IT careers: Do you need an executive coach?

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

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Who gets coached, and when

Like their counterparts in other business lines, IT professionals sign on with executive coaches under a variety of circumstances.

Some get coaches as part of executive compensation packages that come standard to all leaders at certain levels of the company. Others are assigned coaches individually -- either as rising stars who are being groomed for promotion or, the flip side, as struggling managers who need help in specific areas of performance. And some people decide on their own to work with a coach as a way of investing in their career.

Costs vary, but multiple sources say $200 to $500 per hour represents the range of rates for such services. Though companies most often pay for the service, some professionals do pay out of their own pockets for various reasons. They may work for companies in financial crisis where such expenses are just not possible. Others may want their coaching arrangement to remain private or may be at a less senior level where the company has decided not to cover the cost.

At what point in an IT leader's career does it make sense to engage a coach? Shakoor's coach, Baldoni, president of Baldoni Consulting LLC, in Ann Arbor, Mich. and an author of several leadership books, says there is no rule, but in general, "Most companies hire executive coaches for more senior leaders -- director, VP and above. That said, anyone can benefit from coaching, and some companies do provide it to emerging leaders."

Effective, focused leadership

IT executive Caren Shiozaki has worked with two coaches over the course of her career.

She first had a coach when she was CIO at a Dallas-based Fortune 1000 media company that paid for coaches for all its executives as a way to help them improve their individual performance.

For 18 months, she and her coach connected once a month for an hour or two, usually by phone but sometimes in person. In addition, Shiozaki called her coach at other times if she needed to work through particular scenarios as they cropped up.

The meetings were unstructured, she says, allowing her to talk about whatever challenges were in front of her at the time, whether they had to do with how best to build relationships throughout the organization or rally support from other business leaders for the changes she wanted to implement.

"There were some initiatives directed from the top that I was responsible for implementing. These had major implications for a number of stakeholders, who understandably reacted very emotionally," Shiozaki recounts. "Being able to better take into account their perspectives helped me develop better approaches to change management. The coach helped me improve my 'emotional IQ.'"

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