One of the most significant trends in professional development for executives in recent years has been the increase in the number and visibility of executive coaches. The Harvard Business Review estimates executive coaching is a $1 billion industry, and a study conducted by the Hay Group found up to 40% of Fortune 500 companies use executives coaches. Instead of looking the other way when it comes to an executive’s leadership deficiencies, or worse, terminating or passing them over for promotions, employers are hiring coaches to smooth the rough edges of their executives. Large corporations are not the only ones using executive coaches. Law firms, not for profits and other businesses and professions are increasingly turning to these experts. Cheryl Smith Bryan, President of Coaching for Career Success, believes that companies and individuals are realizing the benefits of having a coach to determine what executives need in order to be successful, and how to go about acquiring essential leadership tools.
Considering working with an executive coach? Here are a few pointers:
• Understand the purpose of an executive coach. Bryan explains that the role of an executive coach is to help executives identify strengths and areas for development, and then assist them in developing a plan to leverage strengths and address weaknesses. Like any great coach, an executive coach will then hold charges accountable for their plan.
• Expect to work with your coach anywhere from three months to one year or more. Executive coaches spend time gathering different types of data about their clients before they suggest areas for improvement. Executive coaches often spend time shadowing clients in order to see how they behave at work. They may also talk to their clients’ colleagues in order to get a better idea of how their clients are viewed by co-workers.
• A coach can benefit an executive in several ways. J. Mike Smith, founder and principal of Back West, Inc., a management consulting firm, says that his clients typically fall into one of thee categories: executives who are currently doing well and want to become even more successful; executives who are working towards the next job or opportunity and are trying to add skills which they do not currently possess; or executives who are currently struggling and want to salvage a current role or move into a different role.
• Know what you want out of a coach. Executive coaches are typically paid by the executive’s employer. Employers often view the use of a coach as an investment in the executive’s future, and they aren’t likely to pay for such a service unless they foresee the executive remaining with the organization for a reasonable length of time. Working with an executive coach may not be the right choice for everyone. While some coaches combine executive coaching with career or life coaching, others specialize in one area. Career coaches generally help individuals with career planning or a job search, and are usually paid by the individual. Conversely, executive coaches help clients modify undesirable behavior that hinders success, and develop skills that will bolster success. If you want assistance developing a career strategy, a career coach may be a better option.
• Ask around to find the right coach. Executive coaches are often found by word of mouth. If you’re interested in hiring a coach for yourself rather than going through your employer, ask your employer’s human resources department, a search firm with whom you have worked, or a friend or colleague who has worked with a coach.
• Expect results. Smith recalls a client, “John,” who was stalled in his career as a vice president of a large company. Smith helped John pinpoint his strengths and weaknesses, and after determining that John was a natural problem-solver, recommended that he begin seeking opportunities in his organization that would utilize his impressive problem-solving skills. Smith also helped John become more direct and assertive, an area where he needed improvement. After working with Smith and making these seemingly small changes to his behavior, John’s colleagues responded differently to him and his professional life improved dramatically. John became more efficient and was recently promoted to executive vice president of the same company.
• Executive coaches are trained professionals. Most executive coaches have had a successful career in corporate America. In addition to the coach’s own career experience, there are formal training and certification programs. The International Association of Coaching and the International Coaching Federation are two of the primary governing bodies that certify coaches. Some universities, such as Georgetown and Columbia, offer leadership coaching programs.
It is clear that with a commitment to personal growth and the right coach, executives can significantly improve their professional lives. Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO of Google, has even been quoted as stating “everyone needs a coach.” With employers and individuals reaping the results of an effective executive coach, expect executive coaching to become a more sought-after perk and to move careers ahead faster than the company car.