The role of an executive coach
In professional sports such as football and basketball, the players can rely on the support and structure of the team and dozens of specialized employees who coddle, protect, educate and promote them. Tennis and Golf are unique in that the athlete must build his or her own team.
Tennis is an individual sport. At the very top of the tennis pecking order, up there among the Federers and Djokovics, the Serena Williamses and Maria Sharapovas, are full teams of traveling coaches, trainers, physiotherapists and hitting partners.
On the surface, golf is the most individual of sports: a lone player lost in thought and in sole control of the outcome. There’s no one trying to tackle you. Block your shot. Hit the ball back at you. It is, ultimately, a one-person island. During his winner’s press conference at the 2017 British Open, Jordan Spieth used the word “we” 14 times in the 15 questions asked. While his caddy offers trusted guidance, it’s Spieth who is the manager. He makes the final decision.
The onset of elaborate player-support systems is a function of competition — trying to get an edge — and of the big money now available to the top pros. So, this begs the question – who is on your team? In business we often refer to mentors, sponsors and executive coaches. How is mentoring different from being a sponsor and different from being an executive coach?
Glassdoor defines Mentorships as helping professionals learn about their fields and roles from senior practitioners. Mentors serve as advisors, helping mentees shape their ambitions and plans. Mentors have a general expertise relevant to the professional experience that they share with mentees. Mentoring enables employees to share ideas. They gain insights from peers and leaders about ways to add skills, projects and progressive responsibilities to their roles. It allows them to network with their peers and senior staff about opportunities to climb the corporate ladder. Mentoring can serve to keep high-performing employees engaged, retained and eager to move into leadership roles. In addition, it keeps an organization focused on its future as it prepares for the next generation that will rise to the task of guiding the company.
Sponsors take a direct role in the advancement of their protégés. Sponsors work at the same organizations as their protégés. They advocate for protégés, helping them earn raises and promotions and garner success in their shared environment. Sponsors put skin in game. They use their connections to advance their protégés through their endorsement and guidance. In the meeting where your annual performance rating, rankings and bonus are decided, they are your “table pounder.” Your sponsor is the one pounding on the table advocating on your behalf.
Executive coaching is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. Executive coaching is a distinct service. It differs greatly from mentoring, sponsorship, consulting, or training. An executive coach is a qualified professional that works with individuals to help them gain self-awareness, clarify goals, achieve their development objectives, and unlock their potential as leaders.
Can a mentor be a sponsor? Can a sponsor be a coach? Said another way, are the roles unique to one person? The answer is an unequivocal “sometimes.” Regardless of how that question is answered, the better question to ask yourself is – who is on your team?
I’ve played the role of mentor, sponsor and coach for others. Over the course of my career I’ve been the beneficiary of some great mentors, sponsors and a great coach. That great coach was the inspiration for wanting to become a coach myself. He helped me understand that individuals who engage in a coaching relationship can expect to experience fresh perspectives on challenges and opportunities, enhanced thinking and decision-making skills, enhanced interpersonal effectiveness, and increased confidence in carrying out their chosen work and life roles. Thanks Bill.