National post

Coaches prepare managers for battle

Focus on helping clients figure out their real goals

By Gigi Suhanic
Wednesday June 9, 2004

Mary Wright (not her real name), a fast-rising manager at a multinational corporation, is having a session with her corporate coach on this mid-week morning. And it’s a good thing, too. So far, it’s been a rough day.

A meeting with two executives had to be called off when Ms. Wright discovered incorrect data was included in her presentation. Now the thirty-something business whiz is grappling with a couple of issues in the aftermath.

There’s “the embarrassment of having to now go tell two vice-presidents that even though we worked their schedule around this meeting I don’t have accurate information to present to them,” she says.

The events also laid bare some ongoing problems with the team member that pulled the data.

Sheeba Varghese of Forward Focus professional coaching and Ms. Wright’s coach for just over a year, helps her process the morning’s events and figure out what the next steps should be.

Ms. Varghese asks Ms. Wright what’s coming up for her in the moment.

For one thing, she is worried that this is a bad start to her budding relationship with one of the executives. Ms. Wright’s also concerned about how the events reflect on her. She’s torn by wanting to protect herself and help her team member.

“How do I not sell out [my staffer]? I don’t want to do that. My intent [is to] solve the problem,” she says.

Ms. Varghese urges Ms. Wright to see if there’s an opening she can find or create to talk to her employee about his work. She also asks what are the challenges given what happened.

Ms. Wright thinks she has to get a better handle on her staffer. “I think it’s [the challenge] trying to spend a bit more time to figure out who he is.”

Corporate coaching is a fast-growing phenomenon in the business world, according to the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC), headquartered in Sidney, B.C. Leaders from some of the largest multinationals have signed on for corporate coaching including Henry McKinnell, chief executive of Pfizer, Margaret Whitman, chief executive of eBay and David Pottruck, chief executive of Charles Schwab.

“Now what we’re finding … [is] people who have been management consultants are adding business coaching to their resumes,” says Freddie Ray, communications chairwoman of the WBAC.

According to Ms. Varghese corporate coaching is not about providing therapy to fix the past or to tell clients what to do.

Instead, Ms. Varghese focuses on assisting clients to unravel for themselves what are their goals and the challenges and projects they might want to work on.

That’s what drew Ms. Wright to corporate coaching.

“I just wanted to try something different to get the work-life balance I was looking for and be the best manager I could be,” she says.

When she and Ms. Varghese started working together, they would talk weekly, mostly over the phone, for half an hour. In their initial meetings, Ms. Wright says Ms. Varghese did a lot of assessment to figure out what were Ms. Wright’s goals.

Apart from the work-life balance, she says she was also struggling with her mood at work.

“I found when it got really hectic I was starting to lose my temper with people,” she says.

Once Ms. Wright had zeroed in on her targets, she says Ms. Varghese guided her to stay on track by getting her to commit to a certain action and then checking to see if she followed up.

Ms. Varghese would also give Ms. Wright some suggestions of different approaches to apply to work situations.

On this day, Ms. Varghese does a bit of hand-holding with her client. But mostly, she helps Ms. Wright boil down events to their essentials.

“What I’ve found in today’s workforce is the biggest challenge is when you feel pulled in directions,” she says, adding the coaching has helped her find ways of staying true to herself, being happier and not feeling so harried.

Also, because Ms. Wright moved up so quickly in her organization, she says it affected her development as a manager.

“Coaching helped me experiment with management” to create a style.

© National Post 2004

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