Inside Scoop: What Are Executives Really Doing in Executive Coaching? (Part 1 of 3)

How are executives really spending their time in coaching?

While there is plenty of evidence that executive coaching drives dramatic change and CoachSource clients generally believe in the value of executive coaching, the question often comes up as coaching assignments can be seen as a “black box” with little/no knowledge of what is actually happening.

CoachSource clients are regularly kept up to date on which high-level theme(s) their executives are working on (respecting confidentiality of course).

For the first time ever, we’re sharing that aggregated data. CoachSource analyzed over 2,200 executive coaching engagements across all our clients from 2023-2024.  Our CoachSource Qualified executive coaches, combined with CoachSource Cloud™ technology, reveal what senior leaders are working on in executive coaching engagements over this time (anonymously, of course).

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a deeper dive into the top 3 areas executives are seeking to grow through executive coaching (out of a possible 40 options). We encourage you to check back to see the final list once it is revealed.

The results may surprise you… While it is often believed executives need to improve their strategic thinking skills, business acumen, or growth related to their functional profession – the so-called “hard” skills, it is actually the “soft” skills where their growth needs lie.  (Should we say the soft skills are actually the hard skills then?)

Over its 18+ years in existence, CoachSource has come to be known for a particular talent in taking leaders with high functional expertise and developing them into exceptional people leaders. From our findings, we can extrapolate where leaders (and their managers) feel the need to grow to be more effective in their roles and advance in their careers.

Of the top 5 skills*, items 3 to 5 are:

Communication skills (7%)

Fostering Effective Teams (5%)

• Relationships & Networking (5%)

*Note – the same executive may be working on multiple areas of growth over the course of their engagement.

We’ve conferred with our CoachSource Qualified executive coaches, who specialize particularly in communication skills to shed more light on the subject:

Our Panel:

Cheryl Jordan, Georgia USA
Eun Kim, Texas USA
John Chilkotowsky, New York USA
Diane Bailey-Boulet, Louisville, KY

Let’s dive in deeper on our top 3:

What are Communication Skills?

Executive coaches generally view communication skills to include any written, verbal, nonverbal, interaction between 2 or more people.  Everything from the messaging, delivery, timing, frequency, body language, intercultural dynamics, tone – and including the receiver interpreted it as intended – can be included within the broader realm of communication skills.

While many in leadership feel they are communication clearly, one recent study showed that 91% of employees say their leaders lack communication skills showing a remarkable disconnect in perception.

There probably has never been a time when “communication skills” were not paramount to successful leadership.  It remains as important as ever.  “Communication is so much more than the seemingly straightforward exchange of information,” says Diane Bailey-Boulet. “It’s about thoughtfully cultivating and staging moments of influence.”

“Communication is everything— verbal and nonverbal,” adds Cheryl Jordan.  “Leaders must rely on their communication skills to manage, shape, shift and influence organizational change.”

Why do executives seek to grow in this area?

George Bernard Shaw famously said, “The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  With that context, Diane Bailey-Boulet adds, “Leaders are recognizing that their success depends on engaging others by creating buy-in, clarity, and action through words.”

Why are communication skills particularly important in 2024?

“Leaders have a lot to contend with in 2024,” says Cheryl Jordan.  “AI’s potential for disruption, massive layoffs, continuing to navigate a hybrid work environment, and more have created greater complexity for all leaders to work with,” adds John Chilkotowsky.  “Employees want to be visible (seen and heard) in a hybrid environment,” says Eun Kim.  Increased attention to inclusivity adds to this.  Continues Eun Kim, “Executives need to communicate in the ways that make ALL employees feel that each of them matters.”  “With fewer resources available, leaders must communicate in a way to ensure that their teams are all ‘rowing the same way’,” adds John Chilkotowsky.

What business problem(s) do enhanced communication skills solve?

Communication skills are the glue that get things done in an organization.  Everything from simple miscommunications (and the costly implications therein), employee engagement (ever worked for a boss who never said much?), conflict resolution, business development and customer interactions can be greatly impacted by an executive’s communication skills – with the resulting business impact for any of these areas as likely obvious for all.