Career COACH: Mentors are trendy accessories for executives
By Vicky Uhland, The Rocky Mountain News

Thirteen years ago, Brad Bawmann was newly out of college, making $13,000 a year at a grunt job. He passed the time dreaming about starting his own business. He didn't know what kind of business he wanted to have--maybe something in the widget field. You can imagine that Bawmann's unfocused dream didn't receive much support from friends and colleagues. Then he met Bill Frank, an executive coach with Denver-based CareerLab®.

"He'd listen to all my grandiose ideas and what he'd say is, 'Are you sure they're big enough?'" Bawmann says. Today, Bawmann is president of The Bawmann Group, a Denver public relations agency. He credits much of his success to Frank. "If he's not a god, he's close to one. He's my friend, mentor, brother, boss, sounding board and a shoulder to cry on," Bawmann says.

Executive coaches are to the '90s what personal trainers were to the '80s. They're the trendy accessory for entrepreneurs who want to get their company in shape, for young workers who need to know how to move into management and for managers who aren't sure how to get the best out of their people. Coaches can help executives who want to change careers or who have lost their vision of what they want to do with their life.

According to Harv Sims, Director of Training & Development for Front Range Solutions, executive coaches often take the place of corporate training and management development department that are deemed superfluous as companies downsize. "The work force is in such a state of flux that it's created a free agent society out there," Sims says. "Downsizing has knocked out a lot of the old mentors, the old sages of the corporation."

As a result, young workers don't know how to develop management skills, and managers have trouble keeping their skills current. They could read a book or go to a training seminar, but executive coaches offer more, says Anne Neal, president of Denver-based Vision-Mission-Strategy Inc. "If someone goes to a seminar, they go for one or two days and get good ideas, but then they get back into their daily life, and inertia takes over," she says. "A couple weeks later, they've forgotten those good ideas."

Executive coaches are also different from career counselors or therapists, says Denver coach Ayn Fox. "A counselor will say what someone ought to be, and a therapist will work to make someone better. A coach will encourage someone to think of what is their dream; what do they want to accomplish in life to be more satisfied, and how can they make that happen?" she says.

Like a personal trainer, executive coaches can be both motivator and nag. "Bill's always telling me to read books and do exercises," Bawmann says about his coach. "He'll call me and say, 'Hello, what are you doing? Where are you going?'"

Bawmann meets with Frank once a quarter. Frank serves as a "sounding board, helping me work through the progression of my career," Bawmann says. "Even though things may be going well, I get antsy. I like to stay ahead of it," he adds. "Sometimes I can't see the forest for the trees. When I'm in the middle of a transition, it's hard to see the big picture. Bill helps me do that."

Frank steered Bawmann toward a public relations career after doing a series of assessments to see where Bawmann's skills lie. Determining what a person really wants to do, not only in his or her work but in life in general, can be an important function of an executive coach.

"I like to help people get in touch with the vision they had for their life when they were young, when they were in college and when they were in their early 30s, and help them see the thread," Neal says.

Sims adds, "Sometimes I'll meet someone who will tell me, 'I've worked all my life for this position and now I've got it and I can't stand it.'" Sims often gives clients personality and skills assessment tests. He also uses a 360-degree assessment, where a client's subordinates, peers, superiors, friends or family rate the client's areas of effectiveness and also point out where the client is self-defeating. The idea is to allow the client to step outside himself, to see things in a different way and recognize his blind spots. This is especially effective for CEOs, who often don't have many peers or people they can trust to give good advice.

Sims says about 10 percent of his clients are "sentenced" to him-referred by their companies because they are no longer effective managers. "A lot of people are struck in the 'what I've done must be right because look where I've gone' mentality," Sims says.

But managers may be using antiquated people skills or have have a behavioral trait that prevents them from being effective. Or they may come from a technical background where they never developed good people skills in the first place. Sims uses role-playing activities or videotapes of a manager's performance to point out how behavior can be recognized and changed. "People get fired not because of their job skills but because of their people skills," he says.

Executive coaches can help with career nuts and bolts such as resume writing, interviewing skills and networking. They can steer clients toward financial advisors or attorneys. They also contract with corporations, helping teams work together, determining company direction and strategy and developing step-by-step action plans.

Executive coaches meet with clients by phone, in person or via the Internet. Generally, sessions are half an hour to an hour a week. Some clients, such as Bawmann, may meet with a coach for years, but the average time frame is three to 12 months. . . | Return to index of articles.

If you'd like to learn more about CareerLab's Executive Coaching program, give Bill Frank a call at 303-790-0505 or send e-mail to wsfrank@careerlab.com

 


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