How can you develop your leaders with executive coaching?

Written by
Mary Pratt

08 Nov 2016

08 Nov 2016 • by Mary Pratt

Executive coaching can be a powerful contributor to help you address organisational change and talent development goals in your business, using real-life challenges to develop your leaders. Mary Pratt speaks to renowned coach, Frank Wagner, and CEO of business services company Tanfeeth, Suhail Bin Tarraf, to find out their perspectives.

Quite often, organisations see executive coaching and day-to-day coaching as fixed means to a specific end. Sometimes they are viewed as a way to tackle ‘difficult’ leaders, as a support for weaker ones, or indeed to address a ‘problem’ that goes way beyond one person.

However, I believe that coaching should become a way of life within an organisation in all job families with direct leadership and championing from HR and all senior management, not just handballing to a third party as a project only for handpicked individuals.

One line that has stuck with me throughout my career is that ‘people are not made perfect’. Just because your new talent director can boast an array of successes from their previous business doesn’t mean that they’ll be successful in your business. Too often I have heard the words “they are not right for us” and my question has always been “have you coached them?” Most of the time, the answer is “no”.

Coaching not only helps the individual, but also the organisation itself, but ensuring you can measure the coaching success is critical to demonstrate true ROI. With this approach, the right executive coach can become not only a catalyst for personal change and growth, where learning is more fluid and organic than textbook solutions, but also a great support for the wider business in understanding how to work together for the best collective outcome.

The coach perspective

Frank Wagner is a leadership/behaviour coach who executes the principles and practices of Marshall Goldsmith, recognised as the top authority in this branch of coaching worldwide. Marshall and Frank go way back to the time they attained PhDs together at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Marshall also entrusted Frank to design and oversee the training of coaches in the Stakeholder Centred Coaching methodology he uses with top leaders.

He says: “When you look back in history, coaching is certainly not something new. The role of a coach has a long tradition. What’s new is the breadth of coaching taking place today and the expected growth in the future. In the field of executive and leadership coaching, interest is high globally. Given HR’s role in attracting and developing talent, the appropriate use of coaches is one practice that can help brand the organisation and speed up the development of talent.

“The first question to ask is what type of coach is needed? Most of the best coaches are specialists – they do not do everything. For instance, Marshall Goldsmith is recognised around the world as the top leadership coach; my expertise is in leadership behaviour. My background and experience equips me to help leaders achieve a positive, long-term improvement in a behaviour. If the need is something other than behaviour, I am unqualified to help. The good news is there are other types of coaches far better equipped to help serve the need.

“Once the qualifications for a coach are clear, the selection of the right person is not as simple a decision as you might think. A simplistic approach is to have the leader interview coaches to find the one that has the right ‘chemistry’ with the leader. This is often useful as having a high level of trust between a leader and a coach is beneficial to the process of working to improve a leader’s skill set. Yet often a coach with the right chemistry is not the best one for the leader.

“Generally, coaching should include at least three fundamental components. First, a clear, desired end result or goal for the coaching engagement. What is the outcome expected from this coaching? Second, the coach should be qualified to assist the leader in working towards this specific objective. Is this the right coach that will increase the likelihood of success? Thirdly, there should be a way to measure the results. Was there a successful conclusion based on the time, energy and expense? As long as these three criteria are met, coaching will likely add value to both the leader and the organisation.

“When considering the start and end of a coaching engagement, the setting of the goal and the gathering of evidence that the goal was achieved, it is sometimes the case that the best coach is not the one who has the ‘best chemistry’ with the person who needs a coach. But sometimes it is. The HR function that adds value is one that acts accountable to the effective use of coaching and has documented evidence that the investment in coaching is paying for itself in the short-term and continues to earn dividends in the long-term.

The CEO perspective

Suhail Bin Tarraf leads a 2,000-strong team at Tanfeeth, which includes an executive committee comprising industry leaders. He is responsible for delivering Tanfeeth’s strategic plan and managing all of its operations to achieve sustainable growth and profitability. His commitment is to ensure Tanfeeth is a values-based business that invests heavily in its people and operates with a ‘lean’ culture to deliver efficiency and quality improvements.

What did you set out to accomplish by seeking an executive coach? 
Taking on the CEO role at Tanfeeth, I had to take personal accountability for my development and deepen my self-awareness. I took a straight-lined look at my strengths and weaknesses to pursue the training needed to condition my leadership style and hone my professional acumen.

I went back to university to sharpen my hard skills in operations and finance. However, I turned to executive coaching to polish my soft skills. I had to learn how to communicate my change story, to role model the behaviours, culture and values I wanted practised across the organisation. I had the knowledge and industry experience; I needed to learn how to cast vision, motivate, and direct my people through a combination of character and behaviour styles channelled via effective communication.

What was the process?
I went to a boot camp in 2010 to learn how to achieve my mammoth target of creating a company from scratch in an industry that didn’t exist in the region. Andy Eichfeld, of McKinsey & Co, was running the programme and afterwards I asked him if he’d be interested in coaching me. I told him about my idea and how I wanted to go about it.

He asked me one question: “How long will it take you to create Tanfeeth?” My answer: “A year!” He smiled and said: “Let’s talk when you have set up the company.” In the end, I did set up the company within a year and Andy coached me on the ins-and-outs of creating a performance culture and delivering customer excellence through lean management.

And the result?
Coaching allowed me to fine-tune my vision and leadership style for the business: to empower and motivate staff, improve my communication and listening skills, harnessing my confidence and imparting resolute purpose. I found that there was no “right way” or “wrong way” to head a company, one size doesn’t fit all. It had to be natural to me and within my comfort level. I was always capable in my actions and the results I delivered, but coaching helped me work on the way I do it. I was referred to Genet Jeanjean for communication coaching, who provided me with insight into the manner in which I related to my people, the importance of body language, smiling and tone. It also taught me how to develop an exciting blend of enthusiasm and a bottom-lining management approach.

Why did ‘you’ achieve the results you did?
When I came to Tanfeeth as CEO, I set the strategy, created the mission and values, and laid down a concrete operating model tailored to our business. I built the culture, and empowered and motivated employees through investing in in-house talent and development. This was done in partnership with a robust team and having the right people in the right places. This led to significant business impacts: we reached a team of 2,200 people in four years, broke even in the second year, and decreased attrition from 40% to 15%, while increasing customer satisfaction by 40%.

What did you learn from the experience?
I learnt to be balanced with a “sustain and gain” ethos but stayed true to my natural style of leadership. I am always working to refine and develop myself to achieve valuable impact. For example, throughout my professional career I have been assertive and push my teams. As CEO, I learnt how to listen, build relationships, and take decisions in stride; I give my teams the space to innovate and grow. Everything goes back to the people and how you manage them. I shape decisions around the needs of my people and the demands of the organisation, which relies greatly on transparent performance culture.

What will you do going forward in your career?
I created a company from scratch and a business that did not previously exist within the region. I believe that Tanfeeth will leave a lasting mark in the business service industry in the UAE. Moving forward, I would like to tackle the existing challenges found in a UAE public sector that is criticised for being tied up in bureaucratic red tape. I would like to assume leadership of a public sector company and transform it into an efficient operational platform with excellent service delivery.