Wharton@Work

May 2019 | 

Executive Coaching: Accelerated, Personal, Powerful Learning

Executive Coaching: Accelerated, Personal, Powerful Learning

According to The Conference Board’s latest Global Executive Coaching Survey, the need for coaching is growing: “Businesses . . . need leaders to learn quickly, and coaching can provide the targeted, personalized, and focused development that is required.” The survey also noted that many coaching engagements focus mainly on “supporting leaders in guiding teams and influencing others with well-developed emotional intelligence.”

That comes as no surprise to Lynn Krage, senior director of leadership and talent development at Wharton’s McNulty Leadership Program. Krage designed the coaching curriculum for the two-week Executive Development Program and leads the coaching team. “Coaching is not only increasing in popularity,” she says, “but it is incredibly, practically valuable.”

Krage says the value lies in making concepts and knowledge about leadership tangible. “It creates a connection between your behavior and what you might have learned or read. You can hear about something like emotional intelligence — and we have fantastic professors who teach amazing content on that topic — but you aren’t sure what it means for how you are showing up. Coaching builds the bridge between knowing about EI and actually using that knowledge in your leadership role.”

The coaching component of the Executive Development Program is extensive. Participants complete a 360-degree leadership assessment before the program begins, and during the program an executive coach works with participants individually and on teams to define and support their leadership goals. During an intense business simulation, coaches observe behaviors, further refine goals, and work on building and strengthening specific skills and behaviors.

Many of the participants in the Executive Development Program (EDP) made their decision to attend in part because of the coaching. Dianne Fox, chief operating officer of the North America Life and Annuity division of Foresters Financial, says, “I chose the EDP  because of the curriculum: it covered a broader range of topics compared to other executive programs. But it was the executive coaching that was truly instrumental for me.”

“During coaching sessions, which I received throughout the program, I managed to gain a much deeper understanding of myself and the barriers that I needed to overcome to further advance my career,” Fox says. “The coaching experience was transformational.”

Fox says one area targeted for improvement was her dependence on subject matter expertise in decision making, which occasionally prevented her from making quick business decisions where she wasn’t the expert. “Since the program, I find myself being able to lean on other members’ expertise more and combine that with my own past experiences in being able to make well-informed quick decisions. It also allows me to take more informed risks and free myself from the need to delve into too much detail. The EDP has helped me become a better leader, as it gave me the opportunity to self-reflect and understand how to navigate my own self-imposed barriers.”

Diane Denton, managing director of federal policy at Duke Energy Corporation, says the coaching was especially valuable because the EDP  coaches watch you in action during the program’s business simulation. “The simulation is designed to let you apply knowledge you just learned under pressure in a highly charged environment. That sequence makes for much better retention — the lessons really get cemented in. Having my coach watch me and then give me feedback on my performance was really important. Lynn challenged my thinking and assumptions about myself and how others might perceive me as a leader. The coaching is incredibly valuable and I will continue to meet with her during the coming year.”