Executive coaches come in all shapes and sizes (figuratively …. although I’m sure also literally). There are those who have deep organizational experience, have invested in significant professional training, and who treat coaching as a profession. Then there are those who occasionally coach leaders as part of a broader portfolio of responsibilities. There are also coaches who choose to undertake life coaching or other coaching derivatives than executive coaching which is the focus of this article. By executive coaching I am referring to someone who works with senior leaders in support of their development, performance, career and effectiveness.
I have met and worked with numerous executive coaches over the years, as well as having had the opportunity to work in this field myself. Many of these coaches I have admired greatly for their perceptiveness and skills of engagement. Some of them I have also thought were free-loading, egotistical, opinionated amateurs. (You would be right to think that I rarely sit on the fence!)
Executive coaches can lean towards extroversion in their own personality type. Occasionally I have wondered if this might get in their way of listening carefully and seeking deep insight into another person’s drivers and behaviors. What I have found is that the best coaches know how to manage their own preferences and behavior so as to deliver the best coaching experience for their client. They might have to try harder to listen, process and reflect, but the best coaches can do this. By inference I am suggesting that coaches who are not so good, and who are naturally extroverts, might struggle in this profession. Listening to another person’s story and responding with one of their own, interrupting a client’s reflections, dominating the conversation and jumping around possible lines of enquiry, may all be characteristics of an extroverted coach.
Executive coaches with a preference for introversion have different challenges. Learning how to differentiate significant issues from superficial, investing time appropriately, drawing out the client, responding with quick analysis, and engaging in long conversations might all potentially be challenging for introverts. But again, the best coaches use their preferences to their advantage rather than letting it be an impediment. Making considered judgments, using thoughtful tactics to provoke reflection or conversation, and using the power of silence are all coaching techniques that can be easier for introverts.
Often it isn’t whether or not the executive coach has a preference for extroversion or introversion, but the client’s preference that is the challenge. The best executive coaches, in my experience, are those who are highly emotionally intelligent and who are able to provide enriching coaching interventions for executives regardless of their personality preferences. They are able to engage with an extrovert and sift through the ‘noise’ to surface the real issues, they are able to inspire contextual action with an introvert, they are able to unpack the complexity of deeply intuitive types, and they are able to provoke empathetic responses from the cerebral types. These are some examples of exceptional executive coaching capabilities.
The best executive coaches are always those who have learned enough about themselves to adapt their styles to help others develop themselves.