Executive Coaches for the individual contributor
I was just introduced to a new online resource, exceed.economist.com and it is full of well written, relevant articles on the topic of career growth. This blog looks to be part of The Economist magazine’s Executive Education Navigator site which is full of resources including a lot of great blog posts. One blog post in particular on Executive Coaches struck a positive personal chord and I wanted to add a couple of personal comments in the hope that others might find value. That post is here. I have been blogging on the topic of coaching and mentorship lately and this post on executive coaching echo’s my personal philosophies.
The author, Liz Funk makes a case for the use of an executive coach and I couldn’t agree more. Even if you are not a CEO, I think a “career” coach is something that all of us should consider regardless of where we are in our careers. Olympic athletes have coaches. Luke Skywalker had Yoda and the Karate Kid had Mr. Miyagi. Why shouldn’t we have a coach for our individual careers We want to make progress just like the previously mentioned right. Let’s face it, if CEO’s are utilizing coaches, shouldn’t we as individual contributors? Who says they should get all the perks?
To be clear, I do not consider myself to be an executive coach, and this is not a commercial or pitch for HRNasty.com. So just a quick couple of data points.
- I have used coaches in the past and found them to be immensely valuable.
- We don’t need to be an executive or spend big money on coaches. There are many ways we can find career coaching regardless of where we are in our careers and our budgets.
- I have never met and do not know the author of the article.
At the last company I worked with, the executive team was given a monthly budget for executive coaching. Our CEO worked with a coach on a weekly basis and found tremendous value. This CEO is a smart guy and the problems he is trying to solve are at a different level than most. Just like a sports coach, a career coach can make us better. As Funk’s article mentions, “It is lonely at the top of an organization” and CEO’s feel less comfortable letting their hair down with a peer or their boss.”
When I was early in my career, I was brought on as an early employee into a fast growing company to head up the HR department. The company was relatively small at the time, and my 10 years of HR experience was enough to get us to the first 50 or 60 employees. When we got to employee 100, I was getting in over my head. I had a small team of great employees, but I didn’t have what it took to get the company to 200 + employees or more.
Initially I tried to get it done, but I realized quickly that even if I got us to 150 employees, I wouldn’t get us much further. We needed software, process, more resources and most importantly, we needed the ability to scale. Although I wasn’t at the point of panic, my breath was getting shallow and I always had a brown paper bag nearby. I was feeling backed into a corner. To me it was inevitable (and a bit embarrassing) that my skill set would run out. I approached my CEO and said that I should step down and we should hire someone who could really scale the company. I would love to be an individual contributor, but I didn’t think I had what it took to take us to the next level.
He didn’t even hesitate. Johnny on the spot, he said that I should go out and get a coach. That coach may be a player coach initially but to get a coach to help me through the knothole. If the coaching wasn’t enough, then maybe the coach would be my next boss, but he let me know I would be involved in hiring any future boss. This turned out to be a very short and casual conversation and not half as scary as I thought it would be. For the record, a coach was not an option I had even considered. The CEO set the tone for that career make or break moment and I try to remember that as I find myself leading others.
Initially, I worked with the coach a couple of days a week, then 1 day a week, then a couple of days a month. Eventually, I just had a quarterly check in. I have the CEO to thank for giving me that opportunity and believing in me, and we eventually grew the company to over 300 employees with 6 offices and 4 international locations. Yes, I continued to lead the HR department and I couldn’t have done it without the coach. I don’t know where I would be today if I didn’t have a CEO that believed in me and provided access to a coach. At the time, I was not considered an executive so yes, I am a fan of coaches.
The article referenced above goes on to explain what to look for in a coach and what questions you should ask a potential coach.
Although the article is geared toward executive coaches, the concept of a coach can apply to all levels. For those of us who are not executives or receive an allowance, I blogged about how to find a mentor here and I believe they can cover a lot of what a coach will do. Make no mistake, mentors and coaches are two different things and I am not trying to dilute the author’s message. Execs usually get a budget for executive coaching but as individual contributors, we may not have this luxury and mentors can be as reasonable as a cup of coffee or a nice lunch.
Check out the site and next time you are facing a crossroad in your career, consider a coach.
See you at the after party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.