What’s Wrong with Your Executive Coaching Strategy?

user Jonathan Rosenfeld
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Have you ever been underwhelmed or disappointed from the results of executive coaches—whether your own or those working with members of your leadership team?

When I’m brought in to reinvigorate and create a successful executive coaching program for a leadership team, most CEOs share their previous experiences with me. It rarely surprises me that most CEOs have a similar experience with coaching.

That experience is failure.

In most cases, the executives fail to quickly evolve. Their annoying quirks continue to annoy, and their bad behaviors continue to undermine their success—and the success of everyone around them including the leadership team.

In rare cases, the executive benefits greatly from the coaching, even relying on the coach during critical business decisions. That’s good news for the executive, but what about the rest of the team? We often see a coach hired for only one or two executives, while others on the same leadership team aren’t included in the coaching experience.

This is problematic for the organization. Think about it this way, if you and your spouse agreed to go to marriage counseling, and then only one of you went and changed their behavior and mindset, would the relationship improve?

The short answer is no. If you want a stronger, higher-performing executive team, then everyone needs to improve together, to build and practice new mindsets and behaviors, as well as the structures which support and reinforce them.

 

Think About the Organization as a System

The shortfall of most executive coaching programs is that they focus on the individual, while in reality, executives are part of a system—first the executive leadership team, and then an even bigger system, the organization.

You can’t coach in isolation, because individuals are constantly responding to the pressures and signals all around. They’re responding to their environments, to the executive leadership team, and to the teams they lead. If you just coach a single executive without considering them as part of the broader, dynamic system in which they work, then you’ll never generate the return or results that you want or need.

The basic definition of a system is a set of connected things or parts that, when connected, form a complex whole.

As organizations continue to spend thousands of dollars on executive coaching, how do you ensure that the coaching you provide to executives creates a competitive advantage for the organization? How do you ensure that your team improves its performance? How do you ensure your investment pays dividends?

I’ve found that it’s helpful to think about your organization as a system.

Systems have been on my mind since I played competitive sports in high school. As a football player, I couldn’t help but notice the connection between events happening on the field. By simply paying attention to all the players, I could anticipate what plays would be run, how a player would respond, and ultimately, how I should react accordingly.

I viewed the field as an intricate, interconnected dance, rather than relying on a set of linear plays. This turned out to be a huge advantage and it helped me to gain an edge over the competition.

Of course, the best coaches didn’t focus on one individual to the exclusion of the rest of the team during practice either. They coached all of us, balancing the collective strengths and weaknesses of the team, so that we developed together. Our practices reinforced each other’s skills and abilities, and as the weeks and months passed, our skillsets grew as we learned more advanced plays. We practiced, day in and day out, so that by game time, we were better, we were stronger, we were more competitive.

Thirty years later, I still see the world through the lens of applied systems. I see your business as a system of interconnected parts that impact the whole. You and your executive leadership team form the core of the system, and when you strengthen that, when you get everyone working together as a cohesive unit, then you can generate the business results that you’ve desired with more speed and less friction.

 

A New Approach to Coaching

Since joining The Trium Group as a Partner, I’ve worked with our consulting team to develop an innovative coaching model, different from what you’ll find with most management consulting firms or executive coaching programs.

The Trium Group’s Symmetrical Coaching program is designed for executive leadership teams who want breakthrough results. It’s for teams who want to shift the way they operate, to establish, new, higher-performing patterns that will generate real results throughout the organization for years to come.

Our program diverges from the norm on several dimensions. The first differentiator is that we help executives to evolve at the intellectual level, the behavioral level, the emotional level, the strategic level, and as individual leaders. Most consulting and coaching approaches only focus on one of those items.

Secondly, our approach addresses the shortcomings of most executive coaching programs, in that we look at executive leadership teams with the express purpose to create change at the system level.

Symmetrical Coaching is about helping every team member evolve, so the team evolves as a whole. We base our work on four key principles, each grounded in a deep understanding of brain science and neuropsychology:

  1. Address the Individual and the Team: Change occurs most quickly when all people are invested in the process at the same time. If any member of a team is excluded from the process, they aren’t going to be invested in the outcome. When you engage the full team in coaching, everyone takes their game to the next level. Our approach is team-based and focuses on creating demonstrable change in an individual’s mindset and behavior as well as the team’s overall mindset and behavior.
  2. Diagnosis, Disruption and Redirection: Our approach begins with an assessment to surface core (often implicit) mindsets and behaviors that constrain a leader’s effectiveness.  We then work to intentionally disrupt these mindsets, as meaningful new behaviors require redirecting intention and attention to dramatically new and different actions, which are targeted to produce a positive, reinforcing experience.  This is similar to someone training for a marathon – when they first begin, it may be hard just running a few miles, but through repeated conditioning and pushing themselves, their bodies and minds evolve, and by the time the race comes, they suddenly find themselves in a position where tacking on the miles requires much less effort.  By working with everyone at once, we disrupt a system enough that it destabilizes, creating a state that is ripe for change and produces a desire to return to stasis or a point of equilibrium.  Our goal is to make sure that when the team returns to this state of stability, it is at a higher level of performance.
  3. Provide Positive Reinforcement: While the disruption occurs, it’s critical that everyone is rewarded for shifting their behaviors simultaneously. At The Trium Group, we believe that positive reinforcement leads to change. Accordingly, the essence of our symmetrical change process is to create reciprocal positive feedback loops. That is to say, my behavioral change dovetails with your behavioral change, and collectively as a team, we build momentum, which trumps people’s and system’s natural tendencies to regress to old ways. The goal is to help team members resist old behaviors that can drag everyone down and prevent the team from experiencing breakthrough results. In our program, we assemble a team of seasoned executive coaches who are assigned to work one-on-one with an executive. Every executive has a coach. Outside of the individual coaching, the team of coaches works collectively and collaboratively as a group to discuss what’s working for their executives, what isn’t, and what needs to be modified. They are able to offer feedback to the executives in real-time, and then teach the executives how to offer feedback to each other as well, such that it positively reinforces the new behaviors and mindsets. The goal of the reciprocal feedback loops is to accelerate learning and competency and help team members move toward being true peer-coaches, which allows the transformation process to extend well beyond the formal coaching engagement.
  4. Practice Action-Oriented Behaviors: The neuroscience behind our methodology demonstrates that it’s more than intellectual insight that leads to transformation—it’s the practicing of new behaviors that reinforces the insights and leads to lasting change. We help our clients to move quickly and aggressively into testing new patterns of behavior while experimenting with new ways of responding and reacting to situations and challenges. Every leader contributes to the success or failure of your team at any given time. Coaching one person at the exclusion of the rest isn’t good enough. If you want real change, change that lasts and elevates the overall performance of the organization, then drop the traditional model of coaching and consider moving towards a symmetrical coaching model.

 

Coaching one executive may be good.

Coaching a team can be revelatory.

 


 

To learn more about how The Trium Group’s unique coaching approach can work for you, contact hello@triumgroup.com

 

About the Author: As a change strategist, Jonathan Rosenfeld, Ph.D. works with leadership teams and CEOs to develop cultures which maximize engagement, creativity and performance. Jonathan is a respected thought-leader in the field of organizational change, drawing on deep expertise in neuroscience, mindfulness technology and leadership. He currently serves an executive coach for The Trium Group, working with leaders across the technology, social media, entertainment, healthcare and aerospace industries. See more from Jonathan.

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