Business psychology: The power of executive coaching in a changing reality

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Sharon Mulligan is an executive coach and organisational consultant with over 25 years of experience working at senior executive levels across various service industries.

The pressure on organizational leaders to provide stability, encouragement and direction has probably reached its highest levels since the global economic crisis of 2008.

The pressure on organizational leaders to provide stability, encouragement and direction has probably reached its highest levels since the global economic crisis of 2008. Leaders are constantly challenged to navigate through a hostile landscape as they push for business continuity and success. They also have the weight and responsibility for employee performance, motivation and engagement to drive, sustain and maintain that continuity and success in the long term.

Within this stark reality, the question is, how are leaders going to find the support and inspiration to keep up their efforts? Even in the best of times, leadership comes with considerable responsibility. During times of crisis, the weight of this responsibility increases tenfold and can potentially lead to burnout. Executive coaching is a valuable source of support and development in one’s leadership journey. It is probably one of the most tailored practices for personal and professional growth where sessions are entirely dedicated to individual challenges and areas one wishes to explore and understand in more depth.

So, what does coaching consist of? First and foremost, it is a personal learning relationship. This means that the coach needs to provide a “safe environment” based on confidentiality, trust and openness. Secondly, it is an opportunity for leaders to stop, reflect and take perspective, evaluate alternatives for action and implement concrete decisions. Coaching is not intended to give answers and solutions. Yet, having the right sounding board to assess the full impact of decisions can provide considerable insight into how people will respond and react to them. The impact of leaders’ decisions can all too often make or break the relationship with employees and fellow leaders and rock the very core of even the most solid and stable company cultures.

Coaching can also provide a rare opportunity for leaders to be open about their vulnerabilities without fearing that they will create excessive anxiety and insecurity in their people. As Dr Brene Brown reveals in her research, vulnerability can be used as a strength. Doing so is especially important for leaders. Leaders can experience loneliness and isolation when they are the only people struggling with challenging situations and needing to take tough decisions. The coaching relationship can be an ideal space for them to learn how to recognise their vulnerability and show it appropriately rather than pretending they have everything under control, have all the solutions or know all the answers. In this way they can garner the collaboration, support and extra effort of their people without creating undue anxiety in their people.

Another critical area that coaching addresses is that of helping leaders remain aligned to their core purpose and values as they negotiate their various organisational challenges. Renowned author and speaker Simon Sinek refers to this as “the why” and talks about how easy it is to lose sight of this when caught in the middle of crisis situations or extremely rapid social and economic change.

Most executives and leaders that I coach point to the fact that executive coaching gives them time to take stock and deeply explore important issues. The outcome is that they gain perspective and a helicopter view that gives them clarity of direction and insight into the impact of strategic decisions on the organisation. They also find support in other areas such as dealing with conflict, initiating difficult conversations, identifying their blind spots and critical strengths, being open to feedback, managing pressure and becoming aware of and correcting potentially dysfunctional behaviour. 

Leading a team or company and being responsible for other people’s jobs and livelihoods is a very tall order especially during challenging times. As we look to the future with hope, we are also aware of the increasing complexity of modern leadership where being the centre and focus of everything is no longer a measure of success. Ultimately, the power of one is short-lived, while the power of a dynamic team leads to strong businesses with motivated, engaged and empowered employees. Executive coaching is a valuable resource that leaders can tap into to accompany and support them along their exciting, challenging, and compelling journey!

Sharon Mulligan is a member of the Institute of Directors and Institute of Leadership Management. Sharon has held consultancy positions for major international change projects with major banks and financial services companies. She has occupied key roles in all aspects of strategic HR, leadership and executive coaching. Sharon is currently co-director of PsyPotential Ltd, a learning and development company offering various services that promote the development and wellbeing of people in organisations. She specialises in leadership development and executive coaching.

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