Beyond the master apprentice relationship | Chris Corneil | Executive Coaching International

Beyond the master apprentice relationship

Apr 16 - min read

Improving executive performance and building outstanding teams is a sometimes difficult, but always a rewarding prospect, Business First speaks with Executive Coaching International’s (ECI) founder David Gwynne and Chris Corneil about the best way to tackle business challenges.

Eci founder David Gwynne and Chris Corneil have different backgrounds, but complementary skills.

Gwynne began his working life as an industrial psychologist before taking a role as head of strategy implementation for a major international consulting firm and subsequently establishing his own management consulting business. He has worked for one of Australia’s largest privately owned conglomerates as an Executive Director, driving a business improvement program. He has also led a financial services business.

Corneil was most recently the Australasian CEO of a large financial organization comprising a $25 billion asset management business and in his 30 years in business has come to understand the value in balancing EQ, with IQ and management expertise to get the best out of businesses and their leaders.

“I've spent about 25 years in the investment management industry, “Corneil says. “I’ve had a series of executive roles, including as CEO of a large financial firm for a number of years. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with two executive coaches during my career so I've actually drunk the KoolAid and been on the other side of the table. In fact, that's where I first met David – he was my first executive coach more than ten years ago.”

Today they work with a range of very experienced coaches who have helped forge eci’s reputation.

As per the eci website, eci approaches its executive coaching practice by understanding the vast array of cultural and business challenges that executives face, we establish bespoke coaching programs and goals around:
▪ Leadership development, effectiveness and achieving business outcomes
▪ Personal and professional development during periods of disruption

Executive coaching has become an enormously saturated market.

So how does a company in this sector stand out?

It is a question eci posed to its clients last year.

“The answers they gave were that we were highly personalised, that we conveyed, demonstrated and maintained high levels of trust and that our approach and our people showed the utmost integrity,” Gwynne says. “We build rapport quickly, and more importantly, we produce the results that the organisations want to see and what they're paying for.”

The key really is to demonstrate a track record of successful results. Of being able to develop a program of significant progress within an organisation.

“At the end of the day we expect to see that organisations are making significant progress having invested in executive coaching. The benefits are both tangible and intangible,” Corneil says.

Eci believe the tangible benefits of coaching are the business results – more effective business outcomes. The intangible are the way people feel.

“Clients regularly say to our coaches, ‘listen I'm really under the pump, I'm so incredibly busy, but I'm really glad I came here for this meeting today’. Or they finish the meeting and say, ‘that was a great meeting’. Clients leave meetings with their coaches more focussed on the high impact things they can do to deliver better business results”.

“These are the sorts of intangible benefits people experience after they've been working through our coaching process. That gives all of us an enormous sense of fulfilment in what we are doing and indicates we are having a positive impact.”

A bespoke coaching program is developed for each client eci works with. Gwynne says these programs are developed with a number of dimensions in mind.

“I like to start with the macro-dimension: where the world is and where organizations and their leaders find themselves. As executive coaches we have to come in with a good world-view around the forces of change, and how that impacts on organizations and the people in them.

“An organization faces all sorts of strategic challenges that you need to understand. You need to understand where the organization sits and what the dynamic environment it's in, whether it be government or private sector.

The other dimension is to understand the culture of that organization and where it has changed. So we spend time working with the organization to understand its culture. We then use a tailored, customized feedback process to get very granular about what change is necessary for that individual or that part of the organization. You have to get through a lot of backstory and you need to get down to the very specifics: what we need to do in next three months, six months, and so on. This early work ensures we are coaching in the areas that will help the executive to have the greatest impact within their organisation.”

The problem is every leader is different and each one see the cultural development and business growth differently, but Corneil reiterates Gwynne’s point that no matter what the differences are, coaching success comes down to understanding the issues facing a business.

The value of eci is the diversity and range of professional experience of its coaches who have lived these issues themselves.

“It's incredibly important to us that our coaches have sat in the hot seats of our clients, whatever level that is. So they know from first hand experience what it's like: the pressures, the ambiguities that exist, and the speed with which business moves today.”

Eci coaches work with leaders to help them pause and reflect on things that aren’t working well and things that can be done better.

“That forced reflection which leads to a plan, which leads to action, is incredibly powerful for all executives, and especially senior executives. That's where we see executives really moving the dial and moving their organizations forward,” Corneil says.

The backgrounds of the eci coaches means they have the content and the horsepower to deal with the issues, the ambiguities, the pressures, and the macro-dynamics of their clients.

“More subtly, I think best practice in coaching is to be highly adaptable, highly contextual and to be able to deal with whatever shows up on the day,” Gwynne says. “The executive could arrive with a business problem, a personal problem or both; it can change intra-meeting. So the coach needs to be able to be adaptable and flexible and deal with the context in the market, the organization, the speed of business, the flattening of the world. There are forces coming from all different directions and coaches need to be able to adapt and work with their clients to work through all that, and not be rigid and dogmatic.

Corneil adds, “The other point about this is that the coach is there to help executives find solutions for their problems not tell them what to do in a master/pupil relationship. Learning at the foot of the master is really not the point of coaching, it's to help executives learn, discover and be more effective along the way. Nor is it the purpose to sit and have a cup of tea and listen to the executive’s ongoing narrative. I think the final part of best practice is that it's active and it's focused on achieving real business outcomes.”

It is that approach that has delivered so much success for eci. One of its achievements was realised just last week when a client received the biggest bonus of her life.

“So we put the client on notice that we expected that from her again next year” Gwynne says.

“Our achievements are the successes of our clients It’s when they get a promotion or when they successfully take on a very major challenge in a business and exceed expectations.”

Eci strives to help across people’s entire lives. “It's seeing our clients have better lives. Their well-being is improved, their engagement with people is improved, their self-regard is in a good space and their resilience is better. Success can be measured organizationally, it can be measured financially, it can be measured emotionally, and we're looking at all those as metrics when we are working with our clients.”

For the eci partners, success is also measured by how quickly their own business is growing.

“We're nine plus years in, working across a breadth of industries and getting strong referrals and recommendations from our existing clients. Strong client advocacy and seeing people genuinely experiencing success are things that indicate that as a business we are on the right track.”

Gwynne and Corneil are determined to continue to look over the horizon and with their coaches, continue to help executives successfully navigate and thrive in an increasingly complex and fast paced business environment. “As in professional sports, executives are realising 21st century business requires peak performance and this requires the support of a professional coach”.

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