Can You Handle the
Truth About Your Career?
Today you can hire a
personal coach to tell you whether you have the skills and savvy to get ahead.
But you'd better be ready to listen to some unpleasant news.
female executive (let's call her Jane) desperately needed help: she had
an encyclopedic knowledge of her industry, thought quickly on her feet, but was
a lousy manager. Among her deficiencies: she took on all critical projects
single-handedly and simply didn't communicate with her staff, rarely responding
to voice mail or giving guidance on their work.
Enter the executive
coach. At vast expense (coaches run as high as $2,500 per day), her company
hired one for her. Using confidential written feedback from Jane's staff, peers,
and boss (called 360-degree feedback in the parlance of the industry), the coach
held a series of one-on- one sessions with her to identify the management skills
she lacked and to develop a plan to build them. Slowly, Jane's behavior began to
change: she actually started handing out compliments and delegating work.
Six months later Jane
was promoted (partly in recognition of improved management skills), and to her
company's dismay, she promptly reverted to her lone-wolf management style.
Jane's experience is
not unusual, says John Kotter, professor of leaders hip at Harvard business
school. His explanation: "She got three months of coaching--but she's not
10 years old--it's too much to hope for that she would change radically."
coaching, yet another management fad, bites the dust, right? Wrong. In the past
year alone, membership in the International Coaching Federation, an industry
trade group, has doubled to 2,600. In 1996, enrollment at Coach University, an
organization that teaches coaching skills, grew from 285 to 785. Coaches are in
demand. The trick, though, is knowing how to use them.
cheerleaders come in a variety of flavors, but three are most common: executive
coaches who help modify your behavior on the job (a la Jane), life coaches who
help you set business and personal goals, and organizational coaches who help
you get your life in order.
At its best, coaching
is clearly superior to training. It is far more time efficient, and it is
tailored to individual needs. But before hiring a coach, consider the following:
Are you open to
changing? "The fundamental
challenge in coaching is to get the individual to relax, open up, and really
think about his leadership style in a profound way, without being defensive or
looking for arrows," explains Kotter. Leocadia Burke, senior consultant at
the Levinson Institute, a Boston executive development firm, concurs: "The
No. 1 reason coaching fails is that people don't accept accountability for their
behavior." Ask yourself if you are ready to accept potentially difficult
feedback and whether you really want to change. (Be honest: Do you want to
involve your subordinates in more of your decisions? Get to meetings on time? Be
less confrontational with peers?)
realistic about what coaching can do?
"Beware of any guarantees," counsels Michael Shahnasarian, president
of the National Career Development Association. And don't believe coaches who
claim to have catapulted their clients to much higher positions and income
levels. "There are so many variables leading to promotions and increased
sales, it's hard to say that it was the coaching that made you more money,"
Do you have
achievable goals? Wendy
Wallbridge, a coach based in Larkspur, California, warns clients not to set
aggressive and potentially conflicting goals. For example, don't pursue a tough
business target, like doubling your company's size in a year, and at the same
time try to shed 20 pounds. If achieving all your goals at once seems
impossible, it probably is.
prepared to work--hard? Quite
simply, you get out of coaching only what you put into it. Says James Flaherty,
head of New Ventures West, a San Francisco firm that trains coaches: "It's
like hiring a personal trainer. To get in shape, you still need to lift the
weights and sweat."
Well, if you are now overwhelmed by the idea of working with a coach, here is some good news: it is very possible that you don't need one. "Sometimes bosses are skilled people. They don't need outside help to coach their staffs. There are more of those than not," says Burke. Kotter agrees: "The best coach is a person's boss." So before you call a coach, look in the corner office and see if the boss might qualify.
Accomplishments / HEAVEN
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