Executive Coaching on the Next Level – Part 2/3

Apr, 7, 2020

2)  Deep Level of Contextual Understanding

There is this discussion in the coaching world of whether or not similar experience like the coachee matters or not. E.g., does someone who coaches CEOs need to have been in top management positions before? Or should a coach who coaches bankers have banking experience? Etc.

Our answer is “it depends”. It really depends on what the coaching objectives are about and whether having relevant experience would add value or could even be hindering.

To make an extreme point: could a professionally trained coach whose only professional experience was kindergardening coach a CEO of a Multinational Corporation? Technically, yes! However, there will be 3 potential issues:

  1. There is a high chance that s/he may not be selected (rightfully or not)
  2. This coach may lack certain valuable intuition related to the work of a CEO (more about that in Aspect 3)
  3. Most importantly, s/he will have difficulties to understand the context of the CEO

There is no value for the coachee (in fact it’s annoying) if the coach keeps asking “what do you mean by that?” “I don’t understand, can you explain more?” etc. Especially senior executives tend to operate in complex situations and have little patience for a coach struggling to understand what they’re talking about. If the coaching purpose has nothing much to do with the context (e.g. being coached on emotional intelligence), then a lack of contextual understanding wouldn’t matter much.

More importantly, even if the coachee is patient and explains the context to the coach, the coach might still miss important points to dig into as illustrated in the case I’ll share in the next aspect.

3)   Effective Use of Intuition

Janet was the Regional CEO for APAC of a European Pharma Distributor. In one of the sessions, I asked her at the very beginning: “What would you like to focus on today?” “I’d like to talk about the upcoming Annual Budget Meeting we’re going to have in Seoul in 6 weeks from now.”

At that point, apparently out of nowhere, I got the intuition that told me to ask her about the hotel she’s going to stay at in Seoul. When this intuition came up, I had no idea how that would make any sense, but also thought what would be the worst that could happen if I addressed it? I estimated the potential damage to be about 2-3 minutes time wasting on a meaningless hotel discussion. I thought it’s worth taking that risk, and so I asked.

“You know, last time when I went to Seoul, they put me up in this so-called 5-star hotel, but the rooms were small and most employees couldn’t speak proper English. So, this time, I decided I’ll stay at the Ritz Carlton!” she exclaimed. I noticed that Janet still felt a bit upset about the experience with the previous hotel.

Now I could have left it here and moved on. However, my own contextual background kicked in. I have attended and organized numerous budget meetings before, and I had an idea how these budget meetings usually run. Granted, it could be entirely different in Janet’s case, but no harm checking.

“So, who is coming to this budget meeting, Janet?”

“All APAC country heads, the regional functional heads and one person from the European headquarter.”

“Will all stay at the Ritz Carlton?”

“No, of course not, we can’t afford that. Only the guy from the headquarter and I will stay at the Ritz. The others will stay in a cheaper hotel”, Janet assured me.

“Tell me how you run your budget meetings, what are you usually doing?”

“Well, we first talk about the markets, then the sales and then the cost.”

“What about the cost?” I inquired.

“We usually cut the cost!”

“So how do people typically respond to that?” I wanted to know.

“Ah, they always complain that they don’t get enough resources and so on. But that’s part of the ‘game’.”

I thought it’s now time to put it all on the table: “I see, so you cut their cost, they’re unhappy about it, while you stay at the Ritz and the others in a cheaper hotel. What do you think how that will make them feel?”

There was a long pause before Martin responded. “Hmmm, never thought about that!”

“That’s what I’m here for. Look, you can make whatever choice you want. You have to deal with the consequences, not me. If you’re fine with the likely consequences of this choice, go ahead as planned. If you’d rather avoid that, we can discuss alternatives that would address your needs while avoiding these kinds of consequences – it’s totally up to you.”

Intuition can sometimes reveal unknown aspects and can also be a ‘game changer’. We know from research that intuition is not as random as it seems but actually be ‘learnt’, ie we can train our intuition in certain areas also. Great coaches use intuition in 3 different ways:

  1. 4th Degree Listening = Intuitive Listening (paying attention to your own intuition while fully listening to the coachee)
  2. Generating an intuition at any time at will 
  3. Helping coachees how to leverage intuition in decision making

4) Efficient and Effective Use of Methodologies Beyond Coaching

Anita was the recently promoted Regional HR Director of an Asset Management company. When I started coaching her, she was only 33 years old and moved up quickly into this senior role due to her smarts, hard work, innovative approach and excellent strategic thinking. However, she faced significant challenges with a number of her direct reports across the region who described her as ‘rough’, ‘arrogant’ and ‘impatient’. Besides, her boss, the CHRO also was concerned that she would burn out if she kept operating in the way she was.

While at first glance that looked like a typical case of lack of emotional intelligence, the assessment (we used Harrison Assessments for this case) confirmed what I was suspecting: she was highly self-critical but masked it with appearing over-confident.

Now we could use ‘regular’ coaching methodology to work on both her self-esteem and her emotional intelligence. However, over the years I realized that certain methodologies that are not coaching methodologies per se but are integrated into the coaching process, can accelerate the development in these areas, ie make the coaching more efficient and more effective. For example, we developed a process leveraging logic (which works particularly well with highly analytical people) to help the coachee develop self-esteem in a much faster way than through ‘plain’ coaching. The same is true for emotional self-management where integrating some ‘teaching’ on how emotions work can accelerate the development of emotional intelligence.

There are multiple other development areas where specific methodologies make coaching not only more effective but also more efficient.

To be continued…

Read in Part 3 about Fierce Courage to Challenge Appropriately, Resourcefulness & Breaking the ‘Rules’ of Coaching and the Ability to Bring the Best of YOU + one bonus aspect.


Charlie Lang
Charlie Lang
Founder and Chief Content Architect
Founder and Chief Content Architect – Charlie Lang is a C-Suite coach and a pioneer in the coaching industry in Asia Pacific.


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