Posts in Category: Coaching

Building Internal Coaching

Insights from the Front Lines

I thought I’d take a minute to reflect on what we’re seeing across many organizations that are active in developing internal coaching capacity as a strategic and cost-effective option for making coaching more widely available at all leader levels. Think of this blog post as a quick update from the front lines – exploring key advantages to internal coaching – and a few cautions – if your organization is weighing whether to start or build an internal coaching capability.

As a quick side note, our blog series features several other pieces exploring internal coaching – including this post from my colleague Colleen Gentry on key business case considerations to explore around internal coaching. Additionally, I have written about the rise of internal coaching and steps for selecting the right coaches.

If you’re new to internal coaching or are considering internal coaching as an important element in your talent development mix, here are some insights gleaned from the many companies we’ve had the honor of helping to pioneer this emerging trend:

Four Advantages of Internal Coaching

Cost Efficiency – The economic efficiency of building a cadre of internal coaches vs. engaging external coaches is an obvious benefit fueling the rise of internal coaching programs. After the upfront cost of providing internal coaches with necessary training and skill development, those capabilities become embedded in the organization and can typically be utilized numerous times per year in a variety of coaching assignments.

Everyday Value – An additional benefit of training is its daily use in more informal conversations and interactions with leaders and others. Many of our clients have told us that the financial savings to building coaching talent internally is significant and well worth the up-front investment.

Consistency – A common requirement for internal coaches is attendance at either an external coaching program or an internal coach development program that offers a specific coaching model and methodology. The process, language, and competencies can then become a common vernacular among those involved, including the coach, coachee, and stakeholders and/or sponsors.

Cultural and Organizational Context – Internal coaches have essential knowledge and understanding of their business and political landscape. Often, they also have a basic knowledge of the coachee’s job function, which makes the coach more credible and provides a level of important context when coaching. Internal coaches who have an understanding of the organization’s culture and nuances among different lines of business can help high-potential employees and others learn to work and operate more effectively within that environment to achieve desired results.

Three “Watch-Outs” around Internal Coaching:

Confidentiality – From the coachee’s perspective, an intertwining of relationships could impede the development of a coaching-friendly context. Imagine sharing serious concerns about your weaknesses with someone who may be consulting with your business unit leader about whether or not you should be promoted. The potential for role conflicts is obvious and a delicate situation for an internal coach. It can be tough to provide high-quality feedback to someone with whom you have a complicated set of interdependent relationships.

Cambria often recommends arranging coaching assignments so that no internal coach ever works with someone from their own business unit. In our experience, this offers the best of both worlds for coach and coachee. While coaches still have familiarity with the culture and from the coachee’s perspective, a sense of safety is bolstered by the understanding that the coach will not be engaged in making decisions about the coachee’s future, at least in the near term.

Bandwidth and Boundaries – For most internal coaches, the role of internal coach is an “add-on” while they still have their often demanding “day job”. This can create a risk factor that needs to be closely monitored.

When a coaching request or need emerges, the coach has to respond quickly. Therefore, a best practice is to discuss the coach’s ability to handle this request to ensure that there is adequate time to take on the assignment. Otherwise, if coaches are too busy with other activities, their ability to respond may be compromised and service to the client may suffer – which can critically impact the brand and reputation of internal coaching. Thus, it is important for the internal coaching sponsor to keep this on their radar and understand of the fact that some coaches may occasionally have to opt out of an assignment.

Credibility – Despite their expertise and seniority, internal coaches are not always given the same level of credibility as external coaches. Credibility is also an important success factor in coaching effectiveness, and so it is an important factor in who is designated to be an internal coach. The selection process must be rigorous, with a well-defined and deliberate set of selection criteria and standards.

Factors such as a person’s current and potential coaching competency, level of respect and reputation in current and prior roles, passion and appreciation for the value of coaching, demonstrated coaching style and attributes, albeit informally, are factors to consider.

Building a successful, sustainable and “scalable” internal coaching strategy is an ongoing endeavor that will evolve as the needs of the organization change and as new coaches are initiated and current members move on. The big wins that justify the effort of developing internal coaches include the potential for significant increases in talent retention, engagement, productivity; a stronger leadership pipeline; and higher levels of organizational performance. Our clients have concluded that these outcomes are worth the investment.

View User Profile for Krisann Davis
Krisann Davis helps leaders develop their business and interpersonal skills to optimize their effectiveness and performance, relative to organizational strategy

Executive Coaching: How to Shift to a More Strategic Footing

Coaching is usually thought of as individualized development, where coaches and their clients meet one-on-one to work on their specific development needs in support of business goals. But what if you wanted to effect a large-scale change in how an entire group of leaders acted in alignment with a broader strategic objective?

You might be surprised to learn that more and more organizations are looking to coaching to help them address key strategic and change-related needs. In fact, this trend presents a unique opportunity for the coaching field — and it’s one that requires a different vantage point on the work beyond the traditional leadership development lens.

I’ve written and spoken a great deal in the past about the need for the executive coaching field to evolve to help organizations meet key strategic challenges. That’s both a departure and a stretch for many executive coaches. But it’s a shift that’s critically important for organizations – and for the coaching profession itself. It’s also one that could help the coaching field avert what seems like a threatened slide toward commoditization, price pressure, and reduced efficacy.

Consider for a moment the vital role that coaching can play in helping organizations to implement new strategies or accelerate change initiatives.

Shifts involving strategy and change require, among other things, a critical mass of leaders pivoting in the same direction to gain the necessary momentum to succeed. A team of coaches working with key leaders and managers — and working from the same playbook around the strategy or change initiative — can quickly build momentum by reinforcing critical behaviors required to move the initiative forward.

But this is key: I’m not outlining a standard executive coaching assignment here. And not all coaches, however talented and seasoned, can do this work.

For coaching to be a driver of the ability of organizations to execute strategy in times of great change, the following elements are needed to move beyond the traditional role of coaching as individual development:

Business sponsorship
When coaching becomes a catalyst for change, sponsorship by business leadership at the executive level is essential to success. Projects that involve challenges such as those I’m exploring here are critical business path projects. Although they are run in collaboration with HR, they are not defined in traditional leadership development terms. These engagements are seen as critically important to driving successful change, and they attract high-level attention up through the senior ranks.

Differently-skilled coaches
These kinds of assignments go beyond the pure coaching model, where clients are learning and self-discovering so that they can own the solution. Coaches doing this work need to know how to navigate change; how organizational dynamics effect change; how organizations function and what typically needs to be in place to reinforce certain behavior shifts. If the strategic pivot is about diversity, for example, coaches need to understand diversity at a different level. If the challenge is global expansion, coaches need to have experience on a global scale and in managing change globally.

Not all coaches can address strategic and change-related needs. In a sense, this is where coaching crosses over a bit into content. Coaches on these projects need to have a familiarity and history of working at a strategic level and in a more consultative capacity.

Robust project management
Strategic coaching engagements require serious and robust project and process management. Strategically-positioned efforts are larger in scale and scope than independent coaching engagements working with leaders on an individual basis and require strong project management to ensure cohesive and coordinated results. In order to drive consistency and alignment, coaches involved in an engagement need to use the same tools, language, processes and timelines. Additionally, the process also requires regular client check-ins to assess progress and to ensure that the coaching cadre is aligned and on target with the end game.

What I am calling strategic coaching can be defined as a coordinated effort to impact groups of leaders toward a strategic business objective through focused and aligned development. The skills needed to work effectively with leaders on an individual basis still apply. However, coaches who can help accelerate broader organizational change also need an understanding of the business and an enterprise mindset as they work with their clients.


View User Profile for Ellen Kumata
Ellen Kumata is a recognized thought leader in the field of executive coaching, and specializes in working with the CEOs and senior leadership of complex global organizations.

Executive Coaching to Help Accelerate Strategy Implementation and Organizational Change

You might be surprised to learn that a growing number of companies are looking to executive coaching to help them drive key strategic shifts and change initiatives.

This trend presents a unique opportunity for the coaching field, which I’ll write about in a separate blog post. But I wanted to take a minute here to share my thinking on this important trend – something that perhaps isn’t yet on the radar screen of some senior executives tasked with driving change.

I’ve written and spoken a great deal in the past about the need for the executive coaching field to evolve to help organizations meet key strategic challenges. That’s both a departure and a stretch for many executive coaches. But it’s clear that more executives are looking at coaching as an important component to implement strategy and accelerate change.

For years now, I’ve been calling this strategic coaching and it’s a shift from coaching as individual leadership development – targeted towards the individual needs of specific executives – to coaching focused on advancing organizational objectives.

Shifts involving strategy and change require, among other things, a critical mass of leaders pivoting in the same direction to gain the necessary momentum for success. A team of executive coaches working with key leaders and managers – and working from the same playbook around the strategy or change initiative – can quickly build momentum by reinforcing critical behaviors required to move the initiative forward.

Here are three examples of where executive coaching is elevated to the strategic, organization-wide level:



  1. Executive Retention: Cambria worked with a major global client in a coaching engagement around accelerated learning to head-off a retention problem with a key population of leaders. The people in question were those who missed out on being promoted to Managing Director because they needed a year or two of additional seasoning. The company typically loses many of them when they don’t make the cut — so the challenge was to come up with a solution that could stop the losses.

    The answer was to have coaching focused on a uniform way to talk about what Managing Directors needed to know in order to be effective in the role. The company found that they retained a significantly higher amount of people through this process of accelerating their learning about what it would take to make the cut next time.

  2. Performance Improvement: Cambria helped a prominent financial services firm that desired to speed performance improvement by changing the nature and focus of the conversations the top 100 investment banking leaders were having with employees. These were year-end conversations – evaluations, goal-setting sessions, coaching, etc. – and too many of them were not effective.

    We designed an approach built around just-in-time training, coaching, and preparation for the performance review conversations. A group of ten coaches worked with the 100 top investment bankers in sessions prior to their performance review conversations with employees, preparing the bankers in real-time. Afterwards, we surveyed the employees who were reviewed, asking for input and an assessment about whether their experience in those conversations was different and better in terms of focus and quality.

    There was a real and measurable difference compared to the prior process. Leaders received real feedback before and after the performance conversations with clear measures for improvement. Those conversations were regarded as more valuable and effective – and they became the catalyst for performance improvement.

  3. Executive Endorsement: It’s common to view coaching as a good solution for individual leaders who are having difficulty or who need specific, individual development. And, too often, being assigned a coach can send unfortunate signals.

    However, coaching increasingly is viewed as central to shifting entire populations of leaders within an organization – work that builds extra momentum when it’s endorsed from the top.

    In one global organization where Cambria has extensive experience, the CEO realized that coaching was critical to accelerating change as the company expanded in globally and navigated a new strategy implementation. The watershed moment came at a meeting of the company’s top 500 executives, when he stood up to announce that he had his own executive coach and explained why he valued the work around flexibility and receptiveness to new challenges. The message sent was very clear: Senior leaders needed to learn different ways of doing things and to view continual development as a positive, necessary component of managing change.

    That act changed the view of coaching instantly — with the CEO demonstrating the value of coaching at the top to foster deeper, more sustained learning across the organization vs. the traditional view of coaching to address someone’s individual development needs.

These are just a few examples of the many opportunities for coaching to support organizational goals in a more strategic way and to help accelerate change. Certainly, more and more organizations are concluding that executives knowing how to lead people in times of enormous change is a critical, competitive advantage, and a strategic approach to coaching is uniquely equipped to provide tools and processes to do that.

View User Profile for Ellen Kumata
Ellen Kumata is a recognized thought leader in the field of executive coaching, and specializes in working with the CEOs and senior leadership of complex global organizations.

Coaching in Leadership Development Programs

Making Learning Stick

Most talent development professionals know that executive coaching is a powerful tool to accelerate the development of key talent. This targeted and personalized approach helps aim leaders at the right priorities at the right time in order to grow and expand. What’s more, many organizations use coaching strategically – focused on successful leaders to catalyze their growth. That compares with the low-return approach of coaching poor performers, which too often is a last ditch attempt to “save someone” before finally letting them go.

The smartest organizations leverage coaching to support their talent development plans, including key talent, high potentials, and critical target audiences such as key roles with higher turnover or diversity-focused development of historically undervalued groups such as minorities and women.

But in many of the organizations I consult with, coaching is underused – or not used effectively – in one key area: internal and external leadership development programs. Coaching is a natural fit with these programs because it provides a mechanism to ensure the learning is sustained, which leadership development programs often lack. To be fair, some organizations weld coaching onto an existing leadership development program, but have not thought about how to truly integrate coaching into those programs to reinforce learning afterwards.

But let’s start with some basic questions about the value of doing this.

  1. Why should any organization add coaching to a leadership development curriculum?
    If you agree that coaching, when done right and used correctly, is a truly effective tool for learning and growth, then think about impact of targeted coaching with the sole intention of helping leaders implement the learning from a development program. The most effective leadership development programs always ensure that leaders create an action plan or some commitments after the program.


    Coaches can leverage that plan and help leaders stay focused on the plan, helping leaders grow into a newer version of themselves. While managers of those attending these development programs are “technically” accountable for the development of their team, their focus can also get diffused. Coaches can play the role of accountability partner, and help problem-solve when things aren’t working as planned. This approach helps ensure “stickiness” of the development experience.

  2. How else can coaching reinforce learning after the program?
    Use yourself as a test. Think back to a development program you participated in that did not include coaching. What do you remember? If you are like most leaders, you might recall one thing that really stood out in that multi-day or multi week experience. But was that one thing something that helped you develop a new way of thinking or leading or operating? Did it justify the time and investment to attend and learn? What was it like to come back to the real world after your learning experience and try to implement what you learned?


    If your experience is like mine, your work doesn’t go on hold while you attend training programs. At the end of each learning day, you spend hours catching up on critical issues, responding to urgent requests, and addressing other time-sensitive concerns. Which begs an important question: Where is the processing time for the learning and how to apply it? And when you actually do go back to your job without the “hall pass” of being away in a program, the piled-up work slams you in the face. By ensuring coaching is integrated into development programs, leaders have a built-in process to take great ideas and plan through how to implement change in their approach and in themselves.

  3. When is it most prudent to integrate coaching into a development program?
    The best place to start is where the largest investment of time and money occurs for the organization and the participant. Typically this means multi-week internal “exec ed” programs or when organizations decide to send leaders to external high-impact programs.
  4. Is it worth the additional cost?
    By now, you might say that you are spending thousands of dollars on this person already, so why spend more? The short answer is: Because learning concepts, models and approaches is not the end game. The most valuable result comes from embedding the learning and then implementing what works to create a new normal for the leader and the environment they lead in.


    The cost of this kind of coaching is not the same as typical executive coaching which can last for 6-12 months or more and typically includes qualitative interviews. Coaching in development programs is more focused. What works best, in terms of making a significant difference in the sustainability and implementation of learning, is 6-8 coaching sessions that ideally begin during the program and then extend for 4-6 months post program. That points to how development program coaching is far less expensive than the typical executive coaching engagement.

At this point, let’s say you are convinced that this is a wise move to integrate coaching into your leadership development programs. How then do you think about what coaching approach makes the most sense for your organization’s development programs? It’s best to start with an overall strategy for how best to deploy coaching in all of its forms, when to start coaching, how long to engage coaches, and whether internal or external coaches are the best fit. This is an area where Cambria can help you think about and implement the best approach for your organization.

There is no standard model for this work. Nevertheless, here are a few key elements that factor into the decision:

  • The complexity of the learning
  • The duration of the development program
  • The organizational level of participating leaders
  • The organizational objectives and expectations for each participant
  • The market and internal business challenges that could impact the attention of a participant once out of the program.

There are more elements, of course, and they all combine to determine how intense and how long the coaching should be.

One key consideration to make a priority: coaches should be oriented and briefed on the key elements of the learning. Absent this, coaches are “flying blind” – only aware of what the participants tell them about the experience. In this scenario, key lessons can be lost through forgetting, because the ideas didn’t resonate, or because the leader felt they were too difficult. The latter two reasons may be good ones to let something key drift away, but a coach, well-briefed on the program, can bring those issues into the discussions and help leaders potentially see different ways of applying what they have learned.

Perhaps here is the place to start: Look at your leadership development programs and the investment your organization makes in key leaders to accelerate and expand their learning. Then evaluate where and how coaching could advance the learning to ensure that leaders return from their development experiences with the support needed to capture the benefits of these investments.

View User Profile for Colleen Gentry
Colleen Gentry partners with executives — including C-suite executives and high-potential global leaders — to help analyze and evolve behaviors, increase effectiveness, and improve business results.

Internal Coaching

Selecting the Right Coaches

Many HR professionals might say that coaching is a part of their job, but at many organizations this coaching has been largely informal and transactional — until recently. In the past several years, many companies have moved in the direction of a more clearly defined and structured internal coaching strategy — which my Cambria colleague, Colleen Gentry, writes about in this blog post focused on priorities to consider before building an internal coaching capacity.

Let’s say you’ve made the decision to implement internal coaching. The next step is to identify whom to train and deploy as internal coaches. That’s my focus in this post.

While there are many ways companies identify and select internal coaches, most tend to focus first on the HR community as the initial target group, including HR business partners, generalists, organizational development and/or learning and development professionals.
Once a strong core group has been formed, some organizations branch out to recruit additional business leaders to round out the cadre. Various approaches are commonly used, such as application, nomination, sponsorship and even drafting the right talent. Whatever the approach to identifying a roster, I’ve found that the best internal coaches share a number of common attributes.

Let’s explore some of what to look for in building your cadre:

Credibility — Many factors contribute to a potential coaches’ credibility, and answering several questions can help you narrow to the most important ones: Do they have a solid, positive reputation? Have they been with the company long enough to establish themselves as top performers? How about good interpersonal skills? Strong EQ? Do they demonstrate a level of mature self-confidence and positive energy? Do they exhibit good discretion and engender the trust of those around them? Is there a balance of assertiveness and integrity? Interpersonal sensitivity? Openness and flexibility? Do they have an ability to establish and achieve goals, for themselves and others? Do they demonstrate consistently good partnering and influencing skills? Do they have a strong brand in the organization as being reputable and competent?

Internal coaches need a solid track record as high performers with impeccable reputations. Such credibility enables them to quickly establish (and maintain) trust and rapport with their client. Very often, a person’s reputation inside the organization will precede them, so having good “street cred” in the system helps to lay the right foundation for the coaching relationship.

As is true in many situations, when it comes to the reputation of an internal coaching practice in an organization, perception is reality, and one bad apple can spoil the bunch.

Capacity — Here are the most important questions for exploring a coach candidate’s capacity: Does he or she have sufficient bandwidth to take on the additional coaching role and responsibility, either informally or formally? Some organizations adopt a rigorous 4-6 month coaching process for internal coaches that requires 25-35 hours of additional work beyond their “day job” for each engagement. Other organizations want internal coaches to leverage coaching in a more informal, ad hoc way, and with that, the expectation is that coaches are coaching in multiple situations and on a regular basis.

An internal coach must also be adept at managing time and multiple priorities, establishing clear boundaries and limits, possessing good organizational skills and juggling the demands of full-time job and coaching. Once engaged with a client, they are on the hook for seeing it through to the end, and for maintaining their energy and focus throughout the process.

Commitment — Both personal commitment and the commitment of one’s manager is critical to enable the full participation of an internal coach. On a personal level, the coach must have a passion for coaching and find the work personally rewarding. Many internal coaches often wish that their job involved a more official coaching role with a higher percentage of time spent coaching and developing others. Personal satisfaction is often the motivator that gets internal coaches interested in signing up year after year. It becomes a natural part of who they are and is a way for them to “give back” in a meaningful way. In addition, manager support and alignment allows coaches to integrate the time spent on coaching into their daily activities without concern or worry about how they are allocating their time and focus beyond achieving the objectives and deliverables of their full-time job.

Another important measure of commitment is a coach’s participation in a “community of practice” and/or investing in his or her own personal development beyond what the organization offers. A common practice of many organizations is to host regular meetings of the internal cadre in person or by phone to share best practices, watch-outs, and information about upcoming organizational initiatives that might affect coaching, and in general to contribute to their continued learning and development of that of their colleagues as coaches. Every client organization I’ve advised on creating an internal coaching capacity has instituted this “community of practice” concept and found it extremely valuable.

An internal coach can also elect to pursue his or her own development through formal coach training programs to continue building skill and competence. There are several quality coaching schools, many offering programs accredited by the International Coach Federation, a non-profit professional organization that represents personal and business coaches.

Important bottom line: As you consider your strategy and identify your cadre of internal coaches, those who make your “short list” should describe themselves as lucky to be selected and privileged to have the opportunity to add coaching to their professional toolbox and support the development of key talent in their organizations.

One final consideration: It’s best to start small when building your internal coach capability. That’s the best way to ensure you deploy the best coaches in the first round to minimize risk, manage the process most effectively, and maximize the reputation and value of internal coaching right out of the gate.

View User Profile for Krisann Davis
Krisann Davis helps leaders develop their business and interpersonal skills to optimize their effectiveness and performance, relative to organizational strategy

Coaching New or Transitioning Executives

What is behind the growth in executive coaching for transitioning or onboarding of key talent — and how best to explore the benefits for your organization?

There are many factors driving the rise in transition and onboarding coaching, including the great baby boomer exodus that’s just beginning across the workforce, rapid growth and global expansion for more and more companies, and the need for new leaders to get results faster.

What’s more, the complexity of business today adds other factors to the mix that can keep a leader from finding her footing quickly and fully engaging in the work to be done. They include cross-cultural teams, customers, and reporting relationships, challenging governmental and legal constraints, lack of bench strength on teams, as well as the challenge of learning completely new businesses and how to operate them.

Here’s the challenge for most organizations: They need to move more leaders into broader, more complex roles — often before they’re fully ready. That can make for wobbly, less-than-ideal transitions as leaders take the reins of new and often critical roles, where important results are needed often in the first few months on the job.

Transition coaching is an investment with a high ROI in the way it helps to ensure leaders land well and hit the ground running. That’s true whether the coach is supporting an internal leader who is transitioning to a new role through promotion, a lateral move, or a rotational assignment, or a new-hire who is onboarding into the organization from outside.

Many companies provide these leaders with orientation programs, checklists, and targeted training (e.g., new country culture), But these solutions don’t deliver the individualized support that leaders need to make it work for them in their unique context. Leveraging executive coaching in a focused and personalized way to support a new leader can provide that “personal trainer” element that executives in VUCA environments need to ensure success.

Which executives need to be supported in this way? Consider these scenarios:

  1. Expats — and also “repats” (who, after years away, often get no support in integrating back to the “home” or HQ culture)
  2. Positions that have become a revolving door due to lack of success
  3. Key positions on the succession plan, and leaders who are high potential and are facing multi job grade/band jumps
  4. Leaders with extremely diverse teams or geographies to lead through and to
  5. Key mid-career hires coming from outside your company — particularly if you have an organization with a strong culture, as most do

Considering the financial and time investment organizations put into acquiring and relocating talent to address business and leadership needs, transition and onboarding coaching has a relatively small price tag (typically $20–30k) that pays off big time with solid landings, attention to critical needs, and quick hits to make a big difference in a leader’s first 6–9 months on the job.

When organizations invest in transition and onboarding coaching, here’s what to look for to make a big difference:

  • Ensuring the new leader has crystal clear role clarity, through intentional, focused discussions with his manager (and matrixed managers, and his manager’s manager). When leaders end up in new roles, often the discussions that have occurred prior to that time in the “recruiting” process are part real and part hopes and dreams. Ensuring the new leader understands what’s what makes a huge difference in terms of investment of his (and others) time and resources.
  • Acquiring a clear lay of the land around what key stakeholders think the new leader’s job involves. Often, when a new leader shows up, stakeholders — peers, partners, teams, executives who are touched by the new leader’s function — have their own expectations about what she will do. Some of those expectations are grounded in pent-up needs — the things that “will finally be addressed” by her — and the unspoken “hopes and dreams” that others hold for her. Investing intentional time to surface those concerns, expectations, etc. is part of the due diligence every new leader needs to — but often doesn’t — do. And then reputations and impact suffer.
  • Getting a bead on the culture quickly. Is it relationship driven? In what ways? What are the landmines that can set you back months by accidentally committing an organizational faux pas?
  • Understanding the organizational landscape. Beyond org charts: Who are the real influencers? Who do you HAVE to have in your corner to get anything done? What are the unwritten rules of engagement? What are the “sacred cows” you have to be sensitive to? The best plans fail to operationalize if you have blockers instead of advocates. And it’s worse if the blockers are subtle in their approach. Finding out all these nuances early in his tenure — things that often come over time — will help the new leader catalyze his success and impact in positive ways and generate advocacy for his leadership agenda.
  • Identifying the talent on the team, and achieving team alignment: Ensuring that all the players are directionally correct, that everyone on the team is clear about where the new leader wants to go how she works, and what her expectations and needs of the team are, and that the new leader is clear about what each team member needs from her.
  • Helping the new leader determine and plan for how he wants to be experienced in this new role. The age-old term is what is his vision? But really, underneath that is: Does the new leader want to show up the same as he did in his last position, or does he want to take his leadership and impact to another level, a different kind of impact, a new way of “showing up?”

All of these elements are important success factors for a new leader to address as she enters in to her new role.

View User Profile for Colleen Gentry
Colleen Gentry partners with executives — including C-suite executives and high-potential global leaders — to help analyze and evolve behaviors, increase effectiveness, and improve business results.

Internal Coaching on the Rise

I have seen a dramatic increase in demand for internal coaching capability to help organizations develop key talent more quickly and for greater long-term impact. The trend is for organizations to leverage internal coaching to accomplish their talent goals faster and more cost effectively at deeper levels in the organization.

My experience aligns with the recent 2013 Ridler Report, an internationally recognized research study analyzing strategic trends in the use of senior level executive coaching, which confirms a trend toward growing use of internal coaches — in addition to, or even in place of, external coaches.

Internal coaches are being asked to leverage their unique knowledge of their organizations’ context, systems, and dynamics to support and develop leaders. Often, internal coaches are better equipped than external coaches for a variety of coaching needs.

Internal coaches are helping to address a number of key strategic challenges, including:

  • Strengthening the succession pipeline. As baby boomers transition out, the next generation leaders are lacking the skills necessary to assume those more senior roles. Internal coaches understand the talent strategies of the organization and when coaching at mid to upper-levels can help leaders identify the competencies that will be critical to future roles.
  • Onboarding of mid-career hires. Internal coaches are well suited for onboarding support — especially in light of studies that show high “organ rejection” rates for leaders hired in from the outside. What’s more, because of wide and growing talent gaps further down the org charts, many organizations are now recruiting greater numbers of mid-career hires in need of rapid onboarding to quickly integrate and gain traction in their new roles.
  • Coaching through change. Companies today are constantly in a state of flux either through a shift in strategy, reorganization, merger, or implementation of a new system. Technologies are evolving at warp speed and leaders need resilient teams to sustain success. Internal coaches can work with leaders to understand what the change means for their specific business and for their team. They can assist in identifying the new behaviors necessary for the change to succeed and stick and how to model the new behaviors while making the transition.
  • Transition coaching of internal leaders moving into new roles. Whether it’s a lateral move, a promotion up, or a cross-sector change in job, leaders quickly need to assimilate into the new role and galvanize their new team. Internal coaches understand the culture, the players, key stakeholders, the written and unwritten rules and norms and can support a smooth transition for the new leader who is being promoted to more quickly become successful in the new role.
  • Brief, targeted coaching is another venue to leverage an internal coach cadre, especially when linked with an executive leadership development program. The addition of brief, 3–4 month coaching support to assist leaders in implementing a development plan and practicing new behaviors can yield greater results and sustained behavior change.

If your organization is exploring whether to adopt an internal coaching strategy as a way to create deeper reach and greater efficiency in cost, consistency, application of cultural knowledge and expertise, consider these four key factors prior to launch:

Make internal coaching a strategic solution. Don’t use internal coaching as a separate initiative based on some immediate or ad hoc need. A more systemic, deliberate and integrated approach to enhancing the talent development solutions will yield greater, longer-term success.

Secure executive sponsorship. Let’s be honest: clout and position power can go a long way in influencing organizational receptivity to an internal coaching program. Through advocacy at senior levels by executives who are walking the talk, modeling the leadership behaviors important to the culture and having engaged in coaching themselves, they can help garner the support and, possibly, resources necessary to build an internal coaching practice. Through town halls, all hands meetings, or blog posts on the internal web, their testimonials and encouragement can create momentum and opportunity for a budding internal coaching program.

Identify a small but mighty internal coach cadre at first. The caliber, skill, and reputation of your first group of internal coaches will establish the reputation of your program. Choose your internal coaches as wisely and deliberately as you choose and scrutinize the external executive coaches you bring into the organization. Consider such criteria for selection as demonstrated coaching skills with clients (formally or informally), track record of solid business and people results, and capacity and commitment to assume this added role, to name a few.

Adopt a “pull vs. push” strategy. Go where the energy and appetite for internal coaching resides. If there is a single line of business or sector where those in leadership positions are clamoring for coaching, carpe diem! Where sponsorship and advocacy already exist are the best places to aim internal coaching because those leaders realize the value and benefit of individualized, targeted support.

Final thought: Leveraging an internal coaching strategy can increase scalability of coaching throughout your organization. Think of it as creating deeper, wider ripples in your talent and leadership pond. Internal coaching brings greater impact, deeper penetration, and the research-proven potential for organizational impact and results.

View User Profile for Krisann Davis
Krisann Davis helps leaders develop their business and interpersonal skills to optimize their effectiveness and performance, relative to organizational strategy

Every conversation could use a preamble

Work gets done in conversations. Specifically, conversations where ideas get discussed and actions get taken. I’ve observed that there are times at work when relating to the person who has hierarchical authority as “the boss” doesn’t serve the conversation. There are times when we want to get rid of the “authority hangover”. In those moments, we need to be able to switch to relating to each other as peers in order to fully engage in the topic of discussion. There’s an opportunity for both parties in a conversation to clarify up front the purpose of the conversation they’re about to have and whether or not there is a real purpose for hierarchical authority in that dialogue. This is why every conversation could use a preamble.

Without a preamble to our conversation, we run the risk of misinterpretation or misunderstanding.


The hierarchical nature of a leader’s role is akin to the authority of a skipper on a racing yacht. The crew’s deference to the skipper’s role authority and decision making is what’s required to win the race. Decisions are communicated efficiently—and sometimes in a manner that would negatively impact relationships in any other setting—so actions can be taken in seconds to maximize speed. Anything less would destroy the efficacy of the crew. If we establish before we set sail that role hierarchy will be the context of our conversations during the race, we eliminate any interpersonal strife and leave ourselves free to focus on sailing towards victory with velocity.

Make sure the crew know there’s no disrespect intended during the race: it’s all about executing our roles for high performance.


Not all moments at work warrant relating to each other in this hierarchical way. There are times when we want people to relate to us as peers. Moments when we don’t want the hierarchical nature of our functional roles restraining our dialogue and limiting our performance.

An assistant vice president I was coaching recently wanted to know how to take the subtle threat of hierarchy out of a conversation she wanted to have with one of her program directors. She was considering two very different aspirational futures for her business unit, and she wanted to explore with him what each might entail. She was scheduled to talk with him on another matter, and so this would require that she help him switch to relating to her as a peer in the middle of a conversation.

Together, we designed a concise preamble to make that transition.

First, declare what the purpose of the conversation will be. In this case, she wanted to discuss two possible futures she was considering for the unit. Second, acknowledge the value of the other person’s perspective. As assistant vice president, my client was not all-seeing and all-knowing. In fact, she has had no direct contact with customers and frontline employees for the past two years, while the program director had. He would have a point of view and opinions that could inform their collective thinking. Third, invite the other person to be in the conversation as a peer. The intention would be to explore all ideas they came up with as if they had equal authorship for all of them. That meant that her ideas would not be given preference based on her role authority. Fourth, clarify that the conversation is to learn together from each other, but that the final decision will be yours to make. By stating who the ultimate decision maker is, it clarifies for both people the boundary between peerful and hierarchical relationship. The program director seamlessly took up her invitation. Together, as peers collaboratively brainstorming possibilities, they created a third option that the assistant vice president had not seen. That option, although more aggressive than the other two, could enrol other key stakeholders in a larger initiative that had stalled for lack of additional resources. By deftly shifting the context to a conversation of equals, she was able to simultaneously build relationship and produce unexpected results. As leaders, sometimes we have to go out of our way to address the invisible dynamics of role authority. When we do, people can relate to us without deference or reverence. ln these moments, we come together as two people committed to the same outcome to share what we see and effectively get work done.

View User Profile for Mark Cappellino
Mark Cappellino helps leaders and leadership teams transform their relationships in order to leverage their impact where culture and strategy intersect.

Feedback that Inspires

Perhaps the most important factor in employee engagement is the employee's relationship with their immediate boss. How and when a leader provides feedback has a large impact on how people think and feel about working for them. We have observed many leaders over the years. There are many ways to be an effective leader, however some leadership behaviors have a much more positive impact on employee engagement than others. One thing great leaders do differently is how and when they provide feedback. Here are some of the most important lessons we have learned.

Frequent feedback is better than infrequent feedback. Some leaders think that no news is good news, but it isn't good leadership. People should never wonder where they stand with their boss. It creates unnecessary anxiety and fear. More feedback is better than infrequent feedback and the more specific and close it is to the event, the more effective it is.

Knowing when, where and how to deliver feedback is as important as the frequency. The goal of feedback is to encourage and inspire better future performance, not to punish past behavior or publicly embarrass or hurt people. When delivering feedback, begin with the end in mind. How do you want your employee to behave in the future and how do you want them to think and feel about you as their leader and about the company they work for. It is important for feedback to be experienced as a positive learning experience rather than punishment.

Feedback should not just be negative. Lee's Mom used to say "You get more in life with honey than with vinegar." You accomplish more and bring out the best in people when you catch them doing things right and provide acknowledgement and praise instead of just looking for what they are doing wrong. Most leaders think of themselves as problem solvers rather than cheerleaders and coaches!

Here is a powerful exercise that Ken learned when working as an executive coach at ConAgra Foods that makes a big difference in how people feel about coming to work.

The Ten-Dime Exercise:

Put ten dimes in your right pocket and move a dime each time you catch someone doing something right and give sincere positive feedback. At the end of the day, see how many dimes you have moved from your right pocket to your left pocket. If you haven't moved all ten, try harder the next day and track your progress over time.

Ken has given this exercise to many leaders over the years and they are startled at how challenging it is for them to catch people doing things right because their bias is to look for what is wrong that needs to be fixed! Spring is a time of new beginnings and renewal. Make this spring a time for you to focus on giving feedback that inspires.

View User Profile for Ken Estridge
Ken Estridge helps executives quickly find their edge, fine tune their skills and take their success to the next level.

Leadership Tenets

I have been a facilitator for NASA’s Mid-Level Leader Program (MLLP) for the last three years.  On April 2, the fourth cohort graduated from the program.  David Radzanowski, Chief of Staff at NASA gave the Graduation Address to the graduating class.  I asked Dave if I could share the “leadership tenets” he offered in his speech.  Here they are.  I find them to be incredibly profound and practical.

  1. Always assume positive intent – most people are trying to do what they think is right.  While we may not always agree on methods or outcomes, most people are trying to add value.
  2. Always strive to be uncomfortable – to grow, you need to challenge yourself. Find the stretch assignment and volunteer for it.
  3. Delegate to the point of negligence – you need to work your way out of your job. So, trust your team and challenge them whenever possible.
  4. Failure is an option – be innovative and intuitive.  When mistakes happen, learn from them.
  5. Take care of your team – give them the credit for successes and take the blame for mistakes.  Walk around and talk with them on their turf. Your office is boring.
  6. Take care of yourself – schedule time for yourself and don’t let work interfere. Time with your family and friends is as important if not more than your career.  No one wishes on their death bed that they had attended that meeting they missed.

Sincere thanks to Mr. Radzanowski for allowing me to use his tenets.  I hope you find them as helpful as I do. Dave concluded with a quote from President John Quincy Adams.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more – you are a leader.”
View User Profile for John Poirier
John Poirier helps client organizations develop and implement meaningful solutions to Human Resources Development challenges.