While reading Boston.com this past weekend, I came across the article, “New T Manager Underwent Professional Counseling in Atlanta” and was a bit surprised by the tone of both the article itself and – even more so – the reader-added comments that followed. It seems to me that one of the larger issues (from my subjective perspective, at least) is the general lack of understanding of what executive coaching is – and what it can do for the leader of an organization.
Concern has been expressed over the fact that the newly selected director of the MBTA, Beverly Scott, received “individual coaching and consultation” while serving as the head of Atlanta’s transit system (MARTA). While we don’t personally know Scott or the consulting firm that was hired to work with her, we are familiar with some of the drivers behind the decision to hire a coach (information and quotes taken directly from the article):
- Scott’s relationship with her board of directors in Atlanta had grown strained
- “She has so much energy and that for some people can be complicated”
- “She demands a lot of people.”
- Scott was a “change agent, and that is often difficult and not always appreciated in an entrenched organization.”
Speaking from experience, none of these bullet points raise a red flag in my mind. In fact, they are quite common. The relationship between boards and senior management is often a harried one, many times requiring outside help to manage the conflict(s) that develop as a result. Furthermore, leaders are frequently hired or promoted based on technical abilities and business acumen, with little regard for the “soft skills” that make a leader effective.
The job of an executive coach in this situation is to work with a leader to refine those aforementioned ‘soft skills’ (self-awareness, presentation skills, active listening, stress management, change management, communication skills and messaging, to name a few). The end result is the development of a true leader – not in the sense of his or her title but rather in action, someone who can inspire and lead his or her organization towards growth and success.
The part of this article that I found most shocking was the quote provided by Mike Jacobs, a state representative in Georgia who heads the legislative committee that oversees MARTA. He stated, “it’s cause for concern when a consultant is hired for this sort of purpose to address a major leadership position.” I cannot possible emphasize how much I disagree with this statement. A cause for concern would be someone who refused coaching and/or refused to acknowledge that he or she had any weaknesses that needed to be addressed. No one is perfect – and no one should be faulted for trying to address those areas in which there is opportunity for growth and development.
I wonder what Mike Jacobs would think if he knew how many great leaders – in the corporate, government and non-profit sectors – have worked with an executive coach?
Written by RLA Associate Meghan Vincent. For follow up, Meghan can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org