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


My Coach and I

Often the executive coach is a corporate father confessor. Because there are not enough confessors with credibility to go around, creative minds are at work trying to scale the process. For example, the HR consultancy Hewitt Associates Inc., which manages what is reputed to be the world’s largest executive coaching network, is now using Marshall Goldsmith’s coaching methodology.

Executive coaches cater to different echelons of business leaders. Some specialize in middle managers. “You can think of it as entry-level executive coaching,” says Mr. Berkley. Demand is also growing for coaches who can help talented but inexperienced business leaders in their 30s and 40s who struggle with team building and need to develop their management and leadership skills but have few mentors. They tend to burn out quickly in their jobs. “These executives often come to me in a fog. They tell me they should be excited about their work, but they’re struggling to put their heart into it,” Mr. Berkley says.

Just as there are different sorts of clients, Mr. Berkley identifies three main categories of coaches. First is the mentor coach, typically someone with strong experience in business. The second kind is a trained coach who may or may not have been an executive, but is someone with skills unique to the executive coaching industry. Program coaches, finally, are hired to do a specific job; an executive who must give a lot of presentations might hire a public-speaking coach. Debra Benton, who bills herself as a speaker, author, and consultant, coaches executives on how to present themselves; her client list includes Pepsi, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and NASA.

Well-known U.S. executive coaches come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are business academics, such as MIT’s Professor Schein and the University of Michigan’s Noel Tichy, who coached Jack Welch and had a controversial relationship with former Ford executive Jacques Nasser in the 1990s. Others, such as Dan Ciampa, are consultants or former executives who have found a new niche. Many coaches are psychologists or counselors. They include life-planning coaches such as Richard J. Leider, author of Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Rest of Your Life and The Power of Purpose: Creating Meaning in Your Life and Work. Mr. Leider is a founding partner of the Minneapolis-based training firm Inventure Group, which lists AT&T, Caterpillar, and General Motors as clients. Some coaches even coach coaches. Mr. Leider, for example, coaches Marshall Goldsmith.

The coaching field also boasts self-proclaimed experts on motivation, assorted medical practitioners, and a host of others from the health and wellness fields. The mix of disciplines, practices, terminology, and aspirations suggests coaching is in a state of excitable flux, on par with the state of psychotherapy at the beginning of the 20th century. Although the Jung and Freud of coaching have yet to emerge, it is not for want of trying.

One of the problems with any populist trend is that many hitch a lift on the passing bandwagon. Because executive coaching is growing fast, some coaching professionals with business backgrounds worry that there are too many people moving out of psychological counseling into business coaching who may not have the requisite knowledge of management and understanding of the particular demands on executives.

At the same time, coaches who focus on people’s physical and emotional health warn that coaches without psychological training often do executive clients more harm than good. One coach offering such a caution is Steven Berglas, a researcher and instructor at the Anderson School at UCLA who spent 25 years in the psychiatry department at Harvard Medical School. He is the author of Reclaiming the Fire: How Successful People Overcome Burnout.

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