Put Forth A Helping Hand

Despite efforts to increase diversity in the executive ranks, the number of diverse executives rising to the C-suite is still low. For instance, according to the Alliance for Board Diversity, between 2004 and 2010, white males raised their share of board seats from 71.2 to 72.9 percent. During the same time period, African-American males actually lost 42 seats, dropping their share to 4.2 percent. One of the primary reasons many diverse executives have been derailed is inadequate career planning and guidance.

One of the most successful tools to enable executives to thrive is coaching. Far too many talented managers and executives are being overlooked because they or their companies fail to invest adequate capital into their development. Executive coaching provides leaders with focused assistance to enhance their skills, address areas for growth and receive constructive feedback. Unfortunately, high-potential diverse managers and executives do not tend to take advantage of executive coaching services as much as their peers.

Despite the proven success of executive coaching — with 57 percent of the most admired Fortune 500 companies using coaching services, according to the Hay Group’s “Executive Survey of Leadership Effectiveness” — diverse executives are either not consistently identified or do not choose to utilize such services. The reluctance may stem from a concern about stigma.
In the past, executive coaching was utilized to address underperformance. Individuals were referred to a coach to improve areas of concern, usually communication and interpersonal skills. Since diverse executives may already feel they are under more scrutiny than their counterparts, they may be hesitant to seek executive coaching.

However, many successful executives recognize the importance of executive coaching and now use it as a source of value-added strength. For instance, according to the 2011 Sherpa Executive Coaching Survey, more than half of business leaders surveyed expect an increase in the demand for executive coaching. Employing an executive coach is now viewed as a privilege, not a punishment. Therefore, diverse managers and executives must understand the benefits of executive coaching 2.0 and take advantage of it, adding it to their toolkit for career success.

Another reason diverse professionals may not seek executive coaching is their lack of familiarity with it. Executive coaching is a structured relationship with an expert who can provide assessment, feedback and tailored planning to improve one’s performance and profile in an organization. It generally involves an initial discussion of the client’s goals. After the exploration of the initial concern, executive coaching then transitions to assessment, action planning, implementation and evaluation.

Research conducted by coaching services company MetrixGlobal on coaching at a Fortune 500 company showed that it produced a 529 percent return on investment and significant intangible benefits to the business. It is clearly worth the expense, since having an executive derail is far more costly than a year’s worth of executive coaching services. In the hyper-competitive marketplace, having one or two more high-performing executives can mean the difference between making hundreds of thousands of dollars or hundreds of millions.

Diversity executives can benefit from executive coaching as well, and they should explore the option with their human resources department or executive board. Be prepared to discuss the tangible results it will produce — greater profitability and better employee retention. Think about the ROI and what specifics are most important to address.

It is important for a candidate to be honest with a coach about areas for growth, and to be open to feedback from others in the company. If a high-potential employee or leader has yet to ascend to a higher-level management position or feels stuck and is unable to climb the organizational ladder, there’s no better time than now to commit to executive coaching.

As an executive, if one’s subordinates request coaching, be sure to clarify their goals for pursuing this type of development strategy. Next, explore the feasibility of providing coaching, either within or outside the organization. Finally, be supportive of the request and follow up to evaluate outcomes, especially how they align with the business strategy.

Richard Orbe-Austin is the co-founder and a partner of Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting LLP. He can be reached at editor@diversity-executive.com.