December 13, 2000, 3:31 PM — Sharon McCracken still remembers her stomach lurching as she heard the news: Her
boss wanted her to receive professional coaching. That was one way to spoil a lunch.
"The people I knew who'd received coaching needed it because they were really bad
managers," says McCracken, vice president of information technology at Twentieth
Century Fox, in Beverly Hills, Calif. "I viewed this as a probationary thing."
That's not how Justin Yaros, McCracken's boss and Fox's CIO, perceived things.
After all, he wouldn't have promoted McCracken to head the entertainment giant's
worldwide IT effort if he didn't think she had the necessary spark and sparkle. But as
he saw it, McCracken hadn't yet assumed the characteristics of a senior executive. "He
sat me down at lunch, said he wanted to hand more projects to me but felt he couldn't
because I was managing at too low a level, and he wanted me to take advantage of
coaching," remembers McCracken. "I looked at him and thought, 'You're trying to tell me
something.' I thought he had a hidden agenda."
McCracken felt cornered.
For the rest of the lunch, Yaros worked to assuage her concerns. But it wasn't
until he told her that she, not he, would decide what to improve and that everything
would remain strictly confidential between her and her coach that she reluctantly
agreed. McCracken called Susan Cramm, president of Valuedance, an executive coaching
company in San Clemente, Calif. -- the same coach Yaros used for his own personal fine-
"Because I knew Susan had been Justin's coach, I was prepared to be guarded with
what I said to her," admits McCracken. "Instead, we had an immediate chemistry. I feel
I can trust her completely. That's allowed me to get instant value out of every hour
we've spent together."
And they have spent many, many hours together, working hard to figure out the tasks
McCracken should and should not handle in her busy day, learning how to build business
alliances and, in general, ratcheting up her leadership proficiency. Focus
on "leadership" -- it requires a completely different set of skills than those needed
to manage effectively. McCracken didn't need to hone her management acumen; she didn't
become head of international operations -- overseeing the applications and systems that
support 64 offices and six different business entities each with its own mini-CIO
reporting directly to her -- without enormous management talent.