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Gracious reader,

So I saw a tweet, "If your CEO has a coach, maybe you deserve one too."

We all need coaching.  And yes, you deserve it.  The article dives into trend I've been seeing:  a call to "democratize" coaching.

Your CEO is probably getting executive coaching.  It's a bespoke, expensive service that usually involves having an experienced person gather and analyze feedback from board members, executives, and other stakeholders. 

This process provides your CEO with context-relevant feedback, which they (presumably) use to become more effective at work.

Your CEO is not getting "democratized" coaching.

Coaching, unfortunately, is not a single product with features -- it's not like a SaaS product.  So it's hard to know if and when it's needed, or to understand what's on offer, and how to evaluate the people who are offering it.

This time, a few basics on coaching.
You deserve to be coached

Early in your career, the best way to be coached:  work for a good manager. 

Coaching is part of every manager's job:  it's a matter of giving context-specific feedback.  (Which is what your CEO is getting from an executive coach.)

Your manager sees you at work, and knows what you need to work on.  They hear from others about your impact.  Ideally, they're meeting with you routinely to talk about how to keep things moving forward.

So don't blow off your 1:1s.  This is your time to get coached.

If you work for a first-time manager, and none of this is happening, you may need to ask for feedback, and be sure that you're getting time with your manager.

If your manager doesn't have regular 1:1s with you, or you work in an organization that doesn't seem to value feedback, you may want to consider your options. 
What's on the menu?

There are nutrition coaches, breast-feeding coaches, KonMari coaches...and more.  And then there's coaching more directly related to your professional life:
  • Career Coaching is for people who are evaluating their professional options.  A career coach can help you when you're in job search, or have been recently laid off.  Or if you'd like to make a career change.
  • Skills Coaching addresses specific development needs:  marketing, branding, public speaking, and so forth.
  • I briefly described executive coaching above. Some larger organizations offer programs with similar services to more junior people who are being groomed to advance.
  • Life Coaching is a puzzle, imo.  When you dig on the internet, you'll find many different things on offer.  Caveat emptor.
Any coach should have a process that supports you to identify and prioritize goals.  At the outset, you should know what the engagement will cost, and how you'll spend time together.  The coach should work with you to design actions that move you towards meeting your goals. 

In longer engagements, the coach should be your accountability partner, and help you to develop strategies to address barriers and stuckness.

If someone promises to transform your life?  Or to help you to reach intangible goals, like happiness?  Red flag.

Journalist Ashley Milne-Tyte recently did an excellent 2-episode podcast series on coaching that touches on some of the caveats. 

(Part 1 of Ashley's series is here.  Part 2 is here -- I'm one of her guests.  If you'd rather read than listen, check her transcripts.  #recommend)

If you're going to invest in coaching...

Coaching costs more than money:  you'll spend your time, and your intellectual and emotional energy.
  • Check references.  And not just online.  Some coaches always have rave reviews front and center on the internet, particularly those with online courses.  (I suspect a dark art at play, involving an admixture of SEO optimization and affiliate marketing.) 

    A referral from a satisfied client in your circle, someone you trust?  Priceless.

  • Ask the coach to timebox the engagement and cap your investment, based on progress you'd like to make. 

    During the engagement, if you don't feel you're making progress, talk to your coach about how to get on track.  If this doesn't move things in the right direction, move on.
  • If you want career coaching, check in with your school.  Your university may offer free or discounted career coaching for alumni. 

    Your public library, place of worship, or another community organization may offer free or low-cost career coaching.  I recently found reasonably-priced career coaching for a family friend in Chicago, a not-for-profit affiliated with her university's career center.  Maybe there's something similar near you.

  • I've been in a peer coaching group for more than a decade, with several friends who are business owners.  We have stuck with it through thick and thin -- it's not always easy -- and it has been an incredibly rich source of coaching about our careers, lives and more.

    Bill George's True North Groups (library) (Indiebound) is an excellent resource on self-directed peer group coaching.

  • COACHING IS NOT THERAPY.  If you feel like you're being asked to share information that's unduly personal:  red flag. I have heard from friends about being in coach-led situations where people's boundaries are not respected:  red flag. 

    And I've seen it myself, when my group hired an executive coach to work with us for a day.  We were fortunate to have solid relationships, as well as skills that enabled us to safely debrief after the day came to an end.

    We had all vetted the coach:  that day, we missed a red flag. 

    Near the end of our time together, she suggested an exercise that we hadn't discussed beforehand.  The exercise evoked an emotional response -- and not in a good way -- from two of my friends. 

    This was several years ago.  At the time, I felt that we had been manipulated.  Pushing someone to transgress their boundaries, claiming reactions as "transformation" is a cheap, if classic, self-help move.

    In hindsight, maybe the coach simply didn't know what she didn't know.  I don't know.  We didn't work with her again.

    Caveat emptor.
For more information and resources I've gathered and created on coaching, here's a link to a back-issue of my management newsletter.

College admissions coaching came up in news about the US college admission scandal, a story that shines a light on one way that inequity is created and persists. 

I've been seeing career coaching marketed to parents of people who are new to the workforce. Indeed, a parent of kids bound for elite universities suggested that I market How to Have a Job coaching services.  This is not the world I want to help to create.

Coaching matters, and who gets coached does too.  To get coached for skill at work, work for a good manager. 


Anne Libby

P.S. From the archives:
  #32 Your Manager and Your Relationship.
Do you lead a team?
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