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  • Lou Killeffer

Put Me in Coach! On becoming Your Best...

Executive coaching has always fascinated me: as a discipline, a deliverable, and a developmental tool for success in business. If everything comes down to people and leadership, which it obviously does, then coaching strikes me as critical.

Many of my most successful clients, and some of my least successful, are coached. Some are more self-aware then others, and some are more naturally talented than others, but they all share a sincere desire to improve. They all want to become better at what they're doing tomorrow than they are today. Individual motivation aside, that strikes me a rather noble. As does the profession of coaching itself which includes a fair number of my friends; including John deRegt.

John's been an executive coach for the past eight years. As founder and Principal of JDR Consulting, he helps senior executives improve their business outcomes through one-on-one executive coaching, acting as a sounding board, and through management team assessments.

John completed the comprehensive, and prestigious, Coaching Intensive Training Program at the Hudson Institute in 2010. He completed the Hudson Master Coach Program in 2014.

John comes to coaching naturally following his twenty-five year career in executive search. As a partner and practice lead at Spencer Stuart, Heidrick & Struggles, and Russell Reynolds, John led hundreds of top-level searches around the world where he repeatedly saw, and learned to recognize, the qualities that make the most successful executives more successful than their peers. Not bad training for a coach…

Here’s an enlightened conversation on the essence of executive coaching with one of America’s leading coaches:

Lou Killeffer: John, let’s begin at the beginning: just what is executive coaching?

John deRegt: Fundamentally, coaching is helping a person change a behavior. A person may be motivated to change a behavior in order to be happier or more effective. Coaching is not consulting, mentoring, or therapy.

Executive coaching is helping an executive become more effective by introducing a behavior that improves the executive’s professional relationships.

LK: Ok, so who needs coaching?

JdR: Coaching can be helpful to almost anyone, as long as they’re interested and engaged. Coaching only works when the person wants to make changes. Right at the heart of coaching are enhanced self-awareness and emotional intelligence, both of which are almost always beneficial - particularly at work.

Executives often benefit from coaching either in preparation for a promotion or immediately after being promoted, as they're adjusting to their new responsibilities and larger span of control.

LK: What makes an effective coach?

JdR: Effective coaches have been trained to apply a robust, scientifically rigorous methodology, and of course they’ve had sufficient coaching experience to know what to do, and how, and when, to do it.

Patience is essential, since helping adults change a long-standing aspect of their behavior takes time and great care.

I think the key differentiator among coaches is the ability to actually be present during conversations with the client. Skilled questioning also has a role as it allows the executive client to understand their issues and seek their own answers.

LK: What are the most common coaching issues you run across in your practice?

JdR: The most common issues I see are improving professional relationships, more effective time management and prioritizing, and enhancing one's influencing skills.

LK: John, what do you see as the key requisites for successful senior executives today?

JdR: There are really two essential attributes for senior executives to cultivate. The first is the ability to create, maintain, and enhance professional relationships.

The second is the ability to create and wield influence. In my experience, helping executives address and apply these two qualities has been the primary focus of my practice.

LK: This all sounds like a recipe for growth, easy to say but sometimes hard to do. How does a coach go about getting people to grow?

JdR: The key is helping the executive to understand the many ways growth is in their self-interest. There's a lot here of course. It's been said by smarter people than me that in life, one either grows or dies. The same is true in an executive’s career. Growth is key, and this is more than simply promotion. An executive may be in the same job for years and still find constructive paths to growth. Growth is essential to greater effectiveness, and lack of growth is the surest path to stalling professionally.

LK: Would you agree with management guru Warren Bennis that “A lot of executive coaching is really an acceptable form of psychotherapy. That while it’s still tough to say, ‘I’m going to see my therapist.’ It’s okay to say, ‘I’m getting counseling from my coach.’”?

JdR: (Smiles)Yes. I would agree to an extent. As I said, what I do isn’t therapy, and I’m clearly not a therapist, but rather a professionally trained and skilled coach that helps executives address what adjustments they can make to improve their performance.

And, yes, thankfully, what I do has no stigma whatsoever attached to it and shouldn’t. In fact, having a coach is increasingly a perk, offered to executives with significant potential.

LK: What are the demands you see on executives now, what’s changed in your view over the past twenty years or so?

JdR: The best executives in the current business environment are able to balance the two pressures of constant change and the maintenance of what works. The best combine detailed knowledge of their businesses with the ability to look outside, for opportunities and threats.

Complacency is the fast track to failure.

It isn’t news that over the past twenty years, the pace of change has dramatically increased, and new competition or the threat of disintermediation can come from anywhere, and often does!

LK: Last question: what’s not being taught in our business schools today that should be?

JdR: Great question! I think the answer might be stressing the importance of professional relationships. Lots of skills are taught, but to me, it's impossible to over- emphasize the importance of intentional, interpersonal skills.

I just spent three days last week coaching first year students at Tuck. I had fifteen one-hour sessions, and must say I was impressed that both leadership and self-awareness were being taught. And I'm quite sure Tuck doesn’t have a monopoly on this.

The future looks bright, at least from New Hampshire!

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