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Children's Voice Article, January/February, 2005

Could You Benefit from an Executive Coach?

By Charles L. Baker

As the CEO of a child welfare organization, you face pressures from many directions. You represent the staff to your board, and you interpret and carry out the board's intentions to the staff. You are the agency's public face to customers, vendors, and the media. In the minds of donors and foundations, you articulate the agency's mission.

With all of this responsibility, it's not surprising you may feel lonely and overwhelmed.

Most of us can benefit from a discussion with a knowledgeable partner before making any difficult decision. In an increasingly competitive environment, many executives no longer feel they can be completely candid with other executives. And with particular issues, neither board members nor staff are well-suited to discussing a range of options.

An executive coach can be the objective, knowledgeable, friendly, confidential person you need to help you look at your tough decisions and stimulate creative thinking.

Several types of CEOs may be reading this article:
  • new executives in their first chief executive position, wondering how to sort out their relationships with the board, and trying to decide just which members of the staff can be trusted;

  • those CEOs with a year or more of successful experience on the job, who now they find themselves hitting a rough spot;

  • middle managers in a public agency, wishing for a way to learn, on-the-job, better ways to encourage staff while managing all those reports and regulations; and

  • successful, experienced CEOs of private child welfare

  • organizations who want to become even more effective.
All of these executives could benefit from the individualized learning an executive coach provides. Interestingly, executives of the last type above are most likely to seek coaching, and both the executives and their organizations may already be benefiting from this advanced learning method.

Private industry has provided coaches for middle and top executives for years, and progressive boards of not-for-profits are beginning to do the same for one primary reason--they want their executives to be successful. Recruiting and selecting a new executive is expensive and disruptive to the organization. Executive coaching is a proven means of helping managers avoid failure in an increasingly complex environment.

What Does Executive Coaching Do For You?

Executive coaching focuses on possibilities for tomorrow, not on yesterday's mistakes. An executive coach will help you look at the big picture--your vision, long-term dreams, and goals as a manager. Then you and your coach will examine how realistic those goals are and the steps necessary to reach them.

Your executive coach will help you decide which management behaviors are most effective in empowering staff to achieve the goals of the organization. Your work with your executive coach is, by necessity, completely confidential. The content of your work with your coach will not be shared with the board or anyone else without your agreement.

Executive coaching has nothing in common with the kind of sports coaching many of us have observed. Executive coaching is not about faultfinding, criticizing, blaming, or even teaching in the traditional sense of pupil and teacher. Executive coaching is a partnership between you and an experienced professional manager. You set the pace and choose the direction of the relationship and the agenda.

How Will Your Coach Work with You?

Obviously, your experience with coaching will be less than successful if you can't be open and trusting with your coach, so it's important to have at least one coaching session before finalizing your decision on the right coach. Generally speaking, your coach should be someone who has been successful as an executive and who has excellent listening skills.

You may actually find that you benefit from more than one coach. For example, the coach who helps you become more entrepreneurial may not be the same one who helps you think through a new organizational structure and human resource policies.

Any relationship takes time and effort to develop, and one day a month with your coach is not too much, at least during the first year. Most coaches are happy to spend time on the phone (often without charge) between sessions, but fewer than four face-to-face sessions a year may not provide the learning relationship that is most helpful.

Most importantly, your coach will spend time helping you with the things you want to discuss. As the relationship develops, your coach may make her own suggestions, and quite often the executive coach will want to discuss with you (a la Peter Drucker) the critical self-awareness questions any leader of an organization must address:
  • What is our mission?
  • Who are our customers?
  • What do they value?
  • What are our results?
  • What is our plan?
These questions may pave the way for future discussions. Other questions may be addressed, including some of my favorites:
  • What skills, knowledge, and abilities have been critical for success in our organization in the past?
  • What are our core competencies as an organization?
  • What's our organization's reputation with customers and in the community?
  • What's our employees' satisfaction level?
At some point, your coach will want to talk with you about your personal strengths as a manager, and he may encourage you to take a more formal talent assessment. This won't be about identifying your weaknesses but rather about maximizing your strengths as a manager and matching and blending those strengths with other members of your management team. The goal of this exercise is to promote diversity of thinking in the organization. When individual team member strengths are too similar, the team tends to be less flexible and less creative over time.

When Do I Need Executive Coaching?

There are some especially helpful times when a coach might meet your needs:
  • Transition. When you're in a new job, when the environment is changing rapidly, when your relationship with the board has changed, or when you are considering retirement, an executive coach could be helpful.

  • Creating a new vision. When you feel the competition may be gaining or the reputation of your agency may be slipping, an executive coach might help you see the external environment more clearly.

  • Reviewing organizational structure. The most effective management team is a mix of diverse talents. Managing such diversity in senior staff is challenging and demands the right organizational and reporting structure. An executive coach can bring an objective perspective to your decisionmaking.

  • Continued skill development. If you believe you might become more effective in relationships with individuals or in leading your management team, an executive coach can provide some specific advice.

  • Continued personal development. To keep up with the best in today's management and leadership thinking, an executive coach can help you cut through the clutter to read and discuss only the most progressive and applicable books and articles.

  • Sounding board and friend. As your relationship develops, an executive coach can be a critical element in your survival in the stressful world of nonprofit management. You don't have to continue doing this job alone.
Executive coaching can be the answer for new executives who want to avoid the mistakes of inexperience, for experienced executives facing new challenges, and for great executives who want to be even better.

Charlie Baker is President of Baker & Company, Louisville, Kentucky, providing executive coaching, support for nonprofit executives, and executive talent matching.

How Much Does Coaching Cost?

When good coaching saves a manager's job or prevents a major service disruption, it's nearly priceless, but how much is it worth when you just need the peace of mind that comes from sharing those difficult and lonely decisions with someone you can trust and whose opinion you value?

Many private corporations budget $50,000 a year per manager for coaching. Nonprofits generally can't afford that price tag, but you should expect to pay $800-$1,500 per day for six to eight sessions a year. If your agency is a CWLA member providing direct service to children or families, your 24 free consulting hours may cover part of that cost. For more information on this benefit, contact CWLA's Walker Trieschman Center for Consultation and Professional Development at 202/942-0287 or wtc@cwla.org.

An increasing number of executives are adding this individualized learning benefit to their contracts, and progressive boards support the notion of executive coaching.

To learn more about executive coaching, contact the author at charlie.baker@insightbb.com or 502/290-4316.


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