Are executive coaches and advisory boards full of bull?

If you know what you need to do, get on and do it. But in times of overload, stress management, or driving cultural change, it sometimes pays to get some help.

I’m one of the world’s worst sceptics about executive coaching and so-called advisory boards, but I’ve just signed up with a couple of coaches. Why have I been so sceptical in the past? Because my business has spent thousands of dollars over the past 16 years on external advice for me and my team only to have them mentor my staff out of the business, reduce people to tears, demonstrate no understanding of my industry and leave me consistently thinking I’m good enough on my own. As for advisory boards,they need to do their job, they need to deliver hard advice, good leads and make a quantifiable difference.

So when is the right time to get some help and invest in an advisor, mentor or coach, and what are the criteria to look for? And in spite of my negative experiences in the past, I’ve just taken on a formal relationship with two individuals.

The first is a woman named Helen Jones who has 35 years of experience in my industry and is dynamic, vivacious and engaging. I am using her to guide me on change management and strategic planning within the business right now. It’s a significant exercise re-engineering the transformation of my agency but I chose her in seconds. Why? Because I liked her and she has my respect.

She came recommended by a mutual friend and I know considering my busy schedule, I will want to spend time with her. I meet her for an hour once a fortnight on an hourly rate. Her mind works as fast as mine, she takes notes for me, she asks gentle questions, she’s fun. I’m self-motivating so there is no chance my actions won’t happen. We work through the issues together; we form an informal to-do list. No forms, no process. Entirely against anything I’ve experienced before. I’m seeing significant change already. And, did I mention, it’s fun?

The second is Johnny, my personal trainer. I want to raise my fitness to a new level. I keep fit, but I want tighter direction on my program. It’s more than aesthetics — it’s a lifestyle choice to help me maintain the longevity of my life and my bones! Johnny is terrific. I meet him once or twice a week; he’s gentle, supportive and again I want to spend time with him. Again it’s about mutual respect.

I met Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti at a TransTasman Business Circle lunch yesterday and he articulated the value of working with good people.

“The importance of strong leadership in an organisation can’t be underestimated,” he said, “especially when you are embarking on any major program of change. What is equally important is that you surround yourself with good people. I choose to surround myself with people that are passionate about what they do, have a hunger to improve and a desire to win. People with these traits thrive on making the impossible possible.”

As a general rule, it should be easy to ask for advice from those you trust and rate highly. I do it easily. It is faster than reading a manual and I enjoy being taught by example. I am a passionate mentor of others, and I have no patience for inaction. If you know what you need to do, get on and do it.

It’s tough at the top in private business, without a board. But coaches and mentors can give you time and benchmarks to discuss things through; present a range of options; act as a catalyst for change; and provide genuine support.

So here are a few tips to working with a mentor:

  •  It’s about timing. Ask yourself if it’s the right time to take external advice. If the timing is wrong, you will not get the most out of the relationship.
  •  Are the intentions good, positive, honourable, do you care? Does your mentor care
  • Do you have time to implement the actions from your discussions or not?
  • Do you like the person? Will you want to and find the time to attend meetings?
  • What are the critical things you want to work on?
  • Note the action plan and commit to a date.
  • Make a time that works to meet, face to face or on the phone.
  •  Listen to the advice.
  • Experience usually pays.
  • Find one by asking people you know.
  • The “fit” and chemistry needs to be right — this is a relationship.
  • If it doesn’t feel right on the first session, it probably isn’t going to work out.

I’m enjoying my coaches and my life is richer for the experience. Sometimes it helps to step out beyond our own limitations. What do you think?


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