This week I worked with a business owner, Ron, on a problem that all business owners love.
We had a great coaching session and he got some great insights into the underlying issue and what steps to take next.
I also got some great learnings.
The first was when he asked me, a little shyly, “What, actually, is Executive Coaching, Ian?” I explained the differences between coaching, advisory and mentoring work.
Then he hit me with the blinder: “But I am not an Executive!”
Instantly, I saw that clients don’t need to be in “Executive” roles to receive Executive Coaching. That was learning number one.
Learning number two sprang from that quick insight: Executive Coaching is much more about the special nature of executive issues than the title or level of people in an organisation.
Some researchers and commentators call these special types of issues “Wicked Problems”, to distinguish them from other issues that people get coaching on.
Ron’s issue is a good example of a wicked problem:
• It requires considerable mental effort to get its nature clear,
• its symptoms are changing all the time,
• the surrounding context is very fluid and
• there are often multiple options on what to do next.
This is quite a different situation to other forms of coaching where, say, a player wants their coach to help them move their left foot in a different way when they are kicking the ball.
Albert Einstein said: “No problem was ever solved with the same consciousness that created it.” In the context of coaching, if you have a wicked problem you might resolve it by sitting alone in a dark room and “thinking” about it. But, you are likely to resolve it faster and better by having your coach help you get clear about what the issue really is and to bring new awareness of all the issue’s dimensions and options for resolution.
Ron and I started by talking about business referrals, then we clarified that it was more an issue of managing growth and then quickly developed on to how to organise his whole business. He is wrestling with how to get more referrals while trying to establish a new branch, increase his revenue base, keep his franchisor on side, recruit new staff, work less extreme hours and focus more time and energy on high value tasks.
In less than half an hour, he saw that if he took a radical approach to his fixed costs he could increase his profitability, generate new referrals, grow his business and concentrate on more high value activities. This is an option he said he would never have come up with by himself. Whilst I suggested the focus on costs and the particular idea to reduce them, the subsequent design and plan came from both of us working together.
Ron will be able to take immediate action and in so doing he will cause a whole raft of ripple effects to occur to resolve some of his other issues like numbers and quality of referrals, his personal workload and the immediate need for a new shopfront.
And that breakthrough for Ron lead to a third learning. In our coaching conversation, Ron got to see that the creative, energising and radical proposal he chose to take on came not from him sitting alone in a dark room, not from him listening to me being wise and experienced but from our shared thinking. “It’s like one plus one equals three,” he beamed.
That’s what Executive Coaching actually is.