Can professional coaching advance your career?

Without question, Fink already demonstrated many of the strengths needed by executives at the top of an organization. With the encouragement and insight from his coach, he's ready to take his career even further. And in today's quest to conquer e- commerce -- with companies placing a premium on technical and business acumen combined - - he could rise very high, indeed.

Rich Chadwick has yet to achieve the same heights, but his career is definitely on the rise. Director of development information systems at pharmaceutical company Amgen, in Thousand Oaks, Calif., Chadwick has been asked to apply for a more senior position within IS that oversees nearly 500 staff. Chadwick knows technology and knows the business. But while he's taken graduate studies in finance, he's not versed in it enough to "speak the lingo" on the executive floor. He needed someone to guide him through unfamiliar territory. A friend suggested Cramm.

"I already know the business here very well, so I can talk about cycle times and regulatory submissions [to the FDA]," says Chadwick. "Susan's background as a CFO helps me tie the technology's value back to our investments, since that's driving everything inside the executive suite. I wanted to prepare myself before I'm in the job that will have me talking to the CEO and COO."

In other words, Chadwick wanted preemptive training, with the professor all to himself. Anna-Lisa Silvestre, general manager of Kaiser Permanente Online, in Oakland, Calif., had similar issues to contend with. As the manager in charge of the HMO's online business, Silvestre wanted coaching about finance in particular and a deeper understanding of technology in general. Frankly, Silvestre just didn't know what to focus on in her job. "I was always successful at what I did, but being on a national project was the big timee," says Silvestre. "I had to know how to position myself, how to frame the issues -- even who I needed to meet with." In essence, says Silvestre, she needed to practice, refine and hone her approach to people. With the help of a coach like Cramm, she has.

"I know what questions I need to ask, how to ask them, how to approach the job, how I will pull this off," says Silvestre. "She has made me fearless."

Isn't that a great feeling to have?

The Right Fit

These days, all sorts of people can call themselves professional coaches -- and all sorts of people do, be it psychotherapists fleeing penurious HMOs, human resource professionals, business consultants, organizational development specialists or retiring executives. That makes finding a coach a rough proposition. How does someone find the right coach, given so many choices? The first step is knowing the kind of coaching you actually need. Looking for a coach skilled in honing your emotional well- being as you work your way up the corporate food chain? If so, cast around for someone with a background in psychotherapy. Do your underlings pull straws to see who has to interact with you? Then by all means hunt down a coach adept at organizational development. And you have two choices if your growth plans emphasize improvement as an executive: You can hire someone who hails from the executive community. Or you can find a professional coach whose rolodex includes mentors that can be called in, as needed, even as the coach helps you through unfamiliar organizational and HR minefields. Once you hone in on the kind of coach you need, you still have to find the right individual. Probably the best locating technique is word of mouth. After all, if a coach worked for someone you know, she could work for you too. Other sources to find an executive coach include:

Internal Coach Federation, 888 ICF-3131, www.coachfederation.org

Professional Coaches & Mentors Association, 562 799-2421, www.pcmaonline.com

American Coaching Association, 610 825-4505, www.americoach.com

Valuedance, 949 361-3096

CDR International, 503 223-5678, www.cdr-intl.com

Consider this list a good first start. Just remember, this is a field dependent on personal chemistry, personal trust and confidentiality. That's why it's so important to interview potential coaches to see how well your personalities mesh.

This story, "Can professional coaching advance your career?" was originally published by CIO.

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