Many senior executives use a coach to help them create change in themselves.  It may be to improve their leadership skills or perhaps drop ineffective behaviours.  However, while some claim to want to change they then fight like mad to defend the status quo. Irrespective of how intelligent or professionally powerful a person is, it is a virtual certainty that after embarking on a change process, they will be partially or fully derailed by themselves.

The reason why it’s common for people go back on their commitments to change is because most change is the result of compliance to a demand, incentive, or threat. Think of the doctor who tells their patient ‘lose weight and stop smoking or you’ll suffer a heart attack’.  Very few people will ignore this advice but when incentivized to change in this manner backsliding is common because our motivation wasn’t to change, it was to avoid something threatening, i.e. a premature death.

Many psychologists such as Edward Deci have studied intrinsic and extrinsic motivation over the past 40 years and their research demonstrates that when a person acts in response to extrinsic motivators — the promise of money; the threat of punishment — commitment to a behaviour is short-lived.

So if an executive thinks they want to change is it possible for a coach to support them to develop an authentic commitment to change?

The answer is yes, but what the coach needs to do is to is to help the executive to develop the right ‘mindset’ that will help them counter their own resistance to change.

What follows are a few pointers to coaches develop the best ‘mindset’ possible.

What’s in it for them?  It’s vital to help the senior executive to first recognise and fully understand what’s in it for them.  What will they gain personally from changing and doing things differently?  If it’s simply in response to an extrinsic motivator them commitment to the new behaviour will be short lived.  Understanding how they will benefit will also help the executive to frame any tough feedback they receive from their coach and others.  Helping the executive to frame feedback in terms of ‘how will this benefit me?’, will enable them to control any emotional reaction they may have to it.

Don’t be a cheerleader.  Some coaches can treat their clients the way that junior sports coaches deal with their young protégés.  Everything they do evokes a “great job” or “well done!”

The problem with an automatic “good job” reaction is that it is useless and often seen for what it is – a balm for under-developed egos. A senior executive would much rather hear a key insight into how to improve their performance.  An ethical coach doesn’t bring pom-poms to meetings with their clients!

Help them learn difference between participation and commitment.  Acting the role of a ‘participant’ in a change process is not the same as being committed to actually changing yourself. Many people claim to be involved in a change process when, in fact, they are holding their true selves in abeyance.

Coaching cannot change anyone one iota unless or until they are really committed — until they have ‘skin’ in the game. There’s a huge difference between participating in change   and being truly committed to

Since no one will change unless they really want to and nothing, not even the highest-priced coach or public declarations about their intention to change will help them to succeed.  Therefore as a coach it’s vital to help the executive to learn how to thwart their worst tendencies in advance of tackling change.

Walt Kelly, the cartoonist created a poster for Earth Day in 1970 using his cartoon character Pogo. In the poster, Pogo is seen holding a litter pick-up stick and a bag under the quote ‘We have met the enemy and he is us’.  If you accept this fact of life, coaching executives to help them change will become much easier.

Executives and Senior Managers in every sector face complexity and change at an increasingly rapid rate. Our executive coaching and senior management coaching programmes provide a focused and effective way to help your Executives and Senior Managers meet the specific challenges they face, and deliver a significant shift in their own performance.

Our coaches have the unique ability to quickly understand the needs of your Executives and Senior managers and build trusting coaching relationships that rapidly deliver measurable benefits to both them and the business. We will help them to give their best and unlock their potential to maximise their own performance.

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