentiality, what is reported and what is not, timings and location of meetings, plan of the assignment, measures agreed for assessing value add by coach), i.e. formalities such as are required by all parties.

    Clearly as discussed, the Executive Coach's ability to quickly build the relationship, to develop trust and to inspire confidence that the time is well spent and value added is critical.

    Benefits that might be expected from coaching were reported in an article in Fortune February 19, 2001.The article referred to a survey conducted by a US executive consulting firm Manchester, of its clients in the US. This article is quoted below:

    "The respondents were from large (mostly Fortune 1,000) companies who had participated in either 'change oriented' coaching aimed at improving certain behaviours or skills, or 'growth oriented' coaching designed to sharpen overall job performance. The programs lasted from 6 months to a year. About 60% of the executives were ages 40 to 49 - a prime age bracket for career retooling. Half held positions of Vice President or higher and a third earned USD 200,000 or more per year. Asked for a conservative estimate of the monetary payoff from the coaching they got, these managers described an average return of more than USD 100,000 or about 6 times what the coaching had cost their companies. Almost three in ten (28%) claimed they had learned enough to boost quantifiable job performance - whether in sales or productivity -by USD 500,000 to USD 1million since they took the training.
    They also reported better reporting relationships with direct reports (77%), bosses (71%), peers (63%) and clients (37%) and cited a marked increase in job satisfaction (61%) and 'organizational commitment' (44%), meaning they are less likely to quit than they were before."

    This is a fairly powerful and succinct endorsement of the rationale for executive coaching interventions. The article goes on to warn potential hirers of executive coaches to ensure that the coach has real experience and credentials.

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    So where to from here?
    My suggested approach will depend on the assignment you have in question and the objectives of your institution in using me. However, as a general rule there would be a clear step process from initial meeting phase (where we discuss the assignment and the issues as you see them and your goals for the assignment, through initial meeting(s) with the counselee to position the assignment and then on to an engagement which would normally involve a period of at least 3 months with regular organized and ad hoc discussions, with agreed meetings with the client sponsor to review progress.

    Timing on progression would be being dependant on the parties. This website provides contact points and information on our approach to Coaching.

    I prefer to discuss this based on the individual case and my assessment of the likely time commitment so that I can provide you with a clearly value added and cost effective proposal.

    I trust that this provides you with a good appreciation of my approach to this subject.

    Gordon Conolly

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  • Dalcross Logo - Beyond the Horizon

    "I have been searching high and low for such advice.I think the things you went through today will become the basis for lots of my work in my Board submissions.

    I consider many firms have problems in solving issues with Director and Partner governance and related disputes - which needs some specialist consulting so they can fix their problems and move back to building their business.

    Gordon has taken us to a new and better place where all partners are on the same team with a shared vision and objective".

    Mr Andrew Matler, CEO
    Independent Systems Integrators Pty Ltd (ISI)

    This page is Copyright © 2002, Dalcross Executive Consulting Pty Ltd
    PO Box 541 Cherrybrook NSW 2126 Australia phone (02) 99801234 mobile 0412038164
    Email: grc@dalcrossconsult.com.