Tips for coaching younger executives

It is becoming increasingly important to focus on early talent development to attract and retain young talent. Formal and informal coaching is a fantastic way to build self-awareness and positive behaviour change however it is important to understand the best way to accelerate a leader’s growth is influenced by their age.

Classic lifespan literature describes ongoing maturation during each decade of adulthood. The thirties are often characterised by intense activity to establish the foundation for a successful career; this involves mastering rules that win approval. In contrast, the forties often involve a turning point from novice to mentor, which may bring a deeper appreciation for life’s paradoxes. The seasoning that comes with age includes expanding one’s appreciation for subtlety, ambiguity, and imperfection.

In a recent study by Lois Tamir and Laura Finfer from Leadership Excellence Consulting, it was found that executive coaching programs for younger executives were often more difficult, requiring more directness, cajoling and nurturing. Executives in their thirties often found it harder to commit to honest and courageous self-assessment, and their level of change was less dramatic than that of executives in their forties and fifties. It was also found that younger executives tended to respond to concrete recommendations and specific rules or guidelines to follow, but they often did not show interest in understanding why they did the things they did. Older executives were more curious about the reasons for their behaviour — they wanted insight, as opposed to rules, to drive behaviour change.

What can you do differently?

Some influencing factors behind such differences possibly include, being identified as a high potential at an early age may reinforce one’s self-perception of being a winner who does things right. This could explain why younger executives treat coaching as a perk that can be beneficial, while older executives are more eager to learn more about themselves, expand their options, and welcome a confidante who challenges their thinking. Allowing younger executives the freedom to try new things and sometimes fail can instil a greater readiness to change behaviour.

Second, the younger executives in the sample tended to miss subtlety and nuance in human behaviour. They were more likely to operate based on black-and-white ideals, such as, “There is one best idea that should prevail”. On the other hand, older executives are generally more attuned to subtle discrepancies between what others say and what they actually do. In these cases, a coaching style which entails framing coaching advice using concrete if-then scenarios and templates for behaviour is often beneficial.

The PeopleScape Approach

Over the years, experienced consultants at PeopleScape have coached individuals from a wide range of age groups. All coaching programs are tailored for the individual and underpinned by the PeopleScape Positive Behaviour Change FrameworkTM. A recent analysis of coaching program outcomes across all age groups shows a 62% increase in personal ratings against pre-determined goals, with manager perceptions also increasing by 38%. By keeping abreast of this kind of research into age differences in coaching, we are able to continually tailor our coaching approaches and adjust our style for maximum benefit.

If you are interested in a coaching program for younger executives or feel the leaders in your business would benefit from targeted training around coaching within their team, please contact PeopleScape today.