Executive Coaching: Q&A With Alyssa Freas

Alyssa Freas is a pioneer in the field of executive coaching. She is Founder and CEO of Executive Coaching Network® (EXCN), a global company whose mission is to help organizations achieve results by improving the effectiveness of their executives and their teams.
  • Awhile back, she answered for me the eight questions I hear the most about leadership, leaders and executive coaching.
QuestionWhat is the most common leadership challenge you see that executives face?

Alyssa:  Executives are challenged by prioritization; that is, getting their work done and having enough time for reflection and rejuvenation. The vast majority of executives today have too many plates spinning and they feel imbalanced. The successful leader of the future will be one who understands how to prioritize in a framework of their company’s vision, values, and strategic objectives and financial results.

Executives will always be challenged by the need to focus on building the business while growing the business as well as developing and retaining talent. 

Question:  What does it take from the executive being coached to be successful in an executive coaching experience?


Alyssa:  It takes willingness, humility, interest in learning new skills, openness to change, the ability to look at the positive information, commitment to follow a process and sustain success.

Question:  Which is easier? To coach a younger executive or an older executive? And why?


Alyssa:  Neither…it isn’t easier to coach a younger or older person. It’s all about the individual: why they are there for the coaching, what they expect to get from it, and how much effort they’re willing to put into it.

Question:  Why do you think many executives resist agreeing to be coached?


Alyssa:  The simple fact is executives who need coaching the most are the most resistant, and the ones who need it the least are always raising their hand to receive coaching. Why? Because those individuals who resist are vulnerable to the truth and may not be prepared to hear it or deal with it—either their egos are too big, they’re uncomfortable with change, they have underlying psychological issues that need to be addressed, or they simply aren’t ready.
 
It’s complicated to have the discernment to know how hard to push a person to receive coaching.
 
Here are a few ways we do it at EXCN: If a candidate for coaching is unwilling to let others know that he or she is being coached, doesn’t want to talk about his or her improvement areas with stakeholders in the process, and is unwilling to prepare an action plan, then we would suggest that that person isn’t ready for our kind of coaching.
 
There’s no judgment there; it’s just that they need to start from a different place. Resistance is information and that information can be used properly to help the person with the right kind of support.
 
 

Question:  In all your work with executives, what is the single most important leadership skill a leader must have to be successful?


Alyssa:  The most important criteria for effective leadership is credibility; that is, the leader’s ability to ensure that he or she behaves in a manner so that others will follow him or her.
 
We’ve heard this from gurus like Petre Drucker, Stephen Covey and Kouzes and Posner in their books.
 
The criteria for credibility include things like:
  • maintaining your composure under stress
  • having integrity, not in your own mind, but as perceived by other people
  • being competent in your job as a leader as well as in your roll, whatever your role may be
  • the courage to say what needs to be said to those who need to hear it
  • to do the right thing even when it’s not popular
  • caring for, not coddling, people.
Some of these things are not necessarily skills that can be learned through coaching. For example, if I was asked to coach for integrity, I would have to be very thoughtful before I took the assignment. It may be an underlying character issue or psychological issue, not a coaching opportunity. Certainly we can coach for areas like composure or showing a greater care for people. We have to be very mindful as coaches as to what the objectives are and IF we can help.

In terms of skill, it’s the ability to understand and demonstrate an ongoing commitment to self-improvement as a leader which requires humility, consistently receiving feedback from all stakeholders, asking for help, and understanding your impact on other people.

Question:  Tell me about your most rewarding executive coaching experience? How did you help that person?


Alyssa:  It is a privilege to be in the role of an executive coach. The experiences are all rewarding when the person being coached is willing to step outside their comfort zone and grow as a result of that experience.
 
For example, challenging up to their bosses when they used to not do so in the past, saying what needs to be said to those who need to hear it, making personal time in their lives to be with their families, exercising more, building better relationships with other teammates or peers…the list goes on and on. It is incredibly rewarding to be in a position to be able to help people have more clarity on their blind spots and come up with solutions that used to baffle them.

For those individuals who start the coaching process and then aren’t prepared to do the work required to change, we accept that and we ask to come back when they’re ready. This is all about understanding your impact on other people and creating the environment for other people to be successful—and that starts with leadership.

Question:  How do your executive coaching services differ from those offered by other coaches?


Alyssa:  We have a very rigorous process at EXCN that requires involvement of the coachee’s boss, an open approach to data collection, a written action plan, follow up with all those involved in the interview process, and measurement on the back end. We also focus on aligning the coaching with the organization’s values and strategic intention. Strategic Executive Coaching®

Question:  What is the wrong reason to engage an executive coach?


Alyssa:  Several reasons people would think to engage that are poor reasons:
  • When the boss doesn’t want to tell the direct reports the truth about their performance so they use the coach to deliver the message. In that case, the boss is the one who needs the coaching to deliver tough messages.
  • If they know the person isn’t likely to improve anyway. They really believe the person isn’t going to succeed, but they can’t deal with it now, so they hire a coach instead.
  • If the person has psychological issues beyond coaching, if there’s an assumption of addiction, or a life crisis that is better helped by counseling (e.g., losing a spouse or a child). In the case of a life crisis, coaching, at a minimum, should be supported by counseling as well.
Important is to ensure the objectives of the coaching are clear so the organization brings in the right kind of help aligned with the objectives.

Alyssa focuses on developing executives to ensure their growth is aligned with the Vision, Values, and Strategy of the organization in which they work. She helps executives leverage their strengths while developing new leadership behaviors that support the organization. While working with clients Alyssa strives to exhibit her organization’s values.
 
EXCN specializes in Strategic Executive Coaching®, an approach designed to support the growth of leaders in building and sustaining their organization’s value creation capacity.

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