IT director Karriem Shakoor noticed a trend among high-performing athletes: They all had personal performance coaches. It made him wonder: Should he get a coach to up his professional game?
His own boss supported the idea, and his research showed that many CEOs hire executive coaches. So Shakoor, who has worked in IT since 1991, hired a coach to help him take his leadership skills to the next level.
"I felt that in order for me to really assess my strengths and weaknesses, I had to engage with a coach who could step back to observe me, provide feedback and then help me tweak my performance," says Shakoor, who, as senior director of IT shared services at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, has eight direct reports and manages just over 300 full-time employees.
Shakoor started working with coach John Baldoni in 2009. They had scheduled face-to-face meetings and talked on the phone to discuss additional topics as they arose. A coach, says Shakoor, is different from a mentor or a boss. "What he really is, is a person who has an understanding of my strengths and weaknesses and how they translate into my style as a leader," he explains.
The initial goal was for Shakoor to improve his executive presence and executive style, and a six-month assessment, based on feedback from company executives, showed he had indeed improved in those areas. Nonetheless, Shakoor continues to meet with Baldoni for an hour every month or two as he works toward his ultimate goal of one day becoming a CIO.
Shakoor can't point to any one work situation where coaching helped him score rather than strike out; rather, it's his overall ability to assess and successfully navigate various management challenges that has improved. "As an executive in a very fast-paced, demanding field, I view myself as an athlete, and having a coach who keeps me well tuned as a corporate athlete has been a great benefit," he says.
Could a coach do the same for you?
Typically, IT professionals haven't taken advantage of such services at the same pace as senior managers in other fields, say coaches, CIOs and other corporate leaders. But that's changing as tech executives -- and their companies -- begin recognizing that IT can gain as much from coaching as others in the C suite. In fact, coaching may be even more beneficial to IT leaders, particularly those who rise through the ranks on the strength of their technical expertise rather than their management experience.
The good news: As IT demand for coaching services has risen, there's been an increase in the number of coaches with experience in either IT management or coaching IT leaders, says Suzanne Fairlie, founder and president of national executive staffing firm ProSearch in Ambler, Pa., who frequently recommends coaching to CIOs.