CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Use coach for work, personal goals

By Ross Fattori
Special to The Toronto Sun

In today's volatile economy, mergers, acquisitions and strategic shifts happen with lightning speed, and many high-level executives are often ill-equipped to deal with new workplace realities.

In dealing with job-related fears or insecurities, most executives are loath to admit their professional shortcomings to colleagues and business associates, which could be viewed as a sign of weakness or vulnerability. Instead, more and more executives are turning to professional coaches for help in achieving both business and personal goals.

For the last 15 years, executive coaches have become one of the hot business trends throughout North America and Europe. Companies and individuals recognize the bottom-line benefits of executive coaching and are willing to make the investment.

Executive coaches don't carry whistles and stopwatches to their weekly sessions. Rather, they are trained to identify and address issues of human behaviour and motivation in the workplace.

They help executives to overcome a range of workplace obstacles and to address sensitive personnel matters, work-life balance issues and business etiquette.

They also understand the sensitive nature of their relationship with clients, and the importance of maintaining the utmost confidentiality.

"Executive coaching means different things to different people," says Anneli Driessen, who has operated a private counselling practice in Victoria, B.C., since 1978 and works as a coach with CEOs and other high level executives. "As an executive coach, I work one-on-one with an individual and help him or her clarify, articulate, prioritize and achieve professional as well as personal goals."

Candidates for an executive coach could be a newly-minted CEO who requires help adjusting to new workplace demands, or a high level executive who has set his sights on a promotion.

Whatever the motivation, the right professional coach can provide invaluable insight and assistance to help you make the necessary adjustments so that you can achieve your goals with the highest degree of excellence.

After making the decision to hire an executive coach, the next step is to find one that is qualified to address your specific needs.

"An executive coach needs to be somebody who has experience in the corporate world, who understands the day-to-day challenges facing corporate executives, and who has rigorous training in coaching," says Valerie J. Matthews, a co-founder and principle at The Coaching Project, a Brampton firm specializing in executive coaching, leadership development and coach training.

"There are a number of institutions that will supposedly teach people how to become coaches," says Dr. Howard Eisenberg, president of Syntrek Inc., a Toronto-based company that specializes in consulting and coaching services.

"However, since there is no clinical credentialing and quality monitoring organization for executive coaches, in theory anyone can become one."

Eisenberg strongly recommends that people check coaching credentials and references carefully before making a commitment.

Although the most effective type of coaching stems from psychotherapeutic skills, many people shy away from terms associated with the word psychotherapy. In today's competitive business climate, people would rather admit they are receiving counselling from a coach, rather than guidance from a therapist.

This explains why so many executive coaches prefer to use sports imagery to dress up their message. According to Eisenberg, who pioneered the concept of executive coaching more than 30 years ago, "too many executive coaches promise simple answers and quick results, and the quick-fix solution is tempting in our culture that craves quick and easy answers."

In some cases, results can happen over a three- or four-month period. In other cases, results take longer.

"When you're dealing with executives who have big responsibilities, a half-hour phone call isn't enough," Matthews says. "On average, I work with clients over a nine month period, although some coaching is an ongoing process that takes place over several years."

In many instances, after an initial period of face-to-face contact, executive coaches and clients can also keep in touch by phone and e-mail. "Based on my experience, the most dynamic coaching takes place face-to-face," Matthews says.

One of Ms. Mathews clients is Ray Finney, president and CEO of Wescast Industries Inc. in Brantford. Finney began monthly coaching sessions last December.

"In many cases, CEOs are expected to be miracle workers," Finney says. "What executive coaching provides is an independent third party perspective that has allowed me to merge my personal strategy with my corporate strategy."

Executive coaching can help people achieve more balance in their lives, and overcome occupational hazards. On the other side of the coin, it can also help identify people who are wrong for an organization.

The pricing structure for executive coaches depends on the training and expertise of each coach. Some coaches charge $50/hr. for single coaching sessions, while group coaching sessions can cost up to $5,000/day.

Over the next 10 years, experts agree that CEOs and corporate executives will continue seeking out executive coaches in an effort to create more balance in their professional and personal lives.

"More companies are starting to offer executive coaching at all levels of management, including junior level positions," Matthews says. "I expect this trend to continue."

(Ross Fattori is a Toronto-based freelance writer who can be reached

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