South African companies are catching on to the global trend of using coaches to help their executives attain new levels of excellence. But why would high-flying super-achievers need coaching? What does a coach know that executives do not already know about themselves, their careers, their business?

“Coaching is a well-defined process, with business objectives aimed at directing and channelling an individual’s potential toward a chosen outcome,” says Jenny Hoggarth, business coach and Purple Pineapple Consulting MD. “Coaching provides measurable improvement in performance, both organisationally and personally.” Bryan Hattingh’s company Cycan runs a coaching practice based on the neurosemantic meta coaching models developed by Dr Michael Hall. Hall defines coaching as “the tool in business for actualising the best in people, getting peak performance and unleashing potential”. Recent studies conducted on behalf of a Fortune 500 company found that coaching produced a 529 percent return on investment.


Jill Hamlyn, MD of The People Business is an executive coach and head of a coaching academy. Hamlyn says coaching offers a process that raises efficiencies and has measureable results.

“The coach does not judge; 90 percent of the time, the coach is asking questions that have never been asked before, but not giving any answers. He or she rather gives ownership to the individual and enables them to see more than one option.” She says even the most successful people are stuck in their thinking and behave within boundaries. Coaching removes these boundaries.

All the coaches Brainstorm spoke to define their role in a similar way. Hoggarth says the primary role of a coach is to act as “a catalyst” to evoke excellence, particularly in already high performing individuals. Hattingh says meta coaching is “facilitating excellence and enabling clients to view their lives and careers through a new set of lenses”

Typically, organisations employ executive coaches to work with their executives to develop them as individuals, and fulfil both personal and organisational goals.


Coaching services are expensive. The People Business’s six-month coaching programme costs five percent of the annual salary of the coached candidate. Cycan offers a three to four month coaching programme which costs R45 000 and consists of nine sessions, in which desired outcomes are set and measured. Hattingh says there are now many centres training people to become coaches.

“Most of them have never been in a business of their own, which does not make for a good foundation for a coach. They fall in a trap of discounting coaching fees in order to get experience, business and referrals. Some people charge as little as R150 an hour and there’s a danger of coaching as a professional service to be averaged down.”

Hattingh is currently being coached telephonically by Michelle Duval, CEO of the largest executive coaching practice in Australia, at the cost of about R3 000 per hour. But how do business executives respond to being assigned a coach? And how do companies know if their candidates are ready to be coached?

Hoggarth says executive coaching is quite different to performance coaching, which has been used by some organisations in a negative way to justify unfavourable actions. “This is why some people are wary of coaching, but that is not what executive coaching is all about.”

To illustrate the point, Hoggarth explains that organisations would, for example, bring in a coach when considering taking a business unit manager to the level of directorship. “A manager would typically have excellent technical experience downwards but, in moving up, it is often useful to learn the transformational, political and interdependency competencies required at higher management levels.”

Hattingh says it is ill-advised for companies to commission coaching for people who are underperforming or demotivated.

“Coaching is for healthy, well-entrenched, high-potential achievers, who are part of the culture and in line with the executive board. Companies should assess whether candidates are ready for coaching.” Another important consideration is what qualities to look for in a coach. Hamlyn says a lot of people call themselves coaches, which leads to confusion between executive coaching and lifestyle or sport coaching. “Executive personal coaching is about people in business,” she stresses. Both Hattingh and Hamlyn point to the difference between      psychological therapy and business coaching. “It’s dangerous to get too involved with the psychological aspect of coaching,” says Hamlyn, “but a coach should have knowledge about behavioural models.”

Hattingh separates coaching grounded “in self-actualising psychology”, which helps healthy people realise their full potential, from “psychology of pathology”, which is focused on healing emotionally unwell people.

Still, companies are not sure what to expect from coaching and tend to confuse it with mentoring.

“Most have never been in a business of their own, which does not make for a good foundation for a coach.”  – Bryan Hattingh of Cycan


Hamlyn explains that mentoring is an internal process, while coaching is typically external. “In mentoring, you are telling someone: ‘I’ve done your job and it works this way’. Coaching is never about  ‘This is how you should to it’. The intent is that the person coached develops him or herself, and is not developed by the coach.”

Clarence McDermid, part of The People Business coaching network and former CEO of a global pharmaceutical company, has done internal coaching during his career, but also gives preference to external coaching. “The benefit over internal coaching is that it avoids cloning people.”


Although initiated and sponsored by a company, all that the organisation sees of the coaching process is the initial goals and measurement against those desired outcomes at the end. “Coaching is very personal, so the inside process remains hidden and is not shared with the sponsor,” says Hoggarth. “That’s the only way of remaining apolitical.”

Practitioners say one of the main reasons this style of business coaching works so well is that it provides a neutral environment for managers to receive necessary feedback. Coaches can then share the perspectives of colleagues and subordinates with the coached executive in a trusting environment where the information can be used constructively to gain insight.

Much of coaching has to do with business strategy, where the coach will challenge their charges on business plans and strategies, with a significant part of the process relating to emotional intelligence.

Hoggarth contrasts this emotional intelligence, or EQ, with the more familiar intelligence quotient. “EQ has been proven to be more critical that IQ when it comes to high level success, but many technical people find this a challenge. They have a huge amount of IQ, but they never focused on their EQ, which includes managing emotions and understanding the human factor in business.

“It is a charismatic thing,” acknowledges Hoggarth. “A lot has to do with the personality of the coach. There has to be a chemistry between you and the ‘coachee’.”

Although coaching is a structured process, Hoggarth explains that it is not a linear one and varies from person to person. The coach must draw from different methodologies to find unique ways to ‘enable’ the person being coached. However, the process moves through roughly the same five phases.

“In other words, an individual starts off not knowing what they don’t know. They then hear what they don’t know and must work at becoming competent so that, eventually, the modified behaviour or attitude becomes automatic,” explains Hoggarth. “ However, when taking someone to the uncomfortable position of conscious incompetence, a coach needs to counsel them through that realisation and help them put actions plans in place to become competent.”

Some of the world’s top executives are being coached. Dell’s CEO Michael Dell  and President Kevin Rollins – described their coaches as typical alpha males: bold, self-confident and demanding – wanted to develop a more mature and welcome culture. Like most alphas, Dell and Rollins needed to step outside the constraints of their own style and see themselves as others do.

Source: Harvard Business Review

Coaching upwardly mobile
Why do top achievers need coaching?
By Warwick Ashford and
Ranka Jovanovic