Put me in coach, I’m ready to thrive.
From the April 2001 issue of B.C. Business
senior operations manager for a major Vancouver company with hundreds of
employees, loved her job, never lacked for confidence and knew where her career
was headed. So when a good friend who had hired an executive coach for herself
passed the coach’s phone number to Andrea and urged, “You’ll love it;
treat yourself,” Andrea just thanked her and dropped the number in the waste
bin. To her chagrin, this friend was so persistent that she had to repeat the
waste-bin-toss several times over a period of months.
one day, for no reason she could fathom, rather than dump the number, she found
herself dialing it. In retrospect she now understands why she committed money
and time to the stranger’s voice on the other end of the line. “I always
felt there was more to me than I was using,” muses Andrea. “This wasn’t
about achieving the next title or the next zero on the end of the income. It was
about being bigger in the world.”
few months later, seated in the company’s boardroom, Andrea found herself put
on the spot by the CEO, who always counted on her for quick answers and
direction when uncertainty hobbled others. But Andrea shrugged off the question;
she wasn’t convinced the issue warranted a quick answer. The CEO was so
surprised that he approached her afterwards.
didn’t you answer?”
was no need,” she replied smoothly.
she recalls that exchange as symbolic. “He realized I had made a switch in my
approach and he was intrigued by it. I had more impact by my silence and my
listening than by my previous chattiness and need to direct. The coaching was
having a huge influence on how I worked with my staff and colleagues. It was
turning around how I looked at them and how I learned from them and how I
managed and led them. When I worked with a coach, I slowed down and became more
productive and comfortable with change, something the CEO recognized, even
though he did not understand how it had come about.” She adds that her coach,
Georgina Eden, had an approach that was “holistic and transformational on all
at BC Hydro, the senior strategic issues manager can relate. Ron Monk says
executive coaching also changed his life. A former football player, he knew that
good coaches enhance performance and assumed that hiring an executive coach
would help him cope with his demanding workload and clarify larger objectives.
He was right: The coach, with whom he held 30-minute telephone conversations
weekly and met in person twice over the course of a year, helped him improve
listening, communication and delegation skills. But the unexpected bonus was
overall confidence, a better relationship with his wife, and a higher priority
on healthier living. This in turn has given him more energy, improved focus and
diminished sick time. Even though the coaching sessions ended two years ago, he
not only credits them with helping him clinch his latest promotion; he feels
that through the initiatives he tackles, and the more positive influence he has
on staff, the entire company continues to benefit immensely.
executive coach –
part management consultant, part therapist, part career counsellor – is
relatively new to the business world at large, but British Columbia, as it turns
out, is an international hotbed of them, along with San Francisco, New York
City, Minneapolis and Toronto. Where there were half-a-dozen personal coaches
(as they’re also called) in the province five years ago, there are now at
least 141, roughly one-third of them members of organizations such as the
International Coach Federation (ICF), which puts inductees through an intensive
18-month to two-year training program. Worldwide, there are 10,000 full- or
part-time coaches; the number entering the field has doubled every year for the
past three years.
fast has the concept caught on, and so impressive the results, that many
companies (including BC Hydro, the City of Richmond, Ryzex, Nesbitt Burns,
Providence Health Care and Great Pacific Management) are making them available
as a perk, or sending managers to coach certification courses to keep it all in
the family. Internationally, companies that have embraced coaching include
General Electric, Sony, Johnson and Johnson, Ernst & Young, Hewlett-Packard,
IBM, AT&T, Kodak, Chase Bank, EDS, Bayer, Merrill Lynch, the US Department
of Energy, and Goldman Sachs.
Mitten, one of British Columbia’s first executive coaches, attributes the
surge in popularity to last decade’s downsizing, which intensified
executives’ responsibilities and removed traditional support systems. Most
executives these days are running so flat out they don’t have time to look at
their career development or to encourage and interact with other people in the
company, he says.
there’s the shift in desired leadership qualities, which has prompted John
Kotter, professor of leadership at Harvard Business School, to say: “A lot of
the coaching is aimed at trying to help people develop skills and actions that
are different from what they grew up with.”
other words, coaching can be just-in-time training. In the current labor
shortage, it’s often deemed easier to fix than replace an executive, and
fixing becomes particularly crucial in an age where the rank and file will jump
ship before putting up with someone’s rough edges. In fact, two years ago,
Network Appliance in the United States brought in a coach who charged US$10,000
per manager to work with two feuding co-founders. In the end the coach
couldn’t bring the two together, but he did help the company decide which one
had to go.
triggering the growth of coaching: boomers’ mid-life self-reflection; the army
of downsized employees trying to make it as entrepreneurs; and the more
entrepreneurial role (thanks to empowerment and technology) of staff in any
looking for a silent partner to help them stay motivated, someone with whom to
brainstorm and strategize,” says Teresia LaRocque, a prominent Vancouver
there’s the fact that we’re meant to change careers at every spin of the
dial, which may explain why many career coaches are former career counsellors.
It has always been intense and lonely at the top; now it’s intense and lonely
at any level. So here we sit under a hailstorm of information and choices,
outwardly cool while secretly longing for Mom and Dad. Or anyone else who will
listen to our woes non-judgmentally, let us admit our inner fears, help us draw
up an action plan for which we will be held accountable, and encourage us to
think outside the box – all without actually telling us what to do.
course, friends or supportive spouses will do some of this, and there’s
certainly a crossover between coaches and mentors, therapists, attentive
co-workers and bosses (see Friendship by the Hour, previous page). Indeed, back
when friends, spouses, bosses and co-workers had the time to spend, coaches were
strictly a sports phenomenon. Then came personal trainers, financial counsellors
– and therapists for the introspective rather than just the broken.
to mention consultants in every flavor.
should know. He used to be a consultant. Now, instead of offering answers, he
guides through questions. “I’ve given advice and people have liked it, but
when I help people find the solutions best for them, they really come alive.”
who hires coaches and how does it work? According to an ICF survey, coaches’
clients tend to be professionals with college degrees and an average income of
US$63,000. Senior managers typically initiate the relationship themselves, while
half of middle managers have coaches foisted upon them by senior management.
Some corporations even hire teams of coaches to enhance a work team’s
involved get a demonstration session so they get a feel for how this works,”
says Mitten. “The process is confidential; they are in charge of directing how
it works. And when it’s well introduced, they see they have nothing to
a manager view any suggestion that a coach is needed as a warning shot, a
message that something in his or her management style needs fixing, and rebel
against the idea? Michael Nott of Great Pacific Management – who has both
enjoyed the services of a coach and embraced the concept for his company’s
managers – disagrees. On the contrary, he says, he would worry about an
employee not eager to take advantage of the opportunity.
Nott; “I was better at my job and more efficient instantly. In fact, it was
shocking. At the end of one year, I couldn’t believe the improvement. If I had
all the answers in my head, I wouldn’t need a coaching program. But I need to
think outside of my head. With coaching, one becomes more accomplished with less
effort invested due to working smarter. Many entrepreneurs will also argue that
one of the biggest benefits is lower blood pressure. The evidence [I’ve seen
in our company that coaching offers payback] is crystal clear. Now it’s
important to get as many people as I can on some type of coaching program.”
cost anywhere from $50 to $400 per hour ($100 being typical). Some offer an
initial get-to-know-you session lasting between 45 minutes and two hours. Most
require a minimum three-month commitment to thrice-monthly half-hour phone
calls, during which they listen, guide and push clients to set weekly goals for
which they hold them accountable. Many never meet their clients personally –
Mitten has clients in South America, Europe and Australia. Some (especially
newly-minted coaches) alternate phone work with in-person sessions according to
the client’s preferences and budget. A few, like LaRocque, hold phone-in group
sessions with up to 18 clients at a time, during which the coach acts as a
facilitator on a common theme, followed by mini one-on-one sessions with each
client, known as ‘laser coaching’. Then again, coaches that offer
work-shadowing and 360-degree feedback (exploring colleagues’ opinions of your
work style) can run US$3,000 a day.
former daycare supervisor who recently received her coaching certification from
Rhodes Career College in Vancouver, Lisa deLusignan attracts clients who are
also parents, including an executive and new dad in Scotland whom she met in
Whistler. She has even coached a young boy who was being bullied at school,
helping him resolve his problems in two sessions.
is like cheerleading,” says the diminutive Vancouverite, who has been known to
hold parties for single clients desiring to meet one another. “People get
blocked and scared. Fear holds them back. If we all had husbands and wives who
were completely supportive without a vested interest, we wouldn’t need
coaches. Sometimes people just need a little change of perspective on
change of perspective, along with the benefits of structure and accountability,
is what leads many clients to redesign their lives around new priorities.
LaRocque emphasizes that her only agenda is a client’s success and
fulfillment. “I help clients become aware of what’s draining them in their
life, frustrations holding them back. We often think those things are part of
our lives, but they don’t really have to be. I help clients get clear what
their values are, the activities in their lives that give them the most
fulfillment and passion, and we come up with a strategy to design their lives
around their values. In the process I do a lot of work around effective
delegation and business success habits.”
the start, Mitten and a client talk for about two hours to clearly identify
desired outcomes, then clarify values and tackle the life/balance issue. A
professional coach will always focus on the client’s agenda, but the work
often expands to other parts of the client’s life. Says Mitten: “You’re
asking the client, ‘So what’s your most critical area?’ If it is a problem
in sales, you ask, ‘What needs to happen there?’ A consultant has answers.
In contrast, a coach generally works with the client to find the answers best
for them. You are always raising the client’s awareness and responsibility and
making sure all this work is in line with their strengths, interests and
years ago these individuals, this concept, was virtually unknown. Today, we have
at least 141 coaches in our backyard – not that we can’t tap into some of
the other 9,859 coaches around the world with as little effort as an email
message, the same way executives in Scotland, South America, Australia and
who-knows-where are tapping ours. Are the new private cheerleaders silently
expanding the B.C. economy by nudging its best and brightest to greater heights?
Hey, whatever fires up the players is worth trying. Check back at half-time and
we’ll let you know.
Withers is a regular BCBusiness
contributor who, when she needs a coach or listener, talks to her cat – for
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