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September, 2010
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The Value of an Executive Coach or Mentor

Over the years the practice of executive development has increased the use of mentors or an executive coach for CEO, senior level executives and the up and coming mid-level manager. Why is this practice becoming more common and acceptable in positions where it was traditional for that type of individual to be “self-made?” For the most part this trend is due to economics since it is highly beneficial in today’s competitive business environment for executives to succeed and not be replaced at great cost and upheaval often causing a significant distraction in the organization. Successful executive succession within the executive ranks adds great value and confidence to those close to the company such as employees, customers, and vendors and in the case of public companies - investors.

Mentor or Executive Coach
A mentor is normally someone within the organization who is either assigned to the other executive or where interpersonal chemistry between a senior and junior member of the organization creates a mentor relationship. A mentor can also be outside the company and may be a past executive or board member. This type of relationship is not normally performed on a fee basis although the company absorbs the time expended on both sides for the mentoring relationship. A mentor normally serves as a guide on how to be successful in the executive culture, how to handle broader executive responsibilities, offer critique on the mentored, how they are adjusting to the executive atmosphere and where they can be more effective by making adjustments to their managerial style. The mentor may be active or passive. The mentor may be more comfortable looking for the mentored to come forward and raise issues where he is uncomfortable, at a crossroads or just needs a confidential source for a sounding board. The mentor can then offer suggestions and guidance looking for the mentored to “choose wisely” in acting on the mentor session.

The executive coach is typically a consultant to the organization and may work with one or more executives. The coaches’ role may be more specific than the mentor and may target specific skill areas of the executive. The relationship may originate due to a business event that is new to the executive, outside of his skill set or prior experience, or the result of a major change in responsibilities requiring more effective use of his abilities, time and resources available to him, or to target weak areas that may affect his performance as a result of a formal analysis of the executives abilities and aptitude.

Coaching Stigma?
For many years executives steered away from coaching due to the perception it created with others – particularly peers, that could see it as a weakness. Mentoring seemed to be OK and acceptable since it could occur transparently within the organization. Coaching seemed to be OK on the golf course to correct a swing or perfect a putt, or help prepare for an athletic event such as a triathlon.

CEO’s and owners ventured out into group sessions (i.e. Vistage) with other executives to discuss their business issues and indirectly coach each other and through the monthly contact calls of the leader coach the executive individually. Consequently coaching has become more acceptable as a method to work on the ability of a CEO or owner of senior executive to work on the application of a business practice or polish the executive’s style or technique. This is not a training exercise to learn new topics but coaching to help use inherent knowledge and ability correctly and effectively. You know how to swing a golf club but if you get your hips ahead of your hands your drive will not go straight down the fairway for example. The same thing is true in business and we need an outsider to look at our style and other business habits to look for inconsistencies that can affect our performance and the performance of others that we influence.

Coaching Value
We can try and convince ourselves that we can get by without paying for a coach but are we then being “Penny-Wise, Pound-Foolish.” If we overlook habits that consistently take us longer to accomplish something, or that cause those that report to us to be fearful or overly careful raising issues or taking initiative, or result in the independent thinkers you need to grow the business to feel limited and decide to leave the business. How often have we wrestled with an issue for days that should have been dispensed with the same day because of a fear or uncertainty of selecting the wrong option? We knew the options available but we were unsure of our ability to either individually, or through staff, to analyze the correct course to take. A coach can be effective in giving us perspective, helping use resources that give us the confidence to make better decisions faster.

What is the ROI of an executive coach? Payback can be expressed in reduced turn over in employees because you are enabling them to be successful, additional business because of your effectiveness in guiding your business strategically, or moving from a crisis manager to developing others will have a tremendous impact on how you approach your business and the time you have for yourself, family and growing your business.

Consider a coaching relationship with a business consultant you trust and are comfortable with. This can start on a limited basis with a minimum of cost exposure until you can begin to see how you and the company are benefitting. In today’s business climate a CEO or owner who takes the initiative to do this is recognized as a competent decision maker who wants to make sure that they are making the best use of their aptitude, experience and skills and experience to manage the company wisely and efficiently for all involved – customers, employees, and all stakeholders.

Mike Brice
Phone: (206)226-1617

Feature Article

This month's feature article appears in and was authored by Erin Meyer, adjunct professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD, the international business school with campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi. Virtual Teams are becoming the norm in many business models involving professionals located around the world. The challenge is for management and team members to adjust to the unique characteristics of virtual teams from those that are more familiar in managing co-located teams.

In the artilce summary below, Erin offers four principal ways where managing virtual teams are very different.

  1. You must lead differently - Ambiguity needs to be removed from the process. Roles and responsibilities need to be formalized where in a co-located team a more relaxed definition of responsibilitiescan exist.

  2. You must arrive at decisions differently - The cultural makeup of the team will highly influence how decisions are made. This may range from drawn out consensus building to confrontational debate to one-on-one discussions. The decision process must reflect the makeup of the team and not the orientation of the leader who needs to be willing to try out several methods to see what works best for the team.

  3. You must build trust differently - In co-located teams trust is based more on instinct where in a virtual team trust is measured in terms of reliability. The project process must be highly defined where team members deliver specific results in a repeated sequence. Trust is established based upon the reliability of delivering required elements on time and to specification.

  4. You must communicate differently - Communicating in a virtual team environment requires the elader to have a much broader communication skill set to make their message more effective and the ability to switch skill sets based upon the makeup of the team.

Managing in a virtual team is more challenging than using a co-located model but that is where the virtual world of business is today. The benefits of a virtual team are many but it requires an approach directed at making the virtual model successful on its terms and not on what may have been best in your co-located project model.

Management Resources
Company Value: Only one-quarter to one-third of businesses on the selling block actually get sold. To make it more attractive, think of the small-business equivalent of curb appeal: you need to take a critical look at your business, fix problems, and work toward improving flaws – including financial ones.
Want to Sell Your Business? Readiness Is All

Innovation: Businesses need most of their workers to carry out their primary duties with enthusiasm and consistency.
Why Companies Need Less Innovation

Management: Well-intentioned but misguided managers are sinking their employers because they don't understand the science of human behavior.
Management Practices That Spell Doom

Proposals: Proposals can make or break a sales deal; a well-written proposal can help cinch the deal. The proposal should absolutely be used as a selling tool. It is your opportunity to demonstrate that you truly understand your prospect's needs, you have listened intently and that you will provide a compelling solution.
How to Construct Proposals That Sell

Decision Tools: Wolfram|Alpha is a knowledge site that you should be aware of. It offers an amazing toolset in which to process information and it may prove useful to you personally if not of value in making decisions in your business. Inventor Stephen Wolfram, founder and CEO of Wolfram|Alpha, recalls an innovative childhood
Finding the Fundamentals (4:14min)

Wolfram|Alpha Video Demo (8:37min)

Managing Crisis: Whatever needed doing followed an unwritten protocol that came out of my head. That worked well enough when things were just getting started — in fact, it was something I thought contributed to our success — but at some point every business owner realizes there is only so much that he can hold in his arms.
How to Get Out of the Role of Chief Fire Extinguisher

Business Strength: As chief executive, you impact every aspect of your business.  Even when you delegate, your personality and decisions influence everything. It stands to reason that leaders who are psychologically in tune — meaning resilient, agile, and aware — are not only more effective, they also bring an unmatchable competitive advantage to their businesses.
The Secret to Building a Stronger Business

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