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Published: May 21, 2003

 
 

My Coach and I

Health, wellness, and wisdom are all fair game in the executive suite.

Photograph by Steve Cohen
Today is Monday, and Marshall Goldsmith is in London en route to Singapore. Dr. Goldsmith has logged 7 million air miles, yet, as his e-mail signature says, “Life is good.”

Business is also good. Marshall Goldsmith is an executive coach, reputedly one of the world’s most popular and best paid. The Wall Street Journal ranked the 54-year-old UCLA Ph.D. among the top 10 executive educators. Dr. Goldsmith has coached more than 50 CEOs. His clients include senior executives and aspiring leaders at such companies as Boeing, ChevronTexaco, General Electric, Motorola, and Pitney Bowes.

Just a few years ago, news that a CEO or senior executive was using a coach would have raised eyebrows in the boardroom. Now it is the height of corporate fashion to assign an executive coach to improve leaders’ management performance and/or overcome their personal development deficiencies.

Among the high-profile leaders who have used coaches are David S. Pottruck, CEO of the Charles Schwab Corporation, who worked with ex-IBMer Terry Pearce; eBay Inc. CEO Meg Whitman, who was coached by John Thompson, head of the San Francisco consulting company Human Factors Inc.; and Paul O’Neill, the former treasury secretary and former CEO of Alcoa Inc., who was coached by Dan Ciampa, himself a former CEO of the consultancy Rath & Strong.

Coaching is most prevalent in the United States, but it is spreading globally. A 2002 survey of human resources professionals by the Hay Group, an HR consultancy, found that more than half the 150 organizations polled in Asia, Australia, Europe, and North America had increased their use of coaching in the previous 12 months; 16 percent were using coaches for the first time.

Executive coaches with the requisite skills (and some without them) charge anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $15,000 a day; a handful of telephone conversations can cost thousands of dollars. The current coaching market is largely unregulated. Inevitably, the scent of money has attracted charlatans and sharks to executive coaching. The International Coach Federation (ICF), established in 1995, is the closest thing to a professional body for coaches. It boasts 5,200 members — up from 1,500 in 1995 — and estimates that there are around 15,000 coaches in North America. It offers certification courses and recognition for coaches.

Step back from the hyperbole, and executive coaching may be seen as a combination of mentoring, professional development, and support offered through a one-on-one relationship between a coach and an executive. These relationships focus on behavioral changes to hone leadership skills, enhance personal effectiveness, and correct unhelpful behaviors to improve job performance.

Terry Pearce famously helped David Pottruck rewire himself as a leader, evolving the finance company chief’s leadership style from bruising to authentic and open. Their one-on-one coaching sessions included time at a sweat lodge in the wilds of northern Washington state, where a shaman led them in “spiritual cleansing.” Along the way, everything from Mr. Pottruck’s failed marriages to his personal values were pulled apart and examined. The duo later took their relationship a step further by writing a book, Clicks and Mortar: Passion Driven Growth in an Internet Driven World, which was published at the height of dot-com mania. The book focuses on Mr. Pottruck’s experience in leading Charles Schwab in the early days of its e-business development. Although Clicks and Mortar is somewhat dated now, in it Mr. Pottruck offers some timeless and useful leadership insights for CEO peers, including reflections on how leaders can inspire passion in employees. He also presents some candid revelations about his personal failings as a business leader and a husband and how he changed.

 
 
 
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