Over the past couple of years, I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a few different group coaching efforts. A Chief Executive peer support group with @Vistage. An Action Learning Group for the Bay Area OD Network. (Read The Power of Action Learning for more about this extraordinary multi-year group experience in particular.) And now, a variety of others coaching mid-level leadership of our organizational clients. Through all of these experiences, I’ve come to believe that group coaching may in fact be better than more traditional one-on-one executive coaching!
This approach of peer support combined with fundamental group facilitation practices has become a very effective way to coach individual leaders. The traditional one-on-one model regularly puts the role of “expert” on to the executive coach. While external executive coaches may offer great insights and be able to get their clients to think out of the box and try new leadership approaches, there is much that an external coach cannot and never will be able to do.
External coaches do not live day in and day out within their clients’ organizations. By design, we simply come and go just as your personal trainer might help you work out at the gym but does not follow you around all day to make sure you don’t eat that bag of chips or grab an extra cookie! In addition, executive coaches are not peers to the leaders being coached. Again, we live outside of the organization and therefore have very different rather than like perspectives. In essence, coaches can serve as “guides” for anyone taking the leadership journey. We are not, however, the only signposts to observe along the way.
When asked recently about the greatest benefits of group coaching, a group of high-potential leaders shared the following about the tremendous value they gained from their experience:
- “I’m not the only one!” – Leaders gained great confidence in hearing the commonality of challenges from others in the group and from recognizing that they were not the only ones facing those seemingly insurmountable issues. Ultimately, the different perspectives shared by others actually walking in their shoes were comforting and reassuring.
- “Productive and purposeful venting” – Participants felt empowered to “vent” about their real-life challenges because of the safe environment we created and maybe more specifically because it served as a foundation to define explicit strategies to address those basic leadership issues. When openly sharing like this, they simply received empathetic support from the group, not complaints or critical feedback.
- Whole new network of peers for support – These leaders not only benefitted from the contributions of their peers during the group coaching sessions but also outside of our structured meetings. They literally developed a new network of professional colleagues from across the business and regularly contacted these individuals for support whenever they needed it.
An external executive coach cannot create this rich experience by coaching only one leader at a time. If nothing else, he or she cannot convey “You’re not the only one!” as convincingly as one’s peers.
Now please don’t read this and think that I am condemning more conventional executive coaching practices. There definitely are situations when coaching must be individually offered and tailored, most notably if it is for corrective versus developmental reasons. I’m simply offering 1. that there is tremendous power in the group and 2. that great value can be experienced from that group when facilitated successfully. That is no small feat though! One of my good friends and professional colleagues used to call it “D.I.R.T.” – Design in Real-Time – and if you aren’t willing to roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty, you may not be able to facilitate a group like this to such positive outcomes.
So the next time you see a leader in your organization who could use a little coaching, look a little harder. I’m guessing you’ll find another few facing similar opportunities and challenges. And wouldn’t you rather invest that same 10 to 20 to even 30 thousand dollars coaching a group of 10 to 15 people rather than spend it on just one individual?
Have a group of Next-Generation leaders in your organization you want to really shine? Check out the Executive Coaching page of our website for more information on how we work with high-potential leaders to help them develop the skills they need to succeed in their current and higher-level roles. Launching a group coaching program may just be the best investment you’ve ever made in your organization, and especially your leaders!