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 / Summer 2003 / Issue 31(originally published by Booz & Company)


My Coach and I

Coaching to achieve behavioral change is just one area that falls under the broad umbrella of executive coaching. There are also personal productivity coaches like David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. His book offers a practical organizing system and supporting tools for managing information and obligations. His personal coaching consulting practice, the David Allen Company, designs and implements productivity tools and programs for people to use in their personal and professional lives.

There are even “energy coaches.” Indeed, much of the coaching literature borrows, unsurprisingly, from the world of sport. Witness the number of former athletic stars on the management seminar circuit. Some leaders, as a neat justification for having an executive coach, use the fact that Tiger Woods has a coach. (Even the best can get better.)

Coaches of top athletes also work directly with business leaders. Performance psychologist Jim Loehr and his partner Tony Schwartz, authors of The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal and founders of Orlando, Fla.–based LGE Performance Systems, have applied years of experience in coaching and training world-class athletes, including tennis star Monica Seles, speed skater Dan Jansen, and golfer Mark O’Meara. Using a model for managing physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual energy and changing behaviors — a model that has reinvigorated the achievements of sport’s elites — they put executives through a training program to help them become what they call corporate athletes. The Power of Full Engagement is a rare example of a self-help book that gives readers substantive guidance they can use immediately, regardless of whether they choose to partake of LGE’s more extensive onsite programs and services.

Talk of shamans and speed skaters notwithstanding, executive coaching has legitimate roots in psychology. Much of today’s best work derives from the research of three organizational theorists: psychologist Harry Levinson, chairman of the Boston-based Levinson Institute and clinical professor of psychology emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School; group dynamics pioneer Kurt Lewin and his Field Theory; and Edgar Schein of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management.

Professor Schein says coaching covers a wide spectrum of activities, from helping people learn a new system to helping them broaden their outlook on what the company is doing. “I think of coaching as establishing a set of behaviors that help the client to develop new ways of seeing, feeling about, and behaving in problematic situations,” he writes in his essay “Coaching and Consultation: Are They the Same?” (which can be found in Coaching for Leadership: How the World’s Greatest Coaches Help Leaders Learn, a collection of essays edited by Marshall Goldsmith, Laurence Lyons, and Alyssa Freas). The coach, Professor Schein argues, has three key roles. At times the coach might be an expert who simply passes on the benefit of his or her experience. At other times, he or she may be a diagnostician and prescriber, identifying problems and offering remedies. Finally, there is the coach as “process-oriented therapist,” helping clients gain insight into their situation and helping them improve their behavior. According to Professor Schein, the proper balance and timing of these three roles depends on the individual situation.

In the corporate world, however, theory is less important than outcome. In Coaching: Winning Strategies for Individuals and Teams, Dennis C. Kinlaw defines coaching as “a disciplined personal interaction with one or more persons which produces winning results for individuals, teams, and organizations by focusing and refocusing them on performance goals and facilitating their achievement of these goals.”

Coaching’s lure for pressured executives is the opportunity to safely forget about the usual baggage and be frank. “An executive coach provides a safe place. Who else can CEOs turn to? They are surrounded by senior managers who drink from the same water fountain,” says Robert C. Berkley, who has been coaching executives for more than 10 years and runs his company, GroupMV LLC, from West Tisbury, Mass. Mr. Berkley, a former instructor at the online coach training organization Coach U (who has also served as chief information officer at Pearson PLC and Simon & Schuster Inc.), is a master certified coach — an ICF certification held by fewer than 1 percent of its members.

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