Previously published on Forbes.com
As the year draws to a close, many of us start to prepare mentally for a new year and a fresh start. How will you make next year better than this one?
Maybe you want to cultivate some new leadership habits and end some old ones. Or perhaps you want to take on a job challenge that stretches you. Or maybe you’re just sick and tired of the way work has been going, and you are ready for more for yourself and your career — way more.
No matter what your leadership development goals are, here’s one thing to put on your list: Consider hiring a coach.
Like an Olympic athlete, a person often can’t get to gold on their own. They need someone who knows the drills that increase strength and skill and who can push them to be better than they ever thought they could be. A coach can help you reclaim balance, prepare for a critical interview, increase leadership effectiveness, expand on your vision, reach higher. A coach will nudge you out of your comfort zone and give you straight feedback without worrying about whether or not you like it. A coach is a thought partner in really powerful ways.
A brilliant leader we know, Kelly, was the CFO for a national health care company. New to the role, she was in over her head. She had a geographically dispersed team and was working too many hours. She knew she needed help, and working with an executive coach seemed like a decent place to start. Together, she and her coach sifted through her current experience to see the patterns and shifts and wrong turns. Her coach’s job was to mirror back what he heard from a higher perspective, from the “balcony,” as Ron Heifetz calls it.
At the end of their first session, they had a plan — a clear strategy to help Kelly prioritize, delegate, develop and lead her team in more effective ways. Kelly’s team leadership went to the next level and her peers and boss noticed it.
Kelly’s story is just one of countless others, but there’s more than just anecdotal evidence supporting the value of a coach. Recent research has proven that one-to-one coaching is the most effective means of upgrading your skill set. Professional coaching encourages clients to deepen insights and translate them into action. According to Hunt and Weintraub, coaching holds the promise of transformation and is the only method of professional development that encourages a person to grow beyond surface issues. And a study by Lewis-Duarte found that coaches engage specific tactics to gain client commitment that changes behavior.
Here’s another news flash: It’s no longer a stigma to have a coach; it’s a status symbol. A staggering $1 billion was spent on business, personal and relationship coaches last year in the U.S., according to IbisWorld, up 20% from five years earlier. More and more leaders know the power of having a coach beside them. It’s a signal that your company is proactive and willing to invest in you — they see your potential and want more of it.
What might you expect if you hire a coach?
Your coach will start by gathering feedback about how others perceive you — your strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes this is done through a 360-degree assessment, other times through interviews with people who work with you. This gives your coach a good sense about where to begin. Then you will get together, face-to-face if possible, to go over the results of your feedback.
Together, you create an action plan for your development — actions you will take to change your habits, behaviors and perspective so you are more effective. And then you get to work. You’ll also meet regularly with your coach to make sure you haven’t gotten too busy with your day job and that you are moving your action plan forward and keeping your promises.
Focus and follow-through are what you will need for the kind of changes that will serve you for years to come. Challenges that seem impossible on your own can be addressed in partnership with a coach.
Are you sure you’re ready for a coach?
Having said all that, you have to be ready for a coach and candid feedback to get the value from the relationship. If you rush from meeting to meeting, if you are working long days, if you find yourself canceling and rescheduling anything that isn’t essential, you may be too busy to work with a coach. Coaching requires that you slow down to look and really see what’s going on under the surface. What’s driving unproductive behavior? What new actions and behaviors might make a difference? This takes time and energy. In addition, your coach may give you homework, such as reflection, reading and other work that requires your full attention. You have to have the time to devote to it and be willing to put in the hours.
A relatively new client of mine had been promoted to a position that scared him a little. He knew he would need new skills and tools to be successful. However, he was too busy in this new role for coaching. He worked upwards of 70 hours and then tried to spend remaining scarce hours with his family. He apologized over and over when he didn’t get his homework done. He felt bad, which was not the point of the exercise at all. It just wasn’t the right time for coaching.
As you finish out this year and begin to get ready for the next, think about your development as a leader. Think about who and how you want to be at this time next year. Will you be substantively better as a leader? If your answer to this question is yes, consider hiring a coach to help you get there.