Getting Your Game On

By David Southgate

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In the eyes of their superiors and teams, IT leaders must be infallible, with little room for doubt, error, or hesitation.

Yet IT executives may not always be as comfortable or confident as they would like (or seem) to be when facing new challenges. And the higher one climbs in an organization, the fewer people IT executives have to turn to for leadership strategies or management ideas.

To shore up confidence and move quickly and decisively, an IT executive may decide to solicit assistance from a specific kind of external management consultant, the executive coach.

Coaches can help executives track a course for building short- and long-term value within an organization, provide tips on evaluating staff, and be a sounding board for managerial challenges; really anything that will help an executive perform better on the job.

Do I Need a Coach?

While executive coaches aren't cut out for teaching IT leaders bona fide managerial skills, such as the ins and outs of budgeting and strategic planning, there are particular situations for which a coach may be appropriate.

IT executives facing any of the following situations might consider looking for a coach:

  • If you are new to the organization or the job and you want to chart a course for success for the first 100 days.
  • If you find yourself treading in uncharted waters following a re-organization.
  • If you see a particularly difficult set of circumstances, sinking employee moral for instance, and want a fresh take at turning things around.
  • If you are concerned about job performance and want strategies for improvement.
  • Take Glenn Schentag, an executive coach in Vancouver, British Columbia and a former vice president of IT at Voyus Canada, for example.

    In the late 1990s he sought out a coach for some career guidance. In the process, he told his coach he had distaste for the human resource/administrative aspects of his job. But he quickly learned with the help of his coach that he was actually very good at the human side of technology management. He just lacked confidence in his ability.

    "Truth of the matter was that I loved HR once I established a confidence level in what I didn't like," said Schentag. The discovery eventually led Schentag to pursue coaching as a career.

    Not all coaches are created equal, though, so selecting the right coach can be as tricky as hiring a new key employee.Selecting a Coach

    Technology executives should consider the type and depth of services they require when evaluating coaching services, says Marta Driesslein, a technology resource specialist, trainer and career coach, based in Knoxville, Tenn.

    They also need to recognize there are a multitude of coaching types, from the career coach, to the executive coach, to the sales coach, and the psychological coach. Each brand of coaching has its own specialization and credentials, although there is no agreed upon standard credential for the coaching industry.

    Beyond that, with prices ranging from $100 an hour to 20- to 30-percent of an executive's annual wages, executives want to make sure they're getting their money's worth.

    One helpful exercise to assess coaching needs is to create a diagram similar to an organizational chart with the IT executive as the head of the organization, and the various skill sets needed to support the IT executive, said Driesslein.

    When doing this brain storming with an organization chart, the IT executive should focus on the knowledge areas needed to better perform her job.

    Some people already working within the organization may be great resources to help the executive, so put those people in the chart with specific roles identified. These roles may or not be official or related to their job titles, but instead they are seen as strategic assets that can strengthen the executive's performance.

    The goal of this chart is to identify which knowledge gaps or skills, the executive has to shore up.

    When searching for an executive coach, IT leaders may turn to well known coaching firms such as DBM, or they may turn to a coaching association, such as the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches, or the membership organization Career Masters Institute.

    Either way, find out the coach's fees, credentials, and what they would do for you, then compare them in a spreadsheet with the following information, to assist in a side-by-side comparison of coaching options, advises Driesslein.

    Chemistry 101

    The next step is to search for possible coaches with the right set of experiences, the right chemistry, and the right resources who can really add value for the executive's success.

    "Then you can compare more intelligently whether you desire a great or intermediate investment of time and monies," says Driesslein. "Many colleagues in the career management/executive coaching spend a great deal of needless time (and client monies) deliberately extending the coverage of program components to justify high fees."

    Finally, get a free consultation with each of the coaches on your short list, says Driesslein. Cut straight to the point and ask direct questions about what to expect in each session in order to determine if the experiences is going to be valuable.

    "I find out what the client needs, get rid of the fluff from my and the client's end and get on with the main focus," said Driesslein.

    Also leaders should listen carefully to the tone of the conversation with the coach in the initial consultation. Is there chemistry? Does the coach have the ability to demand enough accountability from the leader to make the coaching successful?

    Dana Mayer, a coach from Delray Beach, Florida, says her clients refer to her as an advisor and a consultant. "The coach should support, motivate, and release potential," says Mayer. Other executives may need more or less pressure from a coach in order to achieve their maximum potential.

    The point is, in selecting the coach to get the coach to hone in on what's important. Often it comes down to simple common sense and with the due diligence at the onset, the coaching adventure can begin.