IT executives get coached for success

C-level executives are increasingly turning to business coaches to help them cope with various managerial duties. Even IT professionals are getting in on the action. Despite this trend, many are still unclear about what exactly a business coach is and why organizations would hire one in the first place.

Nowadays, IT professionals are expected to have certain business skills and perform managerial duties. But many technicians are rigid in their thinking, says Bill Dueease, president and co-founder of The Coach Connection (TCC) in Fort Myers, Fla. In many cases, when technicians are moved up the ranks of an organization, they act more like computers than humans – and that holds them back.

“If you tell a computer to do something, it does exactly what you tell it to do,” says Dueease. “You tell a human to do something, it’s anybody’s guess.”

Business coaches can be used for an enterprise-wide intervention – such as during a merger or acquisition – or on an individual basis, says Wendy Johnson, president and CEO of the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC) in Vancouver. A coach could work with an individual, for example, on issues related to how effective they are in their present role, or what obstacles they’re facing that may potentially be getting in the way of being more effective in that role.

“But all of the work that’s being done at that level must be inextricably linked to the organization’s or business’s goals,” she says. “[Otherwise] we would see this as personal coaching.”

Business coaching is not always corrective or based on challenges. Sometimes a company may be doing exceedingly well, but would hire a business coach to help it stay at the top of its game, says Johnson. A coach could also be brought in for succession planning. Coaching is different from consulting, she adds. Consulting is about providing advice and producing a solution, possibly even implementing that solution. “Coaching is a partnering between a client and a coach, where they co-create solutions together,” says Johnson.

Coaching IT

In the IT world, challenges often arise when a programmer is put in charge of a project team – not realizing this is a huge career step, says Dueease.

“Most of the time programmers are all buddies,” he says. “Before it didn’t matter, but now it matters because he’s the boss. So they go into it and most of them flop.”

The smart ones know they need help, he says, but often they’re looking for a set of rules on how to be a good manager. The best managers, however, do it their own way.

A business coach can help them walk through that process, without telling them what to do or how to do it. While the coach’s job is to make sure the client succeeds, that success depends on a number of factors.

Most importantly, the client has to actually have a “coachable” goal. This may sound obvious, says Dueease, but 60 to 70 per cent of people hire a coach without any specific goal in mind – which essentially turns the coach into more of a therapist or counselor. And the right match-up is vital.

“Coaching is about achieving your goals at your pace on your terms with your agenda,” Dueease explains. “The client is the total centre of attention.” Coaching is done over the phone, not in person, says Dueease, adding that the phone serves as “the great equalizer.” Phone coaching is also convenient for people who travel a lot.

Screening process

WABC has a coach directory, and all coaches are screened through a qualification process, including client references and testimonials, as well as a minimum number of years experience. When hiring a business coach, look for someone with training in business coaching, an affiliation with a professional association, and who subscribes to a code of ethics for professional coaches, says Johnson. Ask for client references as well. WABC is involved with developing international standards for business coaching. It’s currently working on two programs: a certification program called Certified Master Business Coach (currently in pilot phase and expected later this year) and an accreditation program for coach training providers (expected in 2008).

Getting leadership lessons from peers

In some instances, opportunities for business coaching can arise within an organization or among peers in a less formal manner and without outside help.

John Boufford, president of the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS), points to other ways for receiving informal coaching. When an employee leaves, for example, the incumbent could act as a coach to the new person as part of succession planning.

“I think back to my history with CIPS, and I recognized opportunities that were being provided to me that I wasn’t getting through my employment,” he said. This included exposure to how senior executives sell proposals – where he learned that sometimes less is more.

Boufford looks back to his first committee meeting at CIPS, sitting in a room with several C-level executives and senior-level IT professionals. He realized he was getting mentorship right there and then – something a person just couldn’t buy.

“I used the opportunity to form relationships with other people that I might not have done otherwise,” he said. “So you can actually find informal business coaches.”

This is valuable for professional development questions, like where to take your career or around business-related issues, he said. “Because there are times you don’t want to be talking within your organization (like) if you’re thinking about a career change or if you’re dealing with an ethical issue.”

Merger painkillers for IT departments

Mergers and acquisitions can lead to some very stressed-out IT executives. Business coaches offer these useful tips to handle the pressure of a major corporate change:

Learn. Don’t assume you have the leadership and change-management skills, said Richard Allen Canter, president of RAC3 Group in Basking Ridge, N.J. If you’re in the middle of a change, it is probable that you’ll need to learn something.

Take control. Find an area of expertise that you can take control of so you can show your work in this new environment, suggests Phyllis Rosen, a New York-based corporate coach.

Prioritize. Faced with new changes, it is important to know what the real priorities are with and put your attention on those priorities, says Henry Barbey, director at the New York Center for Coaching’s corporate division.

Find your path. Re-think your ideas of where you want to be, because the resulting reorganization may no longer fit your previous career goals, says Rosen. If that’s the case, it might be a good time to start considering your alternatives and look into upgrading your skills, Rosen adds. – with files from Computerworld (US)

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