There’s a lot of buzz lately in many industries, including tech, around executive coaching, but there is also a lot of confusion around the topic. Who is executive coaching for? How is it different from therapy? How expensive is it really? To help answer these questions and more, we’ve asked a few experts on the topic, from coaches themselves to CEOs who are believers in the practice.
Answers were graciously contributed by the following experts:
Robyn Ward is a 20-year veteran of the technology startup space, and is currently CEO of FounderForward, a startup consultancy and founder coaching business. She has served on early leadership teams at five venture-backed companies, including Docstoc, which was acquired by Intuit. For more info about founder coaching with Robyn, check out her website or email her directly.
Justin Doyle helps high achieving professionals Level Up. Level Up means getting promoted, winning more business, or changing perceptions at work that prevent an employee from getting the job they deserve. As a career advancement expert, he helps his clients see what they can’t see, take a new approach and get what they want. Click here to learn more or email him.
Vladimir Vukicevic is the Co-Founder and CEO of Meural, the art technology company that democratizes art through the Meural Canvas, a digitally connected canvas built to showcase artwork and photography. Time Magazine hailed Meural’s technology as “so realistic, you want to reach out and touch the brush strokes.”
Q: Is “executive coaching” only for executives?
A: (Robyn Ward, Founder Coach) Coaching is for anyone looking for a thought and accountability partner to help them grow and achieve their goals. There are many flavors of coaching, including coaching that helps employees develop into executives and coaching that helps executives refine their skills and become the best leaders they can be. I refer to myself as a Founder Coach, as that is my specialty, but I also coach other executives of startup leadership teams.
Q: How does it work?
A: (Justin Doyle, Executive Coach) You’ve always been successful; however, you are currently facing a problem that you can’t seem to crack. I am your guide, to help you see the path from from where you are to where you want to go. We start by addressing your frustration head on, and then through Socratic questioning, I help you discover the root of your problem. As you get clear on why you’ve been stuck, you can choose a new approach that gets you the outcome you want. Our collaboration is highly interactive, and it’s both intellectually and emotionally engaging as we create more success for you.
“The greatest benefit came from the gradual realization that emotion — i.e. the internal rollercoaster — is inseparable from leadership and external results.”
Q: Can you give me some examples of topics that clients like to tackle?
A: (Robyn Ward, Founder Coach) Communication is a hot topic that I work with across all my clients. That includes how to give and receive feedback and how to best communicate in challenging situations or with challenging personalities (from employees to investors to partners). One other core topic I work on with every client is energy management (a.k.a. the new time management). Between email, app notifications and meetings, most founders are playing defense all day long. I work with them to regain control of their schedule and get them back playing offense.
Q: This sounds a lot like therapy. Is this just therapy with a different name?A: (Justin Doyle, Executive Coach) No. Think about coaching on the spectrum between consulting and therapy. Consultants are experts who tell you the best way to do something. Therapists help you explore your conscious and unconscious feelings. Coaching is a collaborative effort between the client and the coach: based on what the client wants, we tap into our collective expertise as we work together to create the result you want. Depending on the client’s goals, things can also get pretty real when it comes to our conversations around feelings, fears and human emotions. Coaching results in forward motion and change — you won’t stay stuck.
Q: How has coaching changed how you show up to work mentally and emotionally? How has it changed your leadership?
A: (Vladimir Vukicevic, Meural CEO) Executive coaching is like exercise — it rarely leads to immediate performance improvements, instead it creates a gradual increase in overall mental and emotional capacity for leadership. Coaching exercises a unique leadership muscle, so it requires time and persistence. But as the muscle strengthens, the positive impact begins to magnify and a snowball effect takes shape within myself and my organization.
Q: What’s the greatest benefit you took away from the experience?
A: (Vladimir Vukicevic, Meural CEO) The greatest benefit came from the gradual realization that emotion — i.e. the internal rollercoaster — is inseparable from leadership and external results. This gave me a lot of power to properly assess and address various challenges.
Q: Can I afford it?
A: (Robyn Ward, Founder Coach) I come from the startup world (20 years!) so I understand that most Seed stage founders think of coaching as an expense they should not take on. One thing I have done to help alleviate some of the stress around this is to implement a subscription/SaaS-type model, where clients pay me monthly instead of one or two lump sums. What I try to reiterate to early-stage founders is that even incremental changes to behaviors and skills can have an exponential impact on their life and the success of their business. In that context, coaching starts to register as not just very affordable, but also very imperative. Lastly, I will say I am seeing more and more Venture Firms (Kudos Corigin!) encourage coaching, which takes some of the worry away from founders about incurring it as an expense.
A: (Justin Doyle, Executive Coach) Yes, and the first session is free. Clients who engage a coach see tremendous value in the change we are working towards. If you are having trouble with something or getting negative feedback today, it’s unlikely it will go away on its own. A great coach can help you get back on track to achieving what you deserve. If something’s been nagging you for a few months, or even a few years, I encourage you to book an initial session with a coach to explore what’s possible.
Q: Was it worth the time and money? Would you do it again?
A: (Vladimir Vukicevic, Meural CEO) Definitely. There is so much constant pressure as a leader, that any meaningful support becomes quite valuable.