Monday, June 22, 2009

What A Wonderful World

A close coaching friend sent me a You Tube link to A Wonderful World. I watched a youthful Louis Armstrong sing his song for the ages. It triggered a significant memory that that has sat in the deep recesses of my mind for years.
I was about 7 years old when my parents announced we would be going on a road trip to the Steel Pier in Atlantic City. It was about a 90 minute car ride, not much of a road trip by today’s standards. It was big for us since we were a relatively poor family and any road trip away was an adventure.
Two things struck me that day and have remained as distinct memories these many years later. One was the diving horse. A girl rode a horse up a large elevator lift of some sort and jumped from a high platform to the pool below. A pretty cool event and still not as powerful as the event that followed.
Later we were walking along a portion of the Steel Pier when we stopped by a small 3 or 4 piece band. I found myself mesmerized by the lead singer that also played the trumpet. He had a white handkerchief wrapped around his trumpet. His voice was silky smooth. We listened to a few songs before moving on. When my father told me it was Louis Armstrong – it meant nothing to me, and when he sang ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ it touched me. That song is a beautiful reminder of what is wonderful in this world. We could all use this type of reminder on a regular basis.
What are you doing to appreciate the beauty in this world? And I hope you will share the beauty that is you.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Economy Keeping Executive Coaching Firms Busy

Below is a copy of an article written in a local magazine when I was interviewed about executive coaching. It does a nice job of highlighting how coaching is recession proof and a necessary commodity for business success during trying times. Many would say that we have never before experienced recession like what has impacted us recently. For those of us with more grey hair than others I would argue we have seen a roller coaster ride with highs and lows throughout our experience. And I would believe we will come out of this dip and experience another high like the ones that have followed previous downturns. For those that weather this storm, greater success awaits on the other side. This creates even a more significant need for successful maneuvering of leadership and relationship skills during downturns. If we apply these skills during the most difficult times we are best equipped to take advantage of the good times. Those that retreat during difficult economies will find themselves playing catch up to those that invested in their own development as well as the development of their key people. Read the article below from 2001 and notice if it strikes a recurring theme to match the economic times we face today:

One industry that is thriving during the economic slowdown is executive coaching.

While many companies have cut back on employee development programs to save money, others are recognizing the increased return on investment and are keeping coaching firms busy.

These days, investors are being more selective about which companies they fund, so top-level execs are investing the time and money to hone their leadership skills, says Bob Johnson, founder at Leader Search Inc. of Calgary, Alberta a coaching services firm.

"Some companies are cutting back on non-direct revenue producing initiatives, but others are investing more," says Johnson, who's been coaching executives for over 18 years.  "The good companies are encouraging their executives to get coaching because they want them to not just survive but to prosper when their competition doesn’t."

For the past few years, there was a "gold rush mentality" in the resource sector, where people didn't believe leadership skills and business models mattered, says Johnson.  But the economic slowdown has forced companies to get back to basics.

"When there's a clanking noise in your car at 100 kph, you can't hear it. But you can hear it at 50 kph," says Johnson, who splits his time between coaching execs in Calgary and Phoenix.

While most executives stay in their roles after coaching, some realize they aren't the right person to lead the company, says Leader Search’s Johnson.

"My mistakes were easily costing the company more than Bob's fees," says Paul, one of the executives Bob coaches.   Like the CEOs of many companies, Paul's background was in technical engineering, not business and particularly not leadership.  And, he says, the company's ability to move to the next level, retain its good people and not become a take over target was weighing on his shoulders.

"My biggest area of weakness was my decision making," says Paul, who stepped down as CEO after several months of coaching.

"After we brought in a new CEO, we increased revenues by $2.5 million," says Paul, now COO and vice president of operations. "The results speak for themselves."

Programs vary by coaching firm and the needs of each executive.  But intensive, one-on-one programs such as Leader Search's typically begin with a "360-degree assessment" in which the coach shadows the executive and then interviews those who work closely with him or her.

Leader Search's coaching program typically involves three sessions per month for six to nine months, with the cost ranging from $12,000 to $20,000. Fees vary by coaching firm, and depend on the scope of the coaching and level of the executive.

"A good executive coach works with the natural style of the leader, but then discovers their ambitions and fears," says Johnson. "CEO coaching, in particular, is really about accelerating the natural growth curve of a person who wants to be a leader."

Another CEO that receives coaching from Bob, hired Bob because he wanted feedback from someone with leadership knowledge.   "One of my fears is that my knowledge or lack thereof will be the reason that the company does not grow at a maximum rate," says Ken. "By using coaching I am able to get an outside, unbiased evaluation on our effort and results."

Ken also adds a word of caution. For coaching to be successful, coaches must be committed to their client's goals.   "Too many executive coaches have their own agendas," he says. "That's a disaster."

Companies are willing to spend the money on coaching because the return on investment can be significant.  The average ROI -- in the form of increased productivity, reduced turnover and other factors – is $100,000, according to a study in the Boston-based Manchester Review.

“The direct monetary impact of coaching can be difficult to measure”, says Ken.  For him, coaching is valuable because the ideas generated enable him to operate his company more effectively.

"Once in a while you can point to a specific situation where the coaching made a measurable monetary difference," he says. "I have asked for advice in negotiations when I was unsure of what the other company was trying to do.  Based on my coach's input I changed strategies and we won the contract."

“In the past, executive coaching was viewed as a perk; now companies realize it can help their bottom line”, says Johnson.   "When times are really good, people don't think there are any problems," Johnson explains.  "In these times, people are much more aware of their limitations."