How Does Executive Coaching Affect Leaders’ Behaviors in relation to Maslow’s Theory and Motivation Drivers?

This article is about how executive coaching affects the leadership behavior and its relationship to Maslow’s Needs Theory. Corporate interest has been increasingly vast on executive coaching for the last 15 years. Between 25 and 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies use executive coaches, according to the Hay Group, a major human-resources consultancy. Another 20 percent of companies said they plan to offer coaching within the next year. (Hay Group 2016) Despite the popularity in business, applied sciences do not seem to be interested in the subject. So looking at the research papers, there seems there is not enough interest in the field. In this paper I am going to discuss leaders’ behaviors (consequently belief) changes under the light of Maslow’s Motivation Theory.

What is executive coaching?

Precise definition of coaching varies, with some coaching emphasizing didactic instruction while others emphasize intra psychic exploration (Grant & Stober 2006) Despite variation in the definition, there are several aspects of the endeavor that are common to nearly all coaching. These include the core assumption that people have an innate capacity to grow and develop, a focus on mutually agreed upon goals, and an understanding that the relationship is relatively equal and collaborative (Whitworth, Kimsey-House & Sandahl, 1998)

For the definition of coaching, I used four main coaching associations in the world. ICF (International Coach Federation) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment.

IAC (International Association of Coaching) did not really give in its resources the definition of coaching but instead listed the core competencies to be a good coach as nine masteries.

i. Establishing and maintaining a relationship of trust

ii. Perceiving, affirming and expanding the client’s potential

iii. Engaged listening

iv. Processing in the present

v. Expressing

vi. Clarifying

vii. Helping the client set and keep clear intentions

viii. Inviting possibility

ix. Helping the client create and use supportive systems and structures

AC (Association for Coaching) defined executive coaching as ““As for personal coaching, but it is specifically focused at senior management level where there is an expectation for the coach to feel as comfortable exploring business related topics, as personal development topics with the client in order to improve their personal performance.

TECF (The Executive Coaching Forum) defines it as “Executive coaching is an experiential and individualized leader development process that builds a leader’s capability to achieve short- and long-term organizational goals. It is conducted through one- on-one and/or group interactions, driven by data from multiple perspectives, and based on mutual trust and respect. The organization, an executive, and the executive coach work in partnership to achieve maximum impact.

In this paper, the definition of TECF is used as a base for the work as it most relates to leader and leadership behaviors. It seems the most specific definition is done by TECF as it gives what is aimed and the way of executive coaching as a process.

What is leadership?

Leadership in this paper, is a process of influence in which at least one person can follow and the followed gets the aid and support of the follower in the accomplishment of a common task. However in corporate life, I will narrow this definition into CEOs, board directors, and senior executives who broadly manage an organization or department in an organization at the top level. As the definition of “leader” is very vague and difficult to reach to a consensus, I will use the definition of leader as officially charged to manage people in organizations.

Is coaching behavior oriented?

In today’s increasingly competitive, fast-paced, and turbulent business environment, organizational success largely depends on having leaders who can articulate a vision, collaborate and communicate effectively, and draw out the full potential of those they lead. It has been estimated that up to 45 percent of an organization’s performance is linked to the quality of its executive leadership, so it’s clear that effective leaders are key to gaining a competitive edge. One increasingly popular way in which organizations are working to develop better leaders is executive coaching. (WELLER & WELLER)

CCL (Center for Creative Leadership) research has shown that between 30 and 50 percent of high-potential managers are not motivated in the organization (are fired, demoted, or reach a career plateau) within the first eighteen months on the job, and organizations are increasingly looking to executive coaching as a way to overcome the challenges.

For years, the benefit of a coaching program was not really evidenced. In 2004 Keren Weller and David Weller conducted a study of thirty-two executives, each of whom had been coached by them within the previous four years. The executives worked for several large, multinational organizations (including MasterCard International), and the majority were at the level of director or vice president. After the period of coaching, the executives were assessed again by the same people who had provided the pre-coaching benchmarks feedback. The targeted post-coaching survey assessed only the areas that each executive had focused on during the coaching process.

As a result of the work, Wellers reached a table below.

Behaviour Change for executive coaching

Table shows that coaching effected executives at the perception level. It seemed that executive coaching effected the executives’ behaviors.

Another work (GERALD, BANE, KOPELMAN) showed that training increased productivity by 22,4%, In contrast, training plus coaching increased productivity by 88.0% in their reseach.

Another recent research done on Executive Coaching in 2013 by David F. Larcker and Stephen Miles, applied on more than 200 CEOs, board directors, and senior executives of North American public and private companies in the 2013 Executive Coaching Survey. The research studied what kind of leadership advice CEOs and their top executives are -and are not- receiving, and the skills that are being targeted for improvement.

Key findings in that research were;

• Nearly 66% of CEOs do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches, while 100% of them stated that they are receptive to making changes based on feedback.

• When asked “Whose decision was it for you to receive coaching?” 78% of CEOs said it was their own idea. Twenty-one percent said that coaching was the board chairman’s idea.

• More than 60% of CEOs responded that the progress they are making in their coaching sessions is kept between themselves and their coach; only a third said that this information is shared with the board of directors.

• When asked what the biggest area for their own personal development is, nearly 43% of CEOs answered “conflict management skills” the highest.

• The top two areas board directors say their CEOs need to work on are “mentoring skills/developing internal talent” and “sharing leadership/delegation skills.

• Top areas that CEOs use coaching to improve: sharing leadership/delegation, conflict management, team building, and mentoring. Bottom of the list: motivational skills, compassion/empathy, and persuasion skills. At the research CEOs and Senior Executives responded the question of: how much do you agree “I enjoy the process of receiving coaching and leadership advice”? It is rated strongly agree and agree options as 96 %.

Interesting results of those works that;

a) Coaching intends the behavioral change

b) Executives like having coaching as it produced a perception that it is useful for change.

These are just examples of some researches done in the coaching field and they explicitly refer to behavior changes in management and leadership as those concluded either behavior or performance changes.

Another reason may have been the difficulty in getting and maintaining accurate perspective on their powerful features as it is highly difficult to get unbiased feedback from the subordinates.

Higher a person rises in any organization, the more difficult it can be to obtain unfiltered information from peers, subordinates, customers and those with oversight responsibility. Theresa Gattung, CEO of Telecom New Zealand, the country’s largest public company, highlighted this leadership predicament when she told me in a research interview: “You can’t achieve—not in business and probably not in life—without a strong ego. How you balance that with people around you who will always tell you the truth is a real problem for a CEO because you’ve got so much power. (BATTLEY, 2007)

However these examples bring us other questions: How does coaching effect leadership behaviors? Is it just perceptive magic or an effective management tool to improve?

How coaching affects behavior?

The coaching relationship is the internal relationship between the executive coach and the executive. Characteristics of this relationship include age and gender match, willingness of the executive to share, honesty, client receptivity to feedback and change, confidentiality, respect, satisfaction level, trust level, value added for the executive, and degree of exclusivity experienced by the executive. (ALVEY, BARCLEY, 2007)

A coaching conversation differs from an ordinary talk in the sense of;

- Efficient Listening

- Powerful Questioning

- Goal Orientation and Setting

- Trust

These are the common skills and competencies common for the most of the coaching authorities in terms of concept definitions.

When we combine those competencies with the Theory of Maslow (1943), we may evaluate better.

Maslow’s motivation theory consists of five different layers as;

a) Physiological Needs

b) Safety Needs

c) The Love Needs

d) Needs for Esteem

e) The need for Self-actualization

An executive leader is expected to have already met his physiological needs. — The needs that are physiological drives. We call them actual needs or lacks in the body.

Also we may think that if the physiological needs are relatively satisfied, there then comes a new set of needs, which we may claim as the safety needs. Executives in this section, we may accept that (individual cases excluded) the safety and physiological needs are not the prime ones to prioritize. The vulnerability in the model is that some may think that the increase at the income level would not satisfy the first two basic needs at the Maslow pyramid.

I think that the most important motivation factors for an executive person are love needs, the need for self-actualization, the esteem needs. Maslow defines those needs as below.

The love needs. — The person will feel keenly, as never before, the absence of friends, or a sweetheart, or a wife, or children. He will have hunger for affectionate relations with people in general, namely, for a place in his group, and he will strive with great intensity to achieve this goal.

The esteem needs. — Self-esteem, we mean that which is soundly based upon real capacity, achievement and respect from others. These needs may be classified into two subsidiary sets. These are, first, the desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for confidence in the face of the world, and for independence and freedom.

The need for self-actualization. — What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization. This term, first coined by Kurt Goldstein, is being used in this paper in a much more specific and limited fashion. It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.

Theoretical discussion may have given the impression that these five sets of needs are somehow in a step-wise, all-or-none relationships to each other. We have spoken in such terms as the following: “If one need is satisfied, then another emerges.” This statement might give the false impression that a need must be satisfied 100 per cent before the next need emerges. In actual fact, most members of our society who are normal, are partially satisfied in all their basic needs and partially unsatisfied in all their basic needs at the same time. A more realistic description of the hierarchy would be in terms of decreasing percentages of satisfaction as we go up the hierarchy. (GREEN, 2000)

Similar to GREEN’s evaluation in this paper, I assume that the executives’ physiological needs and safety needs not abolished but underrated by the executives relative to their social welfare.

Based on my experience I will map coaching competencies and Maslow’s Upper Needs in a table below.

  Love Needs The esteem needs The need for self-actualization
Efficient Listening X X  
Powerful Questioning X X  
Goal Orientation and Setting   X X
Trust X X  

In executive coaching, what I have observed that these motivation factors are closely related to the some common fundamental coaching competencies.

1) Efficient Listening and Love Needs

A study of over 8,000 people employed in businesses, hospitals, universities, the military and government agencies found that virtually all of the respondents believed that they communicate as effectively as or more effectively than their co-workers. (HANEY, 1979)

However, research shows that the average person listens at only about 25% efficiency. (HUSMAN, LAHİFF, PENROSE, 1988). Coaches are especially trained experts for listening. They experience different levels of listening and these levels of listening give a feeling of “If I am listened deeply, then somebody cares about me” to the executive. That is an initial point to build a sound rapport between coach and the executive leader.

2) Efficient Listening and The Esteem Needs

As the esteem needs cover the respect from others, listening somebody is perceived -to some extent- that the listener respects the other. So, efficient listening is closely related to the esteem needs.

3) Powerful Questioning and Love Needs

Coaches mainly use Appreciative Inquiry or Appreciative Questioning for getting more data.

Appreciative Inquiry is about the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives “life” to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. All involve, in a central way, the art and practice of asking questions that strengthen a system’s capacity to apprehend, anticipate and heighten positive potential. (COOPERRIDER, WHITNEY, 2005) Questions may have two effects on love needs:

1. Asking questions and being very curious about the most important values and things in the executive’s life are the milestones which show that coach cares about the executive. That is a sign of care and friendship from the perspective of the executive.

2. Questions are asked in such a way that the structure of the question shows the client’s strength. Instead of asking “How do you solve this problem?” asking “How would you use your strengths in this case?” is a way of appreciative inquiry.

4) Powerful Questioning and The Esteem Needs

Powerful Questioning also relates to the esteem needs from the respect side as described above. Appreciative Inquiry increases self-esteem to some extent.

5) Goal Orientation and Setting and The Esteem Needs

In doing executive coaching, it is important to incorporate two essential elements in order for any development to be effective and permanent: all work must be tied to an outer quantifiable goal that represents a stretch. 2. The belief structure of the executive must be uncovered, acknowledged, and then restructured to support the accomplishment of the objective with ease and grace. (DYER, 2002)

What we know from different definitions of coaching is, goal orientation and goal setting are indispensable parts of a good coaching relation. If there is no goal setting at the stake, it is hardly called coaching. Self-esteem has three different resources a) Past successes b) Perceptions on past successes c) Value of those successes.

If coaching succeeds goal orientation and goal setting, that may lead to desired successes and that result effects mostly the self-credibility and self-esteem.

6) Goal Orientation and Setting and The Need for Self Actualization

A “power dominates” belief system is responsible for the arrogance that drove the destructive behavior of the executives. An equally ineffective belief system of those witnessing the process prevented them from taking appropriate challenging actions. Reconstructing belief systems is a powerful tool in shifting behavior in a productive direction. (DYER, 2002)

Coaching is about getting the things and changes done. So in order to reach to different results at the leadership level, the behaviors need to change. Behavior changes generally require belief changes. But why do the executives need to change behaviors and beliefs for cases? It is evident that they are in need to performing better and challenging their maximum potentials that we call self-actualization. Coaching aims to increase the performance and the potential of the executive according to the International Coach Federation definition. Goal setting is all about reaching the points wanted by the executives. So it is closely related.

7) Trust and Love Needs

Trust can be in two different meanings as per relations with people. According to Oxford Dictionary; Trust someone to: it is characteristic or predictable for someone to act in the specified way. Trust someone with: allow someone to have, use, or look after (someone or something of importance or value) with confidence.

In coaching we call trust as Trust Someone With. In this paper context I will use trust within the second definition.

Coaches must effectively establish boundaries and build trust by being clear about the learning and development objectives they set, showing good judgment, being patient and following through on any promises and agreements they make. (FRANKOVELGIA, 2010)

Trust is generally accepted by the practitioners as the most fundamental competency in coaching. As it makes building the relationship with the executive possible. It is always easier to grow and be very open with someone you trust.

Trust is not something all loving relationships start with. (SCHMITZ, SCHMITZ, 2010)

As being partnership within ICF Coaching definition, coaching also starts with trust and lasts with trust.

8) Trust and The Esteem Needs

Trust is a reciprocal word. It can be understood in two ways. A) Coach’s trust with the executive. B) Executive’s trust with the coach. As per the esteem needs, I mean more of the first one by using trust concept. However, trust is more in the meaning of relying on executive that he/she can achieve what he/she desires in a rational sense.

The Golem effect and Pygmalion effect are psychological phenomenon. They lower expectations placed upon individuals either by supervisors or the individuals themselves lead to poorer performance by the individual or vice versa. This effect is mostly seen and studied in educational and organizational environments. It is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. (BABAD, INBAR, ROSENTHAL, 1982)

An Executive Coach is one who holds expectations as the level of all rational results can be obtained as the executive’s strengths is totally used and the executive coach shows and reflects that belief to the executive in their conversation. So within this context trust is more of a predictability of the behavior.

9) Trust and The Need for Self Actualization

As stated in section 8, that set of beliefs that the executive can do necessary changes in his beliefs and behaviors lead to successful results to some extent as demonstrated in the Pygmalion effect.

So it is closely related as it has an effect on achieving to reach desired results for the self-actualization. According to the research done by Susan Alvey and Kathleen Barclay in 2007, they defined the sources of trust in a table as below.

In Maslow’s needs hierarchy, I believe that the most powerful motivation resources are Love, The Esteem Needs and The Need for Actualization for most of the executives. That does not mean that the executives are driven by Physiological Needs or Safety Needs. However my assumption is the upper three supersedes the first two at the top management level.

Human behaviors change as Marco E. L. Guidi (1994) in his paper called “pain and human action: Locke to Bentham” concludes that we can find two different approaches to analyze. The first approach (which he calls ‘positive hedonism’), initiated by Hobbes: it attributes to pleasure expectations the main role in human action. The second approach (‘negative hedonism’), originated by Locke’s theory of uneasiness.

Whatever the origin of actions, it seems that all actions are originated by either pleasure or pain. The motivation forces are the drivers for pain and pleasure. If we categorize all motivation sources as pain (away motivation) and pleasure (toward motivation) we may find why executives change their behaviors with executive coaching.

Trust Items

Conclusion

Maslow’s theory is just one possible explanation for the behavior and belief change for the executives and this never underestimates the power of reflection and feedback. As trust is set, coach gives reflections and feedback of the leaders’ behaviors’ perceptions and possible consequences of the behaviors to the executive. An executive coach as trusted person is generally very well received as the executive believes that coach is working toward the best interest of the executive.

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