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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Shiozaki worked with a coach a second time after she became CIO at Thornburg Mortgage Inc. in Santa Fe, N.M., in 2007 (the company is now known as TMST Inc.). She hired -- and paid for -- the coach to help her keep herself and her team focused as the company dealt with the fallout from the 2008 economic collapse.

"It's challenging coming in as CIO into any situation, but when you add onto it the looming possibility of bankruptcy and the financial turmoil, it compounds the challenges," she says. Shiozaki sought out a coach who could help her stay grounded and be "the strong leader the company needed."

Shiozaki connected with her second coach once or twice a month via phone or in person over 18 months. This coach had a more structured approach than her first, giving her particular tasks to accomplish by specific deadlines and holding her accountable to meeting those goals. For example, she and her coach devised a plan on how to best help a direct report who was having a difficult relationship with a colleague.

Different coaches, different styles

Shiozaki's varied experiences with different coaches is the rule rather than the exception. Coaches, clients and others familiar with the process say coaching arrangements vary based on the executive's needs, company policy, the coach's own style and other factors.

Baldoni says he works with a model that goes from assessment to action plan to evaluation. As part of the assessment, he asks clients about their current performance as well as what they want to change. He uses assessment tools and tests to get at leadership styles and personality traits. As privacy and access permit, he also conducts stakeholder interviews, which might include peers, supervisors and direct reports.

Baldoni says he and his clients then chose one or two areas to work on -- most often communication skills, the ability to influence, leadership presence and delegation skills.

The process involves a lot of talking and listening, but also he assigns homework -- something as straightforward as a reading assignment or as amorphous as working on behavioral changes. He might, for example, have a client who's trying to improve his communication skills work on letting others have a chance to voice their opinions.

Like most other executive coaches, Baldoni's engagements happen over a specific timeframe, often of six or 12 months, at which point he confers with clients to evaluate how their performance improved over that period of time. "Coaching is a guided form of self-discovery. You get out of it what you put into it," he says. "It's about helping yourself become more effective as an executive and as a leader."

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