The ins and outs of IT executive coaching

CEOs have long used executive coaches to take their leadership to the next level. Now IT pros are following suit.

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Soft Skills, Hard Results

Mary Jo Greil, president of The Carson Greil Group, a coaching firm in Memphis, acknowledges that some of the goals established in executive coaching might seem esoteric, but she says improvements are quite tangible.

Greil, whose coaching arrangements typically involve phone or face-to-face connections for one hour every two weeks, says she begins with a statement of work and then has her clients evaluate how they're doing against their articulated outcomes.

When Vickie Smith first started working with Greil eight years ago, her goal was to bring her IT organization to the forefront of her company, Helena Chemical in Collierville, Tenn. She hoped that IT would be recognized as an essential department that was very much a champion for the business.

"Before, [IT] was seen as just a support department; it was seen as being in the back, and I wanted to make sure I was giving the company the best that I had," says Smith, who was director of IT at the time but wanted the company to elevate the position to CIO.

Smith and Greil developed a plan to accomplish that goal, with Smith focusing on gaining trust for her technological vision both within the department and throughout the company. They created agendas for their meetings, and Greil had assignments for Smith to tackle -- such as reading a particular book.

Smith says she believes the coaching has had a clear return on investment for her and her department.

The results are tangible, she says, adding that "all the relationships you have within the organization -- whether it's with your peers, your superiors, your subordinates -- you can tell when you've gotten results and you're providing better service and they recognize IT as a top organization."

Another clear result: Smith became the company's first CIO in December 2009.

"I can't say coaching actually did it. Certainly hard work and results [earned it] for me," she says. "But I do know that coaching helped me and gave me some additional skills and information where I felt more comfortable going and proving the role that I wanted."

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. You can contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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