Case Study: Internal coaching led by senior leadership team

I just returned from an invigorating week with senior leaders at a global corporation. They are implementing a leadership institute and brought some of their country general managers together to learn how to be coaches and mentors. The experience showed the power of learning to coach, coaching at the senior level, and being coached all at the same time. Let me share with you a scrubbed version of the results, which is representative of what usually transpires events like this, so that you can see what happens when you get into the field of executive and leadership coaching. It is an important case study, because it shows what coaching can accomplish in complex organizations.

As always, at this training session, we structured the program — as we also do at our public seminars — so that participants practiced coaching on key topics relevant to their work. That way, as they practiced coaching, they also had insights about pressing challenges in their own work. During the program, they discovered:

Key ways that they could be better as leaders. Even at the senior level, they identified simple but powerful ways they could improve their impact. We make sure that examples are simple and behavioral, like: listen better, give more positive feedback, be more concise, let your team say what they have to say before you talk.

– How to improve performance and engagement on their own teams. While coaching each other, they challenged each other to look at relationships on their own teams and how they could raise standards and better engage their own team members. We take a deep dive here, so that participants focus on their key team members and specific conversations to have with each one to improve performance.

Opportunities to reduce conflict and collaborate better with other units in the company. In most complex global corporations, leaders often have to collaborate with other units, from administrative to manufacturing, sales, and marketing. It is common for participants to coach each other about how to influence the heads of these divisions to change some of their behaviors, about how to resolve some festering conflicts with these other units, and about how to strengthen relationships that are already strong and productive.

New skills to coach and mentor their high-potential employees. While initially the participants were skeptical about this coach training program initially, they quickly realized that they either didn’t know how to coach and mentor effectively, or that they at least needed a reminder. For instance, many didn’t know how to have the foundational coaching conversations; set up a coaching relationship; and distinguish among coaching, management, and mentoring. They were very happy to learn, or get a refresher on, these skills and know when to apply them and, as managers/leaders, when to use other types of conversations as appropriate.

Discussion of cultural differences. We had leaders representing countries from all over the world. It was therefore important to discuss cultural differences. While 80 percent of what we covered applies to every culture, the 20 percent variance was fascinating and crucial to discuss. The bottom line is that it is not especially difficult to adapt coaching to different cultures, as long as the leader/coach has a good understanding of the local culture, knows the foundational coaching skills, and has a forum like this one to compare notes and have a dialogue.

How to roll out the coaching program. What’s really exciting about this particular opportunity is that the senior leaders are rolling out the coaching program, they are also serving as coaches within it, and they are taking a comprehensive approach that includes not just coaching but a full-on leadership institute. There are many ways to roll out coaching programs within organizations, and I like this particular model the best, because leadership has skin in the game and they are being comprehensive. These leaders are still general managers, and are also becoming coaches who will work directly with the high-potential employees. In addition, they are incorporating coaching into a larger plan that includes fully challenging and developing future leaders in the organization. Part of our agenda in these types of trainings with internal groups is to lay out a clear action plan, starting with how to select candidates; communicate and promote the program; track and measure results throughout; and — where desired, as in this case — take a comprehensive approach that includes coaching, mentoring, training, career paths, performance management, and a year-long leadership academy experience.

I felt privileged to be able to work with this group of leaders. To win this engagement, the Center for Executive Coaching competed against and beat some high-profile companies. We won partly because of our toolkit of methodologies, and also because of our ability to be agile and flexible on the spot, which is what is required when working with highly-demanding, super-smart, intense senior leaders in dynamic companies.

Of course, we also work with companies when internal coaches are being trained and they work within the Human Resources function, and when a hybrid approach includes senior leaders, HR, and external coaches.

To discuss your internal coaching initiative, please contact us at anytime. You can reach Andrew Neitlich, Director, at or 941-539-9623.

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