How I became Executive Coach

My coaching sessions have clearly benefited from my many years of experience as a university lecturer and my countless focused dialogue processes with students who, at a fairly advanced level, were completing MBA programmes alongside their work. Almost without exception, my aim has been to improve operational scenarios, create more opportunities for the people concerned, and to increase impact or reduce sources of inefficiency in companies. My first coachees were my former Master’s students.

After my appointment as a Professor of International Management and Economics, for many years I taught various modules in Master of Business Administration and Master of Science courses at a number of universities e.g. Soft Skills & Leadership Qualities, Strategic Management, Human Resources and Honourable Leadership.

It’s typical of Executive MBA programmes that students are experienced employees who are studying for their degree in parallel to their careers. Either they are already working as a manager or they are about to become one. Many of the students in my groups have already had to bear a great deal of responsibility, with significant budgets and at times with lots of people reporting to them.

And these students came – and still come – mainly from companies or the non-profit sector. As a professor, for a start I’ve got the role of imparting the material, that’s obvious. But in MBA programmes, and also in other areas of executive education, a lot of work is done using case studies. Students come with real cases from their own practice and expertise to discuss with one another and solve them in a persuasive fashion. They then submit their case studies to my university as examination papers and have them commented and graded by me.

Everyone benefits from real cases

When students work on their cases over many weeks and, in between, present their progress to the group, there’s first of all a great deal of joint discussion. This is of great benefit to all in their ongoing case work, and especially for the person presenting. During these discussions, I remain an observer for quite a while until at some point I intervene, asking questions to steer the conversation, giving input and of course also positioning myself. At the appropriate time, I’ll say how I’d do it, what should perhaps be paid attention to or rather left alone, what could happen if this or that is deliberately left out or overlooked, etc.

In my experience, this again helps students to understand their topics better. Thus the topic they’re referring to is indeed relevant, but often would simply fall short, be too straightforward or much too complicated to deal with in the manner it might appear to these students at first glance. I experience again and again that students only arrive at their real question, their real concern, with the encouragement of such queries and interventions. In these dialogues they discover, as it were, the question behind their question and we’re able to devise basic options and steps to improve the scenario that is revealed in their case study. And they are warned of the possible side-effects, which are often not intended but can of course arise if these measures are then implemented. And in the meantime, their other fellow students in the room just listen.

Then they are able to respond to the challenge they have set themselves more appropriately, likewise appropriately in a methodological sense, in order to work on their topic properly and eventually solve it in a permanent way. This creates new opportunities for action for themselves or for their companies. And it means that their path towards this goal is conceptually and theoretically more sound, and at the same time more practice-oriented!

What would you do in this case?

As I continued to proceed in this way, this is what happened: students suddenly came up to me to talk to me about completely different topics concerning their companies, their role in them, or their careers – topics, however, that were not directly related to their studies. Again and again a student would come up to me and say: “Could you perhaps say something about this? What would you do in that case?”

As long as students are still at university, I can only give my own brief assessment, more than that isn’t fitting. However, since I was already an independent consultant before working as a professor, I was able to accept such requests and topics as a consulting or coaching brief after my students had completed their Master’s degrees and left university.

So that’s how it started for me with business and executive coaching. Thus my path to coaching developed quite naturally. My former students in the Executive MBA Programme were among my first coachees. That was in 2003.

My coaching sessions are about real cases, yet they’re very different from university

In the coaching process, of course, everything is different again, much more focused on the person and the specific concerns and unresolved questions that they bring to the table. Indeed, we often touch on various levels: the self-understanding or image of the coachee, their abilities, their concrete behaviour in their company or in specific situations there, but naturally also on important beliefs and basic principles that always control perception and behaviour.

I’ve kept this up over all these years, even when I was the Chair of a foundation or later as Managing Director. Even after I founded Flunx Media GmbH, and also currently – parallel to my work as a university lecturer and managing director – I coach executives and high potential people from the business world.

For my coachees, I attend two further training courses each year on an ongoing basis. Sometimes they only last one day, sometimes they are held over several days. I’m currently attending further training courses for coaching and naturally these also have the seal of approval of the German Association for Coaching and Training (DVCT) and are recognised by the German Federal Association for Coaching (DBVC).

When my coaches invest in trust, greater impact is the return

It’s simply wonderful to promote personal development in a methodical way. And also to provide guidance, to offer a level of reflection, to be able to help, and in so doing to search together for a suitable outcome. For this, mutual sympathy is important, and understanding and confidentiality an absolute necessity. And, to this end, it’s really good that I don’t belong to a coachee’s inner circle, but am an external service provider for my partner companies, with whose people I work.

I still think it’s great as well that people open up in a coaching session and how quickly they do so. For me, that’s a real compliment. Of course, they also understand straightaway that it’s their process, and that the effect and thus their personal benefit is much greater if they get involved as they are, including all the capabilities that distinguish them individually and which they find in their companies. Indeed, we take a resource-oriented approach as well. That means we have to know our resources in order to orientate ourselves around them in coaching and to activate and better utilise them, using the appropriate methods in each case.

In this first podcast episode I also briefly address the following audio book that I wrote, read and set to sound. It is a family drama. The story is about Professor Hansen and his family in Hamburg during the Weimar Republic. He does everything he can to support his beloved daughter, but in the process he becomes entangled in contradictions and causes great harm. The book is read in German.

Link: Wie es dazu kam (Hörbuch)