By Jonathan Kirschner, Psy.D. • January 15, 2015

Executive Coaching: Time to Hang Up the Phone

The traditional model of executive coaching is for meetings to be conducted in-person, with either the coach traveling to the executive’s workplace for sessions or the client meeting in the office of the coach. This idealistic approach to coaching assumes the availability of time and physical space.

Time Is Scarce and Space is Getting Weird
In our globalized, VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) business environment today, there is never enough time! Executives navigating this demanding atmosphere often describe feeling like a candle being burned at both ends. They are working harder than ever just to stay afloat in their overflowing email inbox, let alone traverse unknown business territory and meet treacherous competition head-on.

Space is similarly a challenge. In organizations offering workplace flexibility and shifting to open floor plans, the entire concept of work-space has been turned on its head. Corporate social networks, video, and other virtual collaboration tools have expanded our options for communication and getting work done. The paradigm for traditional office space is rapidly shifting.

The need for strong leadership, talent pipeline, people management skills, and personal effectiveness has never been greater for organizations than it is today. However, our leaders need something more than our traditional model offers.

How do we make executive coaching more relevant and accessible for today’s leaders? How can coaching better adapt to the demands, constraints, and realities posed on today’s business leaders?

To date, the coaching industry has not succeeded in building agile coaching solutions without compromising the quality of the coaching. For example, over the last seven years, we have seen the emergence of text-based coaching, coach-in-a-box coaching, and numerous other fads that play into the commoditization of coaching and risk diminishing the number one factor that research has shown to be correlated with a successful coaching outcome -  the coaching relationship.

Beyond fads, coaches have tried to adapt to today’s business environment through two primary strategies: Increasing telephone sessions and using Skype-like-technologies.

The Problem with the Phone:
While telephone is perhaps the cheapest and most convenient way to engage a session, the most honest coaches will acknowledge the painful feeling that arises when they hear the muted pecks on a keyboard, or worse, a disengaged coachee who is distracted. Multi-tasking has become an inevitable coping strategy for inundation, and telephone coaching sessions can provide an executive a very convenient window to pull out their smartphone when visual feedback is not present to hold them accountable.

Utilizing a consumer based video application (i.e. Skype)
To combat the multitasking issue and achieve an element of face-to-face interaction, some coaches will utilize Skype, Facetime, or other alternative video tools to engage their coaching sessions. While this eliminates the multitasking issue and captures aspects of nonverbal behavior, wide variability in audio and visual quality can significantly diminish both the exchange of information as well as important relational cues that get lost through an echo, delays in data transmission, or blurry/pixelated video resolution.

How To Receive Superior Coaching in VUCA times
At AIIR, we believe telepresence coaching is the most effective solution for coaching in a VUCA context. Based on our 6 years of leveraging telepresence technology for global coaching engagements and leadership programs, we view the distinct advantages of telepresence coaching to be the following:

1. Immediacy: With phone and tablets now capable of leveraging telepresence, clients can essentially have their coach on demand - anytime, anywhere. There is no longer a need to reserve the boardroom. No airplanes taken. One click and the coach and client are in the same virtual room getting right to work.

2. Relationship Enhancing: Being able to establish visual contact enables a relational “syncing” that is deeper, more complex, and richer than simple verbal communication. Face-to-face communication deepens the coaching relationship because both parties have an opportunity to capture a broader array of emotional expression and non-verbal data (i.e. voice, facial expression, posture, background, dress, and even hair style.

3. Coach Sourcing- Telepresence eliminates traditional geographic constraints, enabling clients to choose their coach based on the quality and fit of the coach, rather than just geographic fit.

4. Cost Savings: By reducing in-person sessions, telepresence significantly reduces the travel expenses associated with traditional executive coaching.

5. Accessibility: Within a global context, there will always be leaders who are based in hard to reach locations. In addition, high-travel executives can be in Seattle, Dallas, Mumbai and NYC all within 2 weeks. These 2 challenges (distant location and high-travel executive) are solved through telepresence coaching.

6. Accountability: Todays typical leader is bombarded with information, which often encourages multi-tasking behavior, even during coaching sessions. Telepresence coaching ensures a high level of accountability for staying focused and a high level engagement on the content.

To be sure, traditional in-person coaching will always have its place and there are elements of in-person interactions that create a compelling case for the investment of time, energy, and capital to ensure some coaching sessions are held in person. However, in a VUCA environment characterized by scarcity of time and space, telepresence coaching enables a highly-focused, engaging medium for coaching transformation to unfold.

If you would like to experience it for yourself, please feel free to reach out to us at AIIR Consulting ([email protected]) and we would be happy to demonstrate the value of telepresence coaching in more depth, and through a live telepresence experience!


AIIR Consulting is a global leadership development consulting firm dedicated to increasing the effectiveness and performance of leaders and their organizations. AIIR services include traditional executive coaching, telepresence coaching, talent development technology and leadership pipeline development. Through strategic integration of coaching and technology, AIIR redefines the limits of traditional consulting by making leadership development available any time and anywhere.