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Included in HR Weekly e-letter -- june 19 issue, free story

Can’t get your organization’s execs to sit through training sessions because they don’t want to appear vulnerable in public? Want to make sure an up-and-coming manager is ready for the next big promotion?

Call an executive coach.

Executive coaches meet privately with executives, managers or anyone in your organization who needs to freshen their leadership skills in preparation for a promotion or simply to gain advice on how to work more efficiently.

Once reserved for high-level executives whose personalities or leadership styles created problems for their staffs, executive coaches today work to ready the next generation of leaders, not just to fix problems. Coaches can help managers improve their identified weaknesses. And they’ll often ask their staffs to weigh in on the bosses’ behaviors or skills that they find lacking.

The result: Executives get a confidential sounding board—someone to hold them accountable for making agreed-upon changes and an objective source of honest feedback.

Cut through ‘yes men’ dilemma

“Senior executives never get enough feedback,” notes Joan Kofodimos, author of Your Executive Coaching Solution and a partner in the coaching firm Teleos Consulting in Chapel Hill, N.C. “People tell them what they want to hear, or they are too intimidated to tell them anything at all. Coaching is intended to get feedback to people who don’t usually get authentic feedback.”

But executives aren’t the only beneficiaries. Organizations win, too. And that’s a good thing, as the process usually takes a year and can cost between $5,000 and $50,000.

To make the most of executive coaching, HR should broker the arrangement between the managers and coaches. Some tips for success:

  • Choose an executive coach, not a life coach. Life coaches work on clients’ personal and life goals. Executive coaches focus on work-related improvements.
  • Hire an accredited coach. Some universities and professional associations—one is the International Coach Federation (www.coachfederation.org)—offer credentials to executive coaches based on their course work and experience.
  • Find a match for your organization’s culture and the manager to be coached. Ask candidates to do a sample session—most offer one for free—so the managers can observe the coaches' work styles and gauge their compatibility.
  • Link coaching to work outcomes. What, specifically, should the manager change or improve as a result of coaching? Make the desired results measurable: If you want to see increased productivity, designate a specific outcome that will define success.
  • Design a reporting system. Coaches must guarantee their manager-clients that they will keep their confidences. At the same time, HR needs to know that the organization’s goals are being met. Work with the coach and the manager to come up with a way for the coach to let HR know how it’s going without breaching the manager’s trust.
  • Get consent from the manager to be coached. “It’s difficult to coach a hostage,” says Karen Kimsey-House, co-owner of The Coaches Training Institute. “I’ve done it successfully, but it will take longer.”  

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