Executives with strong egos also need coaching, but not everybody is coachable
Coaching strong executives is a challenge and I like it, says one of the best known executive coaches, Marcia Reynolds. For this reason executives with strong egos often find their way to her, but she would not be interested in coaching someone like Donald Trump for example. On behalf of Äripäev, journalist and long time translator Katre Scott-Hopkins set out to inquire how one of the top coaches in the world works with executives.

Dr Marcia Reynolds has trained executives and coaches in more that 40 countries and has served as president of the International Coach Federation, the largest organisation connecting professional coaches. On May 25th Marcia Reynolds will be speaking at Äripäev's Leadership Conference "Coaching 2021 Turning Point".
Marcia Reynolds
How would you define coaching for a layperson?

There's the process and the purpose of coaching. The process of coaching is that I'm partnering with you to think more broadly about a situation, or your life, and you can do on your own. I'm your thinking partner. I'm going to reflect and question what you're saying. So, you can actually look at your stories and what you're saying, which will help you to see more. And the purpose of coaching… it actually works on the brain so much better than when I tell you what to do. Which is just short- term memory and as such, very passive. But when I coach you, I activate your brain and there is a chance of rewiring it. And so, if you learn something, you learn it forever. Therefore, coaching is far more effective than advising and giving feedback and telling people what you think.

So, you're using a set of methods?

I don't like to call them methods, practices is a better term, because otherwise it sounds as if I'm manipulating you. Which I'm not. I'm not even trying to get you to do anything. I'm just helping you think differently. So, there is a little bit of structure because I need to know where we're going. So, I'm going to help you clarify what you really want, instead of what you have to. At the end I'm going to ask you what you're going to do with it, what steps you're going to take, to make sure there's a commitment to progress. Between those bookends, there's just a flow. I will use reflective summarizing, rephrasing, encapsulating key points of your emotional shifts, and I'll ask you questions about that to help you see yourself in a way you can't see yourself when you're on your own.

The gentleness of your approach really reminds me of psychotherapy. Is coaching a neutral name for psychotherapy?

No, absolutely not! In fact, it's in my ethical code not to do therapy. I liked that you said there's a sense of gentleness in listening and understanding. That would be the similarity. But I am not interested in your past. I'm only interested how you're holding right now and how is it keeping you from getting what you want right now. So, if you tell me that you're afraid of what might happen, I'm not going to ask you, how often has this fear showed up in your life. I don't care where it came from! Because it is not relevant to you being a fully functioning adult that is holding on to a story. Within the story there are beliefs and assumptions and some complexes that are keeping you stuck, right here right now. So, there may be some overlap, like with limiting beliefs, with some of the therapies, but it's definitely not therapy.

How widespread is organizational coaching among global business circles today?

It's the fastest growing area in coaching in the world. Right now, the ICF has over 40,000 coaches all over the world. Other than in the US, most of those people are business, corporate and organizational coaches. We have more life coaches here in the USA – I think more than anywhere else – and in China. China has a lot of life coaches.

China? That's surprising…

Oh, thousands of people! But more and more global corporations are asking me not just for a couple of hours of training for their leaders to have coaching skills. So, it's not just coaches. Companies are saying, we need all of our leaders to change their conversations, to use a coaching approach. And it's multiple days! They know that to change the mind as well as teach the skills, it takes more than that. So, I am overwhelmed with work. I only do organizational work. I coach companies and teach coaching skills and I think the pandemic has accelerated the rate.

Does that mean that there are also many unaccredited coaches around since everybody wants to make money? Could this unaccredited lot bring down the reputation of coaching?

With life coaching they don't ask as much, but I find with businesses, especially with large corporations, they always want to know where you were trained and what level certification you own. Whether it's ICF, or in Europe I think it's EMCC, and there are also other certifications. ICF has done a fabulous job of marketing and many companies around the world know that when you hire an ICF coach, they have to have had some very specific coach training to even become a member. Even though I have a Doctoral Degree it's the certification that they're looking for. I'm not worried about all the people out there.
"I am not interested in your past. I'm only interested how you're holding right now and how is it keeping you from getting what you want right now."

When executives are presented with an option of using the services of a coach, they say, well, I don't need one, I can think straight myself. Executives are mature personalities, often very charismatic and opinionated, so my question to you, Marcia, is, can you coach everybody? Are there some types who are uncoachable?

Your question is multiple. First, I wouldn't want to coach everybody. I have a very distinct client profile that I really like to coach. I like those tough executives, I'm well-known for being able to coach them. So, often the companies come to me when they've got someone they feel has a strong ego. That they think they can do for themselves just depends on the results they're getting, not on what they think they can do. If things are shifting and cultures are changing and results are dipping, then often they will agree and seek coaching. If the person comes to me and absolutely does not want a coach and is not willing to have a conversation – no, they are not coachable. There are levels of coachability. If they're just concerned and testing you, that's OK. But if they were told they had to have coaching and they don't want it, then that's not OK. Then I reflect it and say, OK clearly you don't want to be here, and you do not see value. Even if we were to define the goals that were valuable to you, you still don't want it, so I'm not going to waste your time, or your money and my time.

How would you, Marcia, refute this argument that coaching is yet another fashion trend or a way to rake in. What's the difference between a mentor, a consultant and a coach?

If you go to the ICF website and look under Research, there are quite a few industry documents. Coaching's been around long enough now, 25 years, and has been researched enough.

We recently heard the news that Prince Harry got a new job in a coaching firm.

Yes, I know, that's fabulous!

That's an interesting choice. Are you familiar with the platform of BetterUp?

BetterUp is primarily for personal coaching and a lot of companies buy it for not their highest level, but middle-managers and new managers. For one thing, if they want a lot of people to be coached but don't have the budget for me (laughs). So BetterUp offers some really good options for companies to bring coaching to the middle and frontline leaders, as well as for the people looking for personal coaching. So, I think it totally complements what the rest of us are doing and I love that he is out there saying how powerful coaching is. He's a great spokesperson for coaching.

I hope so, for his own sake. Because he's been through thick and thin recently. I hope he won't just be a PR face but that he will add some substance to coaching as well.

Have his own coach (laughs)!

Indeed! Marcia, could you bring one example of your work in a business organization. How would you support a leader? What does your process look like?

Again, you're stacking your questions! An example of what I do to support leaders is different from the overall process. So, which one do you want me to give you first?

Could you begin by telling how you work with a business organization?

I just want to say that's something I'm always listening in coaches that they don't stack questions, so that's why I responded to you that way. I just did some mentoring and the guy kept stacking questions. You're only going to answer the last one!

I have a typical process and if you look on my website called visioning.com and look under coaching you'll see it in writing. But to give you an idea, I first meet with the client. Usually, companies give their leaders a couple of coaches to interview and then they choose. So, when they choose me, we have an initial conversation about what they think their goals are. And then we meet with their boss, just to clarify, if there are any other goals that the manager might think would be good to change – they usually don't. Then I do a 360 live interview, where I interview direct reports, peers, and the leader again, in private. To get a sense of the person's leadership style, effectiveness, and what they would like to see the person do more of. I summarize that and then we compare it to the goals they have and then we maybe alter the goals before we really dive into coaching. So, we have a clear destination where we're going. Some days they will come to the call and say, yeah, I know we had the goals, but this has come up and I really want to focus on this. And that's OK. We don't review the goals each time. We only review the goals in maybe every 6 weeks. Usually, the coaching is 6 to 9 months.

But oftentimes with my leaders, getting back to an example, it's not about what they're doing, it's about how they see themselves as a leader. They will change their behaviour if they change their definition of leadership. By telling just to do things differently they will not do it. When I'm with especially strong egos, that are being bossy or not connecting with people, I'll ask them, how would you define leadership? How would the people who work with you define it? You know, where's the complex. Are you willing to expand your definition of leadership in order to connect with these people better? And that can take many sessions to look at who they really are.

Or sometimes they move up the ladder really fast but are not delegating. Like, OK, let's look at who are you as a leader and what are your responsibilities now? So, we look at definition, responsibility… and it's really about who the person is. And if you can expand that, they will change their behaviour on their own.

How old are your average leaders? Are they middle-aged, or younger people?

You know that's an interesting question. In my early years they tended to be a little bit older, at least in their forties or fifties, having reached that certain level… But I'm getting more and more younger leaders now who are being promoted quickly and really don't know how to handle the new position. So yes, they seem to have got younger, more in their thirties and forties these days. I think it's just the evolution of workplace and what people want from their leaders, which tends to be a little bit different from the old style. And that's my assumption, my observation. There are companies that struggle as a result of the pandemic and then there are those that do really well, because the pandemic has accelerated their business so much that they are overwhelmed, and they have to promote more people quickly. And I'm getting a lot of those. Everything from a liqueur company to a syringe company for the vaccinations to software companies – business is booming for them!

Are there any countries that don't really do coaching? You said in China it's very popular, in the US – very popular, you mentioned Russia. But are there still some white spots on the map?

I can't give you that specific answer since it's growing so much. It was slow to grow in Africa, but even now I'm getting more and more requests because my coaching schools are in Africa. I would say it's more about the fee they're able to pay. Like in India it's really growing but the fees are lower. In Asia, though, every country has embraced it. I'm thinking it's not that common in most South-American countries, but it probably has to do with their economy. If they're struggling, then they may not want to pay for coaching even though that's when they most need it.

How have more patriarchal societies, like Japan, embraced coaching?

OMG I'm mentoring senior coaches there now! They embraced coaching early on. They had one of the first coaching schools coaching international ICF chapters. They embraced coaching 20 years ago. More than that, actually. I spoke in Japan a long time ago, in 2001.

Being a woman coach among all these elderly Japanese managers wasn't tricky 20 years ago?

I did not coach them. I taught their coaches. But I have to say I'm mentoring senior coaches right now and there're quite a few women that are coaching male executives. So, I don't think that that has lasted as a problem. I think that's a stereotype. We're not managing them, we're coaching them and there is a difference.

But what if you encounter somebody like Donald Trump…

He's uncoachable. Coming back to your question about therapy, a clinical narcissist would be very difficult to coach. We have clear guidelines and the ICF has that as well, on what issues and what shows up in coaching that would be a therapy issue and we're not to touch it. Now, I have a Doctor's Degree in Psychology, so I know right away when something is not a coaching issue, or this is not a coaching situation. I've actually had clients seeing a therapist while they get coaching. I will say, there's something that sounds really embedded and I don't think we can dig it out with coaching, I think you might want to get some therapy on that. I've got a client who said, you're absolutely right, I am getting therapy on that.

How necessary is it to have a degree in psychology to do coaching?

It isn't. I got it for other reasons. But I have to say that's here in the US. Whereas in China it's a little different. In countries that don't honour therapy or going to a therapist, going to a coach is fine. Going to a therapist is not, because of the name. Then you get some people in coaching that are coming for things that are not coachable. That's a delicate situation when you face that. Even the students I've had, sometimes they come to coach training because they need therapy. They need something and I have to really monitor that and make sure that their needs are not getting in the way of what we're teaching.

How do you relax? How do you let it all go and rest your brain, Marcia?

My brain? I hike. I live near the mountains and I put on my hiking boots and go out to the desert.
"Donald Trump is uncoachable."

Fantastic! And my last question: What has changed in coaching over the 30-40 years that you've been involved with it?

I've only been coaching 25 years – it really came out then. But I've been a trainer, corporate leadership trainer for 40 years – that's different. When I found coaching, it was like, oh, OK … this is what I've been missing! How it has changed is that mostly we understand it better. What I teach now is far more powerful than what I was teaching twenty years ago, when we were just figuring it out – this seems to work – but not knowing why. Now I know why. What works and why. And we're starting to go deeper into presence and listening and how powerful energy between people makes the difference, not just the words we choose to use, and the skills. So, I teach a class and I'm starting a new class called "From Proficiency to Profound". Now that you are proficient in your skills, how can you go more profoundly in your fact. And it has to do with who I am as a coach and the energy I bring and really picking up from the person, more than what they say. And there is really power in that. We're really just starting to come to the tip of the iceberg, and what that is. I call it the collective wisdom that we bring forth.

That's beautiful. It was a real pleasure, Marcia, to have been able to talk to you. Thank you very much.

Thank you for putting up with my chaotic energy! This was a really good interview, thank you.

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