How Coaching Turbo-charges Your Career

A coach isn’t a therapist, a friend, a mentor or a counsellor. The focus of coaching is on achieving specific goals. In this increasingly complex and fast-moving world, managers need all the support they can get to enable them to achieve their goals.

A coach will help you build specific skills that will bolster your professional performance. While a coach might encourage you to share your past experiences, the emphasis is on the future and, especially, on removing particular roadblocks from your path.

In general, there are two kinds of executive coaching. The first is remedial coaching. This is when a manager, director or executive is creating problems, and possibly completely out of their depth and misaligned. However, turning to a coach when everyone is at the end of their tether seems logical but is never ideal.

The second, and most successful, kind of coaching is when a manager, director or executive is feeling challenged, and may be in a “stretch” position. A coach can help to equip you with what is needed to do the job well. In an ideal world the situation is pre-empted and the coaching starts when the goal-setting takes place.

In other words: don’t wait for a crisis before contacting a coach. Instead, consider coaching when you are not feeling entirely up to dealing with the challenges you’re facing. Typically executive coaching helps managers who want to move on to the next level of leadership. Coaching works for anyone who knows they can do a lot better, who is not satisfied with their current performance and has a bigger dream.

How does coaching work?

The approach will depend on the needs of a client. Typically I start with a 90 minute session exploring goals, values, strengths & weaknesses, pitfalls, etc.

Goals are critical in coaching. Unlike therapy and mentoring, coaching is exclusively focused on achieving specific objectives. These could include a whole range of goals from all areas of life. Oftentimes these areas are interconnected and progress on one side might lead to leaps on another side.

The relationship with your coach will typically have an end-date, and won’t continue indefinitely. The coaching sessions are typically intensive for the first few weeks, and then less frequent as the client works on achieving goals. A large part of coaching is holding you (the client) accountable to do the work for themselves. While everyone is different, it can take three to six months before behaviours start to shift in a meaningful way.

How do you choose a coach?

The coaching sector is relatively unregulated. Currently, the gold standard is an accreditation from the International Coach Federation (ICF). ICF coaches have completed courses that have been certified by the organisation.

To find the right person for you, personal referrals can be useful. Get references and also scrutinise the coach’s CV to see whether they have the skills that will help you. Get a sense of where the person has worked and confirm their qualifications. The latter is crucial, she says. Many so-called coaches will punt their experience – “30 years in HR” or “extensive consulting work” – but don’t have any credible (e.g. ICF-certified) coach-specific training.

Also, and probably most importantly, have a coffee (or a call) with a prospective coach to make sure you are a good match. It has to be someone you will trust. There should be chemistry between you: your interaction should not be forced and you should feel understood.

Curious to find out more? Why not give it a try!


Coaching pays off. Here’s why.

“I encourage most of the CEOs I work with to get mentors or coaches (or both).” Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures (investments include Twitter, FourSquare, Zynga)


Who am I to state something different? After all, with 2 startups under my belt (and a Red Herring), I can state with confidence that with a coach, I definitely would have gotten to my goals much quicker and way more efficiently. Coaching really helps entrepreneurs become more successful by reaching and sustaining peak performance.

Studies in larger organizations show that coaching top executives at large companies yields 5 to 7 times the company’s initial investment! While studies haven’t been done on the value of coaching on smaller companies and startups, it’s reasonable to expect that entrepreneurs are under similar pressures and their actions at least as critical to the success of their organizations so that the value of coaching might be greater.

Entrepreneurs are generally lifelong learners; an executive coach may be the only person in your life who is solely devoted to accelerating and supporting your learning, growth, and self-knowledge. This in turn supports you making the best possible decisions and doing the best possible work for your company.

Wondering if coaching is worth it? Here are some studies about the return on investment for coaching:

  • Companies that have used professional coaching for business reasons have seen a median return on their investment of 7 times their initial investment, according to a study commissioned by ICF, and conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Association Resource Centre Inc. (ICF Global Coaching Client Study, 2009)
  • A study commissioned by a professional services firm, and performed by MatrixGlobal showed that the ROI on coaching was 6.8x the initial investment. (The Business Impact of Leadership Coaching at a Professional Services Firm, Merrill C. Anderson, PhD, 2006)
  • Three stock portfolios comprised only of companies that spend aggressively on employee development each outperformed the S&P 500 by 17-35% during 2003. (How’s Your Return on People? Harvard Business Review, Laurie Bassi and Daniel McMurrer, 2004)
  • Employees at Nortel Networks estimate that their coaching programs earned the company a 5.2x return on investment and significant intangible benefits to the business, according to calculations prepared by Merrill C. Anderson, a professor of clinical education at Drake University. Including the financial benefits from employee retention boosted the returns to 7.8x the initial investment. (Coaching the Coaches, Psychology Today, 2004, and Case Study on the Return on Investment of Executive Coaching, Merrill C. Anderson, PhD, 2001)
  • According to a study of senior level executives at Fortune 1000 companies who received developmental coaching, the average return from the programs was nearly 5.7 times the initial investment. (Maximizing the Impact of Executive Coaching, The Manchester Review, Volume 6, Number 1, Joy McGovern,, 2001).

Oh, one last note: don’t forget to do your homework. Don’t settle for any coach: look for coaches with an appropriate training (CTI, Newfield Network, Hudson Institute…), who adhere to the International Coach Federation (ICF) and are certified or at least under certification. Get a sample session, see how it gels and don’t hold back. A good coach won’t do that either…