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When You're at the Top and You Need to Succeed
By Jim Jenkins, CPC
May 27, 2009 - 6:51:00 AM

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In today's rapid-fire business environment, executives have little time to hone their leadership skills. As a result, many latch onto quick solutions that rarely work.

Many executives turn to management books for help. They often select titles based on length - reading as many pages as possible on a plane ride - rather than real instructional value. Often, executives are left frustrated after consuming these books. The solutions are superficial and don't lead to the exact results most executives expect.

The fact is, management takes more than "one minute," and figuring out where "the cheese" is doesn't explain complex organizational dynamics. If intricate business issues could be solved in 100 pages or less, why do so many leaders struggle to become tops in their field? And what can they do, given their tremendous day-to-day job pressures?

One solution for an executive seeking long-lasting change: Engage a qualified 'executive coach.'

What is coaching?

In the past few years, coaching has emerged as one of the most effective ways to cultivate professional and personal skill sets for both teams and individuals. Typically, someone other than the executive's supervisor does the coaching. This allows for greater objectivity and the freedom to experience learning on a person's own terms.

'Executive coaching' is the term used to describe coaching for senior business leaders. There is a collaborative, individualized relationship between an executive and a coach. The goal is to inspire sustained behavioral change and to transform the quality of the executive's work and professional life. Even though executive coaching focuses on work situations, coaching can often result in significant personal transformation as well.

Some areas in which executive coaches can help include:

-Developing interpersonal and communication skills;
-Managing time;
-Balancing work and life issues;
-Dealing with conflict;
-Thinking strategically for business planning;
-Improving customer service.

A 2001 study by Manchester Inc. showed that coaching brings about major changes in developing leadership and management skills. Coaching also fosters personal growth, business agility, and enhanced communication skills, all of which can significantly impact a company's bottom line.

Coaching is a conversation. It's a dialogue between a coach and a client that focuses on achieving results. Whether it's learning how to communicate better, balancing multiple priorities, or making effective presentations, coaching helps people access the things they know.

Coaching is also learning. The coach is not a teacher and isn't necessarily an expert in the fields of those they're working with. But a coach can observe behavior, assess what the client isn't seeing, and create ways for the coachee to act in a new way.

How coaching works

Coaching involves listening, reflecting, asking questions, providing self-observations, and doing exercises. The coach creates an environment where the client ultimately becomes self-correcting (learning how to correct the behavior themselves) and self-generating (creating their own questions and answers).

Coaches must ask the right questions. A coach engages in a collaborative alliance with the individual to establish and clarify a purpose and goals, and then develops an action plan. Sometimes a coach will get permission to ask others about someone's job performance and present the findings to the client. This often creates an opportunity to gather genuine, anonymous feedback about a supervisor's management skills without putting employees at risk.

Change and transformation are also key. Coaches enable the individual to grow and generate new behaviors, striving for long-term performance. Behavior patterns are tough to change. But a coach observes the habits and opens up new possibilities, providing support during the difficult process of change.

Coaching in action

Tracey, a training director for a technology firm, would try over and over to get organized. She went to Franklin Covey training and purchased a Palm Pilot. But she was still losing many hours of productivity trying to organize her multiple projects and deadlines. After attending four different workshops on time management and using several software packages, Tracey still could not get organized.

Her next move: Hire an executive coach. The coach helped Tracey realize that she was trying to fit into systems that didn't support her work style. Tracey was a highly visual person who needed to see things in order to find them. Her coach worked with her to design a large wall rack so she could see her projects and folders every day. This small change had an immediate impact on her work.

Almost overnight, Tracey became more organized. She even found time to start writing a book, a project she never had time for before. Within a year, Tracey's job performance not only improved, she found that she was more organized in managing her finances when she applied the same approach at home.

Return on Investment

Coaching offers a very attractive return on the initial investment, or ROI. This is one of coaching's most significant benefits, as a developmental tool.

The most widely cited research on coaching comes from a 2001 study by Manchester Consulting. One hundred coaching subjects were asked to estimate the monetary value of their coaching experience. From there, Manchester developed a "conservative ROI" estimate of the coaching. The study determined that coaching returned more than five dollars for every dollar spent.

Executives who engage coaches understand that changing a behavior doesn't happen overnight. They understand that no book speed-read will transform their careers. Coaching involves a real commitment to deeply understanding the changes that are needed to increase an executive's effectiveness. And by going beyond the bullet points in a 100-page management booklet, coachees have given themselves a competitive career advantage.

Jim Jenkins is a certified professional coach, owner of Creative Visions Consulting, and co-founder of Innovative Play LLC in Frederick, Md. He specializes in partnering with executives, front-line managers, and HR professionals who are committed to creating sustained success in their professional lives and in their businesses. For details, call (866) 322-8263 or visit www.cvc-inc.com.


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