Thursday, June 18, 2009

O.K., You're a Player. Do You Need a Coach?

The new secret weapon in the management arsenal is the executive coach. The right one can help you re-examine your values and your goals and re-establish control of your energy and your time. Do you have the habit of over-promising? Then you need to start under-promising and over-delivering. That’s much more impressive.

One of my recent coaching candidates at AT&T said that his six months of coaching with me "was like a firecracker in his life that is still exploding." It taught him that "people have to take more responsibility for their own growth and development.”

Executive coaching has become one of the hottest things in human resources, except that it doesn't always come out of human resources. HR, in fact, is often the last to know. It is more like a grassroots movement that is spreading throughout corporate America, in companies large and small. Coaches are everywhere these days. Companies hire them to shape up executives or, in some cases, to ship them out. Executives at all levels of the corporate ladder, fed up with a lack of advice from inside the company – most of the mentors are gone – are taking matters into their own hands and enlisting coaches for guidance on how to improve their performance, boost their profits, and make better decisions about everything from talent management to strategy.

Executive coaching is not brand new. Chief executives and senior managers have long sought counsel from personal consultants, wise board members, or industrial psychologists. But in the past ten years coaching has gone mass-market. Now every man and woman can have a coach - and, in an ever more commonly held view, needs one. However, as popular as coaching has become, even now some folks think it’s therapy or getting something “fixed.”

What exactly is a coach? An individual who is part trainer, part consultant, part therapist, and part sounding board. A person who may take the place of a manager whose job used to be to advise, motivate, and train, but whose nose is now mostly stuck in e-mails, or his Blackberry, or her IPhone. Executive coaches often function as therapists, too - though we tend to deny this. Warren Bennis believes that "a lot of executive coaching is really an acceptable form of psychotherapy.” He goes on to say, “It's still tough to say, 'I'm going to see my therapist.' It's okay to say, 'I'm getting counseling from my coach.' "

Coaching in its present form began in the 1980s. Thomas I. Leonard, a financial planner in Seattle, was trying to help some clients figure out what to do with their six-figure salaries and realized that they needed more than just the traditional tax and investment advice. He asked them if they wanted to talk more broadly about life issues, "and they jumped at it," he recalls. "They had no emotional problems; they didn't need to see a therapist. They wanted to brainstorm," he says.

Leonard gave up his financial planning practice and began full-time "life planning" a few years later. One of his clients suggested that he call it coaching. By the late 1980s he was training others to coach. The need intensified through all the corporate downsizing and restructuring in that period. He began a formal coach training program called Coach University in 1992.

But who, exactly, can be a coach? That's the scary part: pretty much anybody. Many of us are therapists or psychologists with corporate backgrounds like me. Many more are dropouts from consulting or simply garden-variety professionals. Right now, coaches are so much in demand that credentials are almost beside the point. What seems to matter most is word of mouth - did the coaching work miracles for somebody you know? Corporate coaches are in such demand that we can charge from $600 to $2,000 a month for three or four 30- to 60-minute phone conversations. Some charge as much as $400 an hour. So many of them are earning far more than psychologists or psychiatrists.

Of course, this whole notion is still foreign to much of traditional corporate America. I have worked for organizations that still find this quite threatening. Part of the fear has to do with confidentiality; it can be very frightening for an organization to have its own employees talking to outsiders. But corporate America must pay attention to the coaching phenomenon, even if it falls outside the traditional corporate organizational chart. It's a reminder that people don't run on autopilot or by remote e-mail. No matter how much the world has changed, people on the job still need some mentoring, some monitoring, some meaningful interaction. And if they can't get that in-house then they must outsource it to a coach.
Watch for next post about personality surveys that coaches administer.

1 comment:

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