Coaching Practices for Executive Teams

Business Meeting Discussion

Executives are very smart people. They are typically experts in the subject matter of their organizations and they take their work and time seriously.  The good ones work very hard and are not easily swayed by others’ opinions. Consequently, the use of an outside facilitator or consultant to work with the executive team is often resisted. In my view, the resistance makes sense. Far too many consultants fall into the trap of challenging the executives’ expertise and some tell the executives what to do. Sometimes it works. My approach is different.

Create a conversation.

In my 28 years of working with leadership groups, I’ve learned that my job is simply to create the conversations that will allow them to get work done better than they can without me. I work closely with the executives before their meetings to find out things like:

What is the most important thing to accomplish?

How do they normally work together?

What lead up to considering a consultant / facilitator / executive coach?

What are their usual frustrations with meetings?

What would add enough value to the meeting to warrant paying for my services?

There are many more questions dealing with the right sequence of work, the areas likely to produce conflicts, the clarity of executives’ roles, the dynamics of executive interaction with the next level of management and with the organization, the pace of the meeting, the agenda, and so on. Also important: what is my relationship and role relative to the most senior person in the room. What I want is a partnership that enhances their existing capabilities.

Observe and reflect.

Learn while doing real work. The most important thing I teach is how to observe your own dynamics. When executives learn to observe and reflect on what is happening in their meetings in real time, they gain control over their own processes. My job is to help them learn how to do that. When it is appropriate to offer a leadership theory to help broaden or organize thinking, I’ll provide it. If I don’t know what to do, I’ll go find out.

Learn what is unique to your executive team.

There are enough similarities between senior leaders across organizations that my experience with the following groups has given me a good start in preparing to work with you:

Senior Leaders of Navy Undersea Warfare Engineering and Maintenance, Keyport, Washington Leaders in this division became concerned with schedule slides and wanted help to increase accountability among their employees. They have been discovering that a new level of cooperative relationships and task management is needed to allow the existing commitment to excellent to be displayed. My task has evolved to coaching the senior team more than consulting.

The executives and 100 person leadership team of Boeing Computer and Support Services. While this group no longer exists in the old form (1988 to 1996) it was exciting to work with cutting edge computer science experts, software engineers and the airplane manufacturing environment. There were times they did not agree with each other!

Executives of the American Association of Family Physicians and the American Board of Family Medicine. Physicians are not easily persuaded by others’ ideas or by people who are not physicians. This work required setting up new conversations and getting out of the way while holding them to their agreed purpose.

Executives of the Boeing Employees’ Credit Union. These smart, dedicated people run both a disciplined financial organization and a fast paced customer service program. Decisions have implications for a lot of people – just as each meeting they hold.

Executives of Multicare Health Systems, Tacoma. The combination of medicine, finance, information systems, physical plant and the lives of patients makes leaders like these the most challenged of all executives. My work was to help them align the vision and certain process improvements while involving 1200 employees. They received an award for their work.

Executives of Port Blakely Properties, Seattle. Repeated engagements have allowed me to shift from simply a facilitator to a real time coach for this dynamic, multi-faceted company.

Senior leaders of the Washington State Department of Health (Secretary of Health). Over a period of several years, I helped them find the trees in a quickly changing forest. A big part of my job was to help them slow down enough to think. I was told that when I was room, at the table,  their dynamics changed for the better.

Working with an outside consultant is good practice.

Schedule a meeting with an executive coach, preferably in person, also by telephone. By the end of an hour you will have a good assessment of whether the coach will fit with you and your executives.

Detect the Differences That Can Give You An Edge

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The Coaching Supervision Academy (CSA) is a leading UK-based provider of coaching supervision training and practical supervision support.

Renowned, accredited and long-established, the CSA delivers CPD courses for coaches, alongside supervision to both organizations and individuals. Our approach is uniquely personal and our programs are tailored around individual participants – because, in the words of founder Edna Murdoch, we believe: “who we are is how we coach”.

Opportunity to Extend Your Coaching Professionalism

The 9 month US program is an ICF Approved Program (62.5 CCEU’s) and is accredited by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC). It’s designed for experienced coaches who wish to have a recognized qualification in Coaching Supervision. The program centers on creating a lively professional partnership with coaches; one in which they can significantly develop their range and capabilities as a coach and supervisor and return to their work resourced and stimulated. It is highly experiential in its approach while still being supported by teaching and practice in the most current supervision theories and models. There is also a significant reading list and a compilation of relevant articles. Using a blended learning approach, the 8 face-to-face days are enriched by out of class work in triads, teleseminars, and applying the rich program material with other coaches – all while guiding and supporting the individual coach’s journey and professional development through individual tutorials and supervision. Competencies and confidence are enhanced. Unconscious dynamics present in coaching are made conscious so that they can be managed.

The Program Covers Conceptual Tools

CSA’s Full Spectrum Model of Coaching Supervision, which incorporates Hawkins & Smith’s 7-eyed model of Coaching Supervision, covers tools such as:

  • Use of Self in supervision
  • Coaching Psychology
  • Relational Psychology
  • Organizations as systems
  • Working with Image and Metaphor
  • Ethics and standards
  • Multi party contracting
  • Working with supervision Groups

Meta Skills Utilized

Multi-dimentional Presence work which utilizes the seminal ideas of Senge et al (U Theory),

  • Psychodynamic Perspectives
  • Working with the Field
  • Building the Internal Supervisor
  • Accessing intuition
  • Creative Perspectives in Supervision

U.S. Program Dates

We are pleased to say that the first offering of this program will begin September 20, 2013 and that the program is completely filled.

All spots for 2013 are SOLD OUT‼ The three modules of the next program will occur on the following dates:

September 18, 19 and 20, 2014
January 16, 17, and 18, 2015
May 15, 16, and 17  2015

Location is yet to be determined. Sessions are planned for both west and east coasts of the United States.

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Download the Coaching Supervision Academy Application

Polishing Your Internal Mirror

Reflection in Still Mountain Lake WP copy

When I was ten years old, I was given a three-inch reflecting telescope – the kind in which a concave mirror focuses light, bounces it into a series of mirrors and ultimately into the eyepiece. I could see the moon as if I was holding it in my hand.

Now a telescope is being constructed on Mauna Kea in Hawaii that will have a 30-metre mirror! Why spend huge amounts of money, intelligence and passion to build a bigger mirror? Just this: to see beyond what our everyday eyes can see.

Isn’t that a big part of what we do as coaches? We help our clients see what they have not seen about their environments, goals, lives, and possibilities.

A challenge in building giant telescopes is that earth’s gravitational pull distorts the huge mirrors enough to create inaccurate images. Care must be taken to continually adjust the mirrors, and to prevent the slightest dirt from damaging the reflection.

Reflective Practice Highlights Distortions in Coaching

Consider these instances:

  1. A coach became frustrated with his client’s progress toward agreed-upon objectives. The coach’s intense values about completing objectives had prevented him from recognizing that his client’s world had changed dramatically during the engagement. Distortion: substituting his values for his client’s.
  2. Another coach felt she and the client were swirling around, yet the client was pleased with the monthly conversations. Nothing changed. Distortion: a shared difficulty in prioritizing.
  3. Another coach was working with a young executive. After the executive received difficult feedback from her CEO, the coaching relationship deteriorated. Through supervision, the coach realized he was unconsciously caring for the executive as if he was her father. Distortion: blurring of personal/professional boundaries.

Challenging Theories in Action

Reflective practice opens ourselves to fresh information about what we see, feel, think, want and do. It calls us to see ourselves and our clients as accurately as possible before, during and after the coaching conversation. In short, it is a process of polishing and correcting our mirrors. Why is this important beyond initial coach training?

In ICF-approved programs, we learn 11 competencies and related skills and behaviors. Both Donald Schon, in “Educating the Reflective Practitioner”, and Grady McGonagill in “The Coach as Reflective Practitioner,” observe that this process provides us with “espoused theories” as distinct from “theories in action”. The latter are the theories, and by extension behaviors, which we actually apply in the moment of coaching. Schon and others observed that professional workers described their work one way and actually did it another way. Reflective practice helps bring espoused and in-action knowledge closer together over time and it is never complete because our mirrors, like those on Mauna Kea, are constantly shifting.

How can we develop a reflective practice? One approach is to work with a person trained in guiding reflective practice.  In the world of coaching, this person is referred to as a Coaching Supervisor, someone with substantial understanding of both coaching competencies and additional experience with coaching psychology, dynamics of relationships, and various tools for deep reflection. As a result of this work, an “internal supervisor” develops within us to observe our coaching in real time and keep the mirrors clean and aligned.

Reflective Exercises

Find a mirror, physical or in your mind. Take a moment and gaze into your reflection: What do you feel good about in your coaching?

What is unsettling in your coaching right now? A client session that didn’t go as planned? A client relationship that is suddenly not as comfortable as it was?

What distortions might be creeping into your mirrors? Fatigue? Fast pace? Surety rather than curiosity?

What boundaries are in need of attention? Might you be performing roles that are not yours to perform? Are you trying too hard to make your client happy?

What other questions are you sitting with and where could you go for answers?

Attending regularly to these questions will attune you to the benefits of reflective practice.


This article was written by Sam Magill, Sr. and published in the April/May 2012 issue of Coachlink magazine

Being Human

Sam and Group of Three

I have worked with leaders who want to dive below the surface of quick answers in order to look at patterns, relationships and cultural habits that dampen organization effectiveness. Although I have taught many workshops over the years, my interest now is sustained coaching relationships in which my clients and I know and trust each other enough to do real work. Leaders regard me as skillful, insightful and authentic. My experience in working with leaders has gained me the following insights.

Part of leadership is about observation.

I’m amazed at how little leaders know about their own organizations. We must get better at seeing – just as the old naturalists learned to see the world with fresh eyes every time they went walking. A big part of my work focuses on helping people see and hear what is happening. I can tell you many stories about how listening to the subtle nuance of communication has helped increase effectiveness. Similarly, I have learned to look at situations with my camera in hand and ask, “What wants to be seen here?” In our organizations, I believe people are crying to be seen, to be heard, to be involved in effective ways. That’s what I want to help clients do.

Part of leadership is about doing something.

According to Ronald Heifetz, at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, the purpose of leadership is to mobilize people to collectively affect positive change on crucial and often complex issues.

Yet, getting from ideas to action is often a breakdown point for leaders. I’m interested in the chain of relationships among people that allows work to get done. Getting things done requires having the right conversation at the right time, knowing how to make effective requests, knowing how to keep work going once it starts and knowing how to gather in the results of effort – not just the bottom line, but for each person who contributes in their particular way. It also involves letting go of methods and ideas that no longer serve.

All of it is about being human.

There are a lot of efforts these days to find some common ground on which communities and organizations can be built and sustained. We spend countless dollars and euros and pesos dealing with the effects of not having common ground, but finding it is really quite simple. The fact is we are all human. What a concept! That is our common ground and once we figure that out, we can get on with addressing the enormous challenges we have in communities and organizations across this tiny globe. This business of being human crosses all the boundaries of communities, countries, and organizations. Doctors, farmers, field workers, teachers, politicians, CEO’s – underneath all our situations and titles, we’re pretty much the same. Let’s get on with important work that honors all human beings.