The Executive Coach Sweet Spot

The Three Waves of Change

Executive Coaches and Consultants with the Right Tools Can Be Most Valuable Through the Beginning of the Second Wave of Change

Man on rock surounded by the sea
The Three Waves of Change® services address the transitioning executive's learning process.  Engaging an executive coach or consultant knowledgeable in executive learning, transitions, team building, and organizational change can accelerate and increase the effectiveness of the learning process. Previous independent research plus our and others' experiences strongly suggest that the transitioning executive is expected to take a stand and truly take charge of his or her new responsibilities for the business at sometime around the fifth quarter. While the executive is challenged to manage the "three wave phenomena," we believe the executive coach and consultant can accelerate the executive's learning and resulting change processes most effectively through the beginning of the Second Wave.

Executives Need a Coach Who Can Adapt to His or Her Preferred Style of Learning

David Kolb's Model of Adult Learning

A "one size fits all" approach with the intent to enable and accelerate learning does not work for senior executives. Different executives bring different past experiences of success, different reference points, different styles of learning, and different emotionally-loaded ways of interpreting data and information. David Kolb's model of adult learning suggests that there are four major stages of learning: Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, Active Experimentation, and Concrete Experience.   This is an individual learning process that is typically iterative and the cycle becomes a spiral of learning. By revisiting current knowledge with new insights, these spirals lead to continuing improvements in the executive's capacity to manage change.

Different people seem to exhibit a preference to enter the learning cycle at different points.  Some learn by experimentation and need a creative coach who can provide lots of new ideas for them to try.   Some learn by concrete experience and feeling.  They need a trusted partner who has clear eyes to see areas where the facts may be getting skewed and who can accurately reflect their emotional read.  Some leaders prefer to learn by observing and need a coach who helps them make sense of all the variables by identifying simple themes.  Finally many other leaders need a lively thought partner that can help them analyze large bits of data, conceptualize the implications, and make decisions that will positively impact the business and the people involved.  That's a tall order!

The Executive Coach as a Learning Partner is Most Valuable in Wave 1, Immersion, and the Beginning of Wave 2 Changes

While the entire transition journey during the first two to three years is a learning and mastery process, our experience suggests that an experienced executive coach with the right diagnostic and organizational change tools can be most valuable through the learning cycles of Wave1, Immersion, and the successful launch of Wave 2 changes.  Most organizations are able to manage Wave 3 (Consolidation) and the Refinement stages without much additional coaching or consulting assistance. A high-level description of the possible coaching interventions at each of these three stages of the executive transition process is described later in this article.
Sweet Spot for an Executive Coach to Accelerate Learning

Mapping the New Executive's Accelerated Learning Against the Three Wave Phenomena

Executive Coach Involvement Most Valuable Through Wave 2
Our global executive coaching and consulting experience confirms the implications of Gabarro's model - that the "sweet spot" for accelerating the learning of the executive, his team, and their stakeholders is far beyond the first 90 to 100 days, but not through the Wave 3 changes or the Refinement period of consistent, sustainable results. Our experience indicates that the coach is most useful through the launch of Wave 2 changes. We will later describe the criteria for when the executive coach and consultant's value-added role is complete at this stage.


1. Gaines-Ross, Leslie. CEO capital: A guide to building CEO reputation and company success. John Wiley & Sons Inc, 2003.

Burson-Marsteller, Press Release regarding the CEO Capital Study: "CEOs Have Only Five Fiscal Quarters to Prove Themselves According to New National Study of Business Influentials:" 10/25/2001.

Wiznami Corp. is an a senior executive coaching service based in Naples, Florida.