The Client speaks...

The Client speaks...

This article on executive coaching is part of a series of thought-pieces developed by Dr Mannie Sher. In this article, space is given over to the client who speaks about the value of executive coaching.

from Art and culture of the Cyclades

The value of executive coaching for me, my executive team and for my organisation

As a senior executive of a public sector organisation, I am often asked how my regular executive coaching with the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations helps me in my role. This question comes from line managers, peers, line reports and friends in the pub, all expressing a high level of curiosity. My stock response has been to say it is ‘difficult to explain’.

I have worked with the Tavistock Institute for about five years and having thought about the question, I realise that the principle benefit of the support I receive is to provide me with thinking time and the discipline of treating that thinking time as a priority because of the leadership challenges I face in my role. These insights would be impossible to acquire without the benefit of skills, professional judgement and experience that is available through the coaching.

I sometimes wonder how often people find time in busy schedules to think about the strategic issues they face individually and organisationally. I suspect only a minority would answer affirmatively. At times, dealing with complex organisational choices on a daily basis makes me break into a sweat. The Tavistock Institute has given me the equanimity and confidence to confront these complex strategic challenges. My coaching has enhanced my leadership skills and abilities and allowed me to consider the unique dynamics of my organisation in a way which would otherwise have been impossible.

Imagine the following scenario which routinely affects executives in all sectors...

You are sitting in an executive meeting discussing a difficult issue which has been presented to the meeting on countless previous occasions without arriving at a resolution. Each member of the executive has a different interest in the issue and often those interests are in competition with each other. Stalemate is reached and rather than a decision being made, the issue is postponed for discussion at a later meeting, delegated to another group or simply dropped off the agenda, leaving those involved in the preparation of the proposal bruised and disempowered, their efforts rendered pointless. 

If that is a familiar scenario, I would, firstly, encourage the executive team to seek consultation as a team, but if that is not possible, I would recommend individuals to seek executive coaching. The support would be invaluable in allowing you as a member of your executive team to understand the personal, group and organisational dynamics that are forcefully paralysing the meeting. You would also acquire the confidence to assist the executive to find a way through any negative dynamics towards a resolution. 

My coaching at the Tavistock Institute regularly focuses on the dynamics of power and control; envy, jealously and rivalry. The ability to understand these dynamics as they play out between members of the executive has given me the skills to ask open-ended questions that often helps unlock even the most difficult issues. As with all public sector organisations facing swingeing austerity measures in recent years, my executive has had to make reductions in the workforce. 

Where do we cut? 

Who should we make redundant? 

Where should we invest our reducing assets? 

These challenges result in acute emotional reactions in the executive; members fight to protect their silos and this results in stalemate. I have taken the model offered by my coach into executive meetings — i.e. the confidence to ask: ‘what dynamics are playing out here that we are getting caught up in that prevents us making progress towards decision-making?’ as opposed to the fruitless ritualised questions of ‘what are we going to do?’ that gets us nowhere. 

Asking open-ended questions allows the executive to unblock itself in order to think and to acquire an understanding of the broader organisational dynamics that hamper decision-making at board level. My coaching has been helpful and supportive for improving my role effectiveness and the effectiveness of the executive team which in turn has impacted favourably on organisational performance. We are successful in moving forward managing difficult issues, rather than continuing to bang our heads against a wall.

In times of austerity and significant reductions in public spending, there are voices arguing that coaching is an unaffordable luxury. My response is to say that if ever there is a time that organisations need to invest in their leadership with the skills to grapple with complex issues, it is in times of austerity, as it is then, rather than when times are good, that leaders have to demonstrate their leadership capabilities.

To quote from the British-Canadian poet Robert Service: 

It’s easy to fight when everything’s right, and you’re mad with thrill and the glory; it’s easy to cheer when victory’s near, and wallow in fields that are gory. It’s a different song when everything’s wrong, when you’re feeling infernally mortal; when it’s ten against one and hope there is none, buck up, little soldier, and chortle.

This article on executive coaching concludes the series: All research is consultancy; all consultancy is research which describes the work of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations as an integrated social science research and consultancy organisation. Research and consultancy are two sides of the same coin, i.e. curiosity about the human condition and an interest in studying all aspects of it in order to advance knowledge of society and people that leads to improvement. Study and change are basic to the Institute’s aims that are expressed via high-level professional research, organisational consultancy and executive coaching.

Over the past few months, we posted a number of articles that describe important aspects of work with individuals, teams, organisations, partnerships, coalitions and federations. From a very wide field of possible themes, we selected examples of work that we thought would interest readers. These include:

  1. The first article “Tavistock, we have a problem ……!” is about lifting the leadership capabilities of the 2nd tier of organisational leaders.
  2. The second article “It cannot be us; it must be them”, is about amplification peaks and stock-level swings in the supply chain.
  3. The third article focused on the impact of redundancy.

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