The Bottom Line: Lonely at the Top?

by Ann Orton

Evan DavisWe were pleased to see Executive Coaching profiled in Evan Davis’ R4 programme The Bottom Line: Lonely at the Top? with Evan and his three guests:  two very senior clients Melanie Richards, vice-Chair KPMG, and Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group, along with a coach or self-described ‘trusted leadership advisor’, Jonathan Bowman Perks. They explored aspects of the power of coaching and mentoring, responding to Evan’s questions about value and process with enthusiasm, backed up by personal stories. There were thoughtful discussions about the client–coach/mentor relationship, the need for commitment, the power of perspective, the importance of having a peer relationship, development coaching rather than remedial ‘fixing’, and the value of the coach/mentor’s experience and know-how. It’s definitely worth listening to.

With more airtime we would have liked to have seen:

  • More discussion of the differences between coaching and mentoring. This issue was addressed briefly as ‘a coach has some great questions for your answers, and a mentor has some great answers for your questions’ but the conversation moved on. In our view there’s a significant difference in intent, process (as in the quote above) and in how information, experience, and business background are used by a coach or mentor. Alliance coaches have a wealth of business experience and learning, but we choose carefully how to draw on these to increase the coaching client’s range of options rather than to suggest a course of action. In part this supports a relationship of equals but also recognises that each individual and situation is different.
  • More on a fundamental tenet of coaching: that it’s about providing a safe space for the client to explore, reach conclusions about meeting their challenges, and learn to be at their best, drawing on their own experience and furthering their development. In the longer term, increasing self-awareness and recognising personal responsibility for action is more likely to promote continued effectiveness in whatever business role or aspect of life. Alliance coaches aim to help the client know and be their best selves, make themselves redundant, and build a base to return with a client when new and significant challenges arise and the client seeks an independent ear.
  • More on the uniqueness of a strong coach-client relationship which allows a level of in-the-moment interaction unusual among business colleagues (and therefore of particular value at senior levels). Here we would include: feedback on observed behaviour with discussion of its impact on the coach and potential impact in other relationships; articulation and exploration of hypotheses about what is happening and what might be the underlying issue or emotion; observation of subtle changes in energy and focus; observation and reflection on patterns or themes at play; challenge at a level often difficult upwards at the most senior levels in the work environment; exploration to tap into under-used senses; reinforcement of messages from in-company performance reviews, 360° feedback and preferences/profiling; experiments with the coach as partner. Alliance coaches draw on their coach training, a vast range of specific approaches and tools, and their personal/business backgrounds to serve as true non-judgemental partners to their clients.

It would be great to hear what others think so please post your comments here.