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Game changer: How executive coaching can help you get ahead at work

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Talking to three DBers, Claire Severn explores the increasing popularity of executive coaching and how it is helping career-minded individuals get ahead of the crowd.

“What are you looking to achieve in 2018?” It’s not an easy question to answer and one that throws me a little. I’m sat opposite Trevor Smith, DB resident, professional coach and founder of The Orchard Partnership, one of a growing number of executive coaching organisations in Hong Kong.

I’m here to gain an insight into the executive coaching process and discover why more and more companies and career focused individuals are finding it an invaluable component in their development toolkit.

“Where are you now in relation to your goal? What options do you have to achieve it? What are you going to do next?” The questions don’t necessarily get any easier but it’s surprising how, with a little nudge in the right direction, I’m able to produce answers and ideas I didn’t even know I had.

“Coaching is the process of using powerful questions to help people see things from a different perspective,” explains Linda Sim, director and executive coach at DB-based Strive Consulting. “It allows you to dig deep into areas you haven’t previously and provides that fixed time to focus on what’s going on in your world, to ascertain goals and identify priorities.”

“A coach doesn’t give you solutions,” Trevor adds. “Our job is to make you think and reflect, to help you change your perspective, to look at something in a different way. A coach is like a trusted advisor, someone who walks alongside you but doesn’t actually do it for you.”

Fulfilling your potential

More focused than traditional business training, executive coaching takes the form of one-on- one, confidential conversations aimed at helping high performers reach their full potential.

“The old style of corporate training is changing,” says Linda, “because you retain very little of what has been taught. The key is sustainable transformation, and with coaching you provide your own ideas and solutions, therefore lasting results are much more likely to materialise.”

“Most large globals these days have executive coaching as one of the tools in their toolbox for executive development,” offers Phil Smith, founder and executive director of RBG Asia, and also a DB resident. “It extends across all walks of industry, all market sectors. Here in Asia, I’ve done a lot of work with financial services, energy, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, aviation, transportation… it’s really very broad.”

So who exactly turns to coaches, and what do they hope to get out of the sessions? In its purest form, executive coaching is aimed at C suite individuals, but these days the scope is expanding, with small business owners, entrepreneurs, emerging leaders and people who have reached a crossroads in their careers among those discovering its benefits.

In the majority of cases, executive coaches are engaged by corporations looking to develop their staff, however there’s also a growing trend of people reaching out themselves to address their own career ambitions.

Sessions vary according to each individual’s needs, and while coaching is primarily used for progressive rather than remedial reasons, Linda says there are some common issues that crop up. She cites communication as a recurring theme.

“An awful lot of capable people have got to where they are without ever having to fill in a job application because they’ve been seen as ‘high potential,’” says Phil. “Then they get to a stage in their career where they’re out of the nest, and they’ve got to figure out what it is that got them this far and what sets them apart from the other executives at their level, what they need to pay attention to to go further.”

“As your career progresses, the skills you need change and aren’t always the same as when you set out,” continues Trevor. “It’s less about knowledge and more about soft skills – how to run a business, how to recruit, how to manage people, how to lead, how to influence others, how to persuade, how to make decisions – these are some of the areas where coaching focuses.”

Cultural influences

Another aspect that often comes into play in Hong Kong is culture. A melting pot of nationalities, working in the SAR introduces a new dynamic for many people, one that they need to master in order to do well.

“When people come here, they know you can’t always get things done the same way you would elsewhere,” says Phil, “but turning that into practice and understanding what you need to do differently to achieve results is something that takes a bit of thinking and often quite a bit of hard work.

“Then there are people who have already been working for some time in Hong Kong and have moved into regional positions, so they’re having to plug themselves into all of the cultural differences that introduces, which can require some navigation.”

Interestingly, Phil is also working with an increasing number of people who are going from the East to the West, executives who have grown up in Hong Kong and never worked outside Asia.

“I help them think about what it is they do here that has made them effective and what they might need to do to translate that when they go abroad,” he says.

Discovering who you are

So what’s the key to getting the most out of your coaching sessions? How do you make sure you achieve your aims? According to Linda, it all comes down to knowing yourself. “Self-awareness is core,” she explains. “Once you understand how you work with other people, you can get the best not just out of yourself, but also out of them. You can work together as a coherent team and ultimately improve the bottom line of the organisation.”

Trevor agrees. “For me, it’s all about understanding who you are, accepting who you are, identifying your strengths and playing to them. The sooner you can identify your shape and plug yourself into it, the more likely you are to be successful, because you’re going to be doing what you’re good at, what you love, what you’re passionate about and enjoy.”

But if you’ve already reached a senior level, why would you need a coach? Surely you’re already a success? Bill Gates addressed this nicely when he said: “Everyone needs a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or a bridge player. We all need people who give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” And if Bill Gates needs a coach, all of us must need someone cheering us on from the side lines.

“I can’t run the race for the athlete,” concludes Phil. “My job and my pleasure comes from watching the athlete run the race.”

3 things to consider when looking to hire an executive coach

1. Is the coach you are talking to properly qualified? Does he have recognised credentials, for example accreditation with the International Coaching Federation (ICF), one of the main governing body for coaches in Hong Kong?
2. Do you get on with this person? Are you going to be able to speak openly with him? Before deciding on a particular coach, make sure that you feel comfortable in your initial meeting. If you don’t, look for someone else.
3. Does this person have credible business experience? Does he understand where you are coming from? Has he been there before?


• International Coaching Federation, coachfederation.org
• RBG Asia, rbg.asia
• Strive Consulting, www.striveconsultinghk.com
• The Orchard Partnership, theorchardpartnership.com

Image: Colin Sim – colsimphotography.com

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