Executive Coaching and Debriefing for Corporate Leadership Development Programs
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Digital Zone
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Digital Zone

In today's management environment, new kinds of and tools for corporate leadership development programs have emerged. Certainly one of the most used development tools is executive coaching services. The number of executive coaches has more than doubled in the past decade and corporate leadership development programs are utilizing their services more frequently. However, the fundamentals of executive coaching have actually been around for quite some time in the proper execution of debriefing.


In the U.S. Air Force, debriefing after every flight was a vital process within my training and development as an F-15 fighter pilot. My instructor pilot debriefed with me after every training flight. Later, when I became an instructor pilot and squadron training officer, I did the exact same with my young pilots. After leaving the Air Force, I used the basic tenets of the debriefing process I'd learned, adapted the process to a sales force I led in a private company, and further refined that process over the following 16 years.


I was recently reminded so just how broadly applicable the debriefing framework is as an executive coaching tool whenever a professor approached me by the end of an address to a healthcare team, thanking me for explaining the process of debriefing to the team. She told me, "You've given me the means to truly have a difficult conversation with students, allowing her see what, in herself, needs to alter to ensure that her to be successful."


Corporate leadership development programs require both executive coaching and debriefing practices, processes that utilize complex discussions and deep analyses that resist oversimplification. Executive coaches help their clients to see themselves more accurately, allowing clients to determine actionable objectives for personal change. Likewise, debriefing helps individuals and teams more accurately analyze the job they have done in order to make efforts to improve upon their past initiatives. While executive coaching focuses upon the individual, proper debriefing is beneficial in both individual and team development. The principles are the exact same, however for the debriefing process, the approach is more direct, objective, and simple.


Although corporate leadership development programs draw from both executive coaching and debriefing practices, there's an important difference between the 2 processes: First, executive coaching practices struggle to access the actionable objectives for change. This is where in actuality the highly subjective talent and skill of the coach will come in to play. Second, coaching is less process-driven than proper debriefing. Successful executive coaching is dependent upon the individual style and skill of the coach and the character traits of their client. Successful debriefing, however, is driven by a repeatable, structured process.


Let's examine a number of the aspects of a great debriefing process and compare them to an executive coaching practice. The initial of the elements is what we call "tone." In the debriefing practice, setting the proper tone is critical. The best tone is nameless and rankless, which provides everyone an equal footing. Amy Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School, has labeled this kind of tone "psychologically safe." In executive coaching, an instructor will take time to establish a trusting and psychologically safe tone much such as a professional therapist or physician would for a patient. This tone is important in order to achieve the honesty and truthfulness necessary to recognize objectives for change. In debriefing, the appropriate tone is critical to uncovering mistakes and isolating successes.


Corporate leadership development programs also require the correct tone. With the proper tone, debriefing and executive coaching practices can enable teams and individuals to find the truth. In the executive coaching practice, obtaining the truth of how others see or perceive the client could be a tough process, that will be typical of the analysis of any complex issue. Here is the same in the debriefing practice. Whether we're debriefing a team or an individual's performance, we've to anticipate to dig deep into the main factors behind both successes and errors. To be able to try this, we just utilize the debriefing practice for clear and measurable objectives. One cannot debrief in just about any truly successful and meaningful way without specific and quantifiable objectives.


Inside our corporate leadership development programs, we emphasize the importance of stating clear objectives in both executive coaching and debriefing practices. Clear objectives enable the debriefing process to take two procedural steps in order to discover the main causes. First, we take a look at how well we executed toward our stated objectives - did we do what we said we were going to complete? Did we execute this process in how that people said we were going to complete it? Take a look at each of the tasks we'd to do in order to meet our objective(s). Was each one of these steps effective? Out of this inquisitive process, we are able to develop a short set of successes and errors that form the foundation of our next step: analyzing the execution.

We analyze the execution by taking all of our results - the successes and errors - and subject each to a series of "why's" until we get to the main cause. We continually ask "why" until we get to the fundamental real cause: Why did that happen? What really failed? Did we just get lucky? We can't fix something, replicate successful, identify a near miss, or address a personal shortcoming until we realize just what needs to alter and why.


When we realize what that real cause is, we can get to the actual point of debriefing and executive coaching - taking corrective action. We need actionable feedback in order to improve ourselves. Corporate leadership development training programs help to continuously improve teams and organizations by requiring actionable feedback. Research demonstrates that feedback that's not actionable can actually end up in negative behaviors. The product of debriefing and executive coaching must focus upon what can be carried out to deal with the main causes. With out a specific span of action, reflective activities will be a waste of time at best, and could possibly trigger negative behaviors at worst.


A successful debriefing process develops an actionable lesson found that addresses each of the identified results - each success or error. A training learned is a set of steps intended to resolve the error or replicate the success of each of the root causes. It is an objective and clear group of instructions or actions necessary to improve personal, team and organizational performance in the future. Furthermore, in the context of team debriefing, it assigns a single accountable individual to take that group of actions or to properly store the learning for future use.


Such are the basic processes, utilized by corporate leadership development programs, for both debriefing and individual coaching. However, there's one final secret to successfully using these practices. Inside our corporate leadership development programs, we recommend performing these processes frequently and in small, achievable portions. Successful executive coaches help clients to tackle personal goals a little at any given time, meeting with individuals to assess incremental progress relatively frequently, typically every two weeks. The debriefing frequency also needs to follow this timeline. If debriefing occurs less frequently than once monthly, the individual or the team is likely to "choke on the elephant." It is hard to alter, especially when you are attempting a large amount of change in a brief period of time. Aim to alter slowly, a little at a time. Here is the same philosophy behind successful change methodologies.


There's a strong, meaningful correlation involving the debriefing and executive coaching processes. James Hunt and Joseph Weintraub, Babson College of Management professors, argue that facilitated learning, such as executive coaching, is leveraged to extraordinary results through forms including the U.S. Army's After Action Review (AAR) and the U.S. Air Force's debriefing process. Both executive coaching and debriefing are kinds of facilitated learning, and both are utilized in successful corporate leadership development coach. However, in executive coaching, a third party facilitates the learning for just one member of an organization. However the debriefing process allows the team to facilitate learning for individual team members and the business as a whole.

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