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.

Cambria will explore the evolution of coaching to a more strategic role in a webcast hosted by The Conference Board on November 14, 2016. Learn more here and sign up to attend this info-packed session.

Also, please check out my other blog posts on how coaching is evolving – including these two:

Executive Coaching to Hope Accelerate Strategic Implementation and Organizational Change

Executive Coaching: Challenge to Change

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