Does Executive Coaching Deliver Value?

Does Executive Coaching Deliver Value?

It is not advice, nor is it giving ‘Gyan’. 

You can sit on a horse and lead it to a destination, or you can nudge it with your legs, gently providing a steer, or you make the absolute choice that the horse knows where it wants to go.

What Executive Coaching Is…

Coaching is a process of moving the client forward. The Coach provides presence as a ‘container’ for what is moving within the client. It is a reflective space.

Its focus is on the future, to foster individual performance in a business context, and help Executives discover their own paths. 

What is involved in the process?

Executive Coaching offers a process of discovery, which by herself, the Coachee would find difficult to discover on her own. The focus is not just on What and the How to ensure transformation, but is primarily concerned with the Whom (the Coachee herself, and how she thinks, feels and acts). It is about causing a ‘breakthrough’ on building awareness. It supports recognizing patterns of behavior that spring from internal conditioning. It helps to surface inner desires that wish to be fulfilled. It is about re-socialization and re-calibration. More crucially, it is about ensuring self-empowerment for continued learning.  

Self-insight is one of the outcomes, but also being able to manage one’s reputation and respond to the Leadership imperatives of the times. The coaching outcome is a success when the behavior is embedded, rather than just a temporary change, that slips back after a while.  

What it is Not….

It is not being paid to come up with answers, for that is Consulting. It does not focus on ‘healing’ of the past, for that is Counselling or Therapy. It is not about ‘learning the ropes’ and being encouraged, for that is Mentorship.

Where is its best use?

It is Not useful:

  • To train on a skill
  • To educate on new knowledge
  • To solve organisation’s challenges

Where experience, business context and knowledge is not at a discount, but it is to offer enhancing leadership through self-reflexivity and enhanced perspective that Coaching is most useful.

Executive Coaching is a powerful tool to support leaders who have been identified for taking on enhanced leadership roles. 

What are the various stages of Coaching?

Post the initial ‘chemistry’ call, the Coach and Coachee work together to determine the Coaching Goals, expectations from stakeholders and uncover data to discover the Coachee’s own perception of Self and through the eyes of others. Usually, the second half of Coaching sessions focus on Implementation plans, and its review. Usually, a coaching assignment could be for a period of 6 – 8 months. 

Who is better – an Internal or External Coach?

Some organizations have a panel of dedicated Coaches, while most use the Leader as a Coach. All leaders should be trained in Executive Coaching, as one of the many skills. In my experience, internal coaches are not as effective as external coaches as they may have Respect, but may not have the trust of the Coachee. This is because the leader is ‘part of the family’, may not be creditable, and may lack time, and they are perceived as influencers who exercise judgment on their careers. For these reasons, Leaders would serve better as Mentors rather than Coaches. 

There are downsides to External Coaches as well – to integrate them well into the larger eco-system, ensure ‘Coach-Coachee’ Chemistry is good and often on account of Confidentiality clause, one is not able to get a deeper picture of what is happening in the journey. 

Who is preferred as a Coach? 

A few research indicate that a Coach is usually selected on the basis of rapport, Experience and Skills, Business Experience, and especially experience in specific Leadership challenges faced by the Coachee. Surprisingly, certification not a top priority at present. In my experience, a ‘good’ client is one who is ready. When the coachee is ready the ‘master’ appears. The role of the coach is to create conditions for the Coachee to succeed. 

Has Coaching Delivered Value?

Coaching is still in a nascent stage in India. Increasingly, more organizations are using external coaches to support Leadership Development, which is a positive trend. 

There is evidence from organizations that clear financial ROI is not evident as yet (difficulty in measuring outcomes, time to see results, etc.) yet they persist to sponsor Executive Coaching as they do see ‘non-financial’ benefits accrue. Organizations recognize that there is much work to be done on their overall talent management framework as well, as also in building a coaching enabling culture. Merely, looking at how many HIPO’s (high potentials) went on to getting promoted may not indicate a measure, as many of those who were sponsored for coaching were on the talent pipeline for promotion in the first place. 

From the Coach’s perspective, she tends to be largely concerned with the Coachee. The alignment to Business Objectives is sought for in most cases. The external coach has lesser influence on internal policies of ‘talent management and culture’ and focusses on areas in which she has a line of control and direct influence – the Coachee.

The popular criticisms

The jury is out. For some, there is still no clear evidence that Executive Coaching has clearly demonstrated Business Productivity nor clear return on investment. However, they continue to be supported on account of the non-financial benefits seen. 


We may unconsciously be falling in the trap to assess ‘coaching’ results through the lens of ROI. The real benefits of coaching come from a transformation in the ‘ways of working’ and changes in culture. How does one quantify the success of a mother bringing up a child or the contribution of a housewife? Yet, we all recognize their contribution. Nadella who replaced Balmer at Microsoft is a clear example of changing the ‘culture’ of the place. The ‘softer’ aspects of the workplace are harder to change and EC strikes at this. 

Change takes time – the focus is on the Coachee being the best version of himself. Organizations would do well to have realistic expectations from the EC engagement rather than unrealistic expectations. More importantly, they should be actively engaged with the overall process, rather than abdicate it to Coaches.