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The Zero-Defect CEO

More and more CEOs are turning to business coaches to help them improve their business skills.
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Cover Story

Smart managers have already removed the defects from their businesses. Now they're using big-league business coaches to do the same for themselves

Kay Stepp jettisoned a high-paying and high-profile corporate job for one achingly simple reason: she had better things to do. Not that she knew what they were. "I wanted to take on worthy work," says Stepp, who had been running an $800-million utility.

Defining what she meant by that propelled her on a journey that involved both pleasure (Italy, Southeast Asia) and pain (golf lessons that "didn't take") as well as a near U-turn that threatened to land her back in the utility industry in early 1994, more than a year after her initial exit. She was one of two remaining candidates for the CEO spot at another utility when she snapped to her senses. "I got hold of myself," says the former president and chief operating officer of Portland General Electric Co. (PGE), in Portland, Oreg. "I got real clear."

Further clarity came from meetings at which Stepp, who "always had a great need for feedback," systematically polled her former colleagues on one question: "What was it I did that made me successful?" Their answer: "modeling leadership"--helping those around her get things done by conveying a firm sense of priorities.

That sounded both worthy and marketable--but marketable to whom? Stepp met one-on-one with some CEOs and executives she knew to gather more information. "I'm in the process of defining my next work," she'd begin, before peppering them with questions about their jobs: What was going on in their industry? What management issues bothered them most? The more they talked--about how speedily their industries were changing, how much harder their jobs were becoming, how the endless urgencies robbed them of any time to think about what mattered--the more questions she had. "Informally, I fell into a kind of role," she recalls. "All of a sudden, I said, 'Maybe there's something here.' "

Eager to "let people around town know I was doing something," Stepp says, she showed up at local meetings like the Oregon Women's Forum, where she met Deborah Coleman in the summer of 1994. Around the same time as Stepp's highly publicized departure from PGE, Coleman, a creature of Silicon Valley, had defected from her high-ranking post at Apple Computer, opting for a job that would ultimately lead her to remote Forest Grove, Oreg., to take the helm of newly formed Merix Corp., a maker of advanced electronic equipment that had been spun off by giant Tektronix. The two women were both trailblazers: in 1989 Stepp had become the first woman to run a public utility; three years earlier Coleman, then 34, had been the youngest chief financial officer in the Fortune 500.

Now each was venturing onto untried ground again. Coleman, with about three months as chairman and CEO behind her, had recently guided Merix through a public offering and was looking to develop her management team at the then $70-million company. Stepp had just gone into business for--and by--herself. She explained that her new venture, Executive Solutions, wouldn't be offering management training; nor would she be playing the role of consultant, rushing in to rub a ready-made salve on a readily diagnosed ailment. She talked instead of "leveraging my experience" to act as an "independent consultant to senior executives" to help them create "a learning environment."

Hearing that description, Debi Coleman might have assumed that her new acquaintance had been forcibly brainwashed by a posse of mushy-mouthed management gurus. But Coleman, so intent on bettering herself that she lists her managerial weaknesses on flash cards, sensed that Stepp could teach her valuable lessons.

Soon after, Coleman did more than just hire Stepp. She also gave her a label, tying her to a phenomenon that Stepp was barely aware of, branding her a practitioner of what Coleman declares to be " the management tool of the 1990s," dismissable only by CEOs who cannot bear to confront "the organizational dysfunction" they've sown with their lack of awareness about how their own behavior leads to chronic problems.

"Debi started calling me her coach," recalls Stepp, who is 52. "And it seemed to fit."

E. Kay Stepp certainly didn't invent the concept of business coaching, and she's far from its most ardent advocate. "I've always shied away from labels," she says.

But the need she spotted and the approach she takes to fill it exemplify the best aspects of what's fast becoming a familiar tool among entrepreneurs. "What I'm trying to do is to remove the blind spots," Stepp says. "I'm making people more aware of their own behavior, so that they can function more effectively." CEOs, having removed the defects from their factories, are now looking to repeat that feat with their psyches. "Everybody's getting better and better at everything: their knowledge of customers and markets, their knowledge of technology, their analytical skills," contends Coleman. "The way they haven't kept up is on the people side."

If the encroachment of coaches into the entrepreneurial community seems inevitable, it's not just because various species of nonathletic coaches --focusing on financial or executive or career issues--have grown to number around 1,500 over the past decade. Nor are CEOs hiring coaches simply because the word itself sparks such warm associations: that whistle-bearing blowhard of yore whose habit of screeching "drop-and-give-me-50" now looks like the selfless, if deafening, expression of a drive to excel. Having a coach licenses even the most anemic entrepreneurs to begin drawing parallels between themselves and those other rich and famous business tycoons, professional athletes.

Suspicion about coaching runs deep. The trend exists, some will claim, only because a crafty group of opportunists--consultants desperate to deflect the bad karma of reengineering, perhaps, or psychotherapists seeking a Trojan horse that could deliver them inside the brains, and bank accounts, of hard-to-attract clientele--pounced on an appealing word. Ask around, and you'll hear coaches likened to hot-line psychics, teddy bears, and radio shrinks. They don't always come out ahead.

Taking pride, as they do, in being wide-eared helpmates who don't begin to think about their responses while others are talking, business coaches have fashioned a stance aimed at vaporizing any doubt about their bottom-line orientation. If you brand them "New Age" or "touchy-feely"--or any phrase equating their curative properties with those of oat bran--coaches can end up touting concrete payoffs with all the understatement of an infomercial: a 40% increase in business in six months, boosted morale, an improved relationship with a spouse. Such outcomes, as spectacular as they are, aren't that different from the promises held out by every management fad in its heyday.

Where coaching does differ is in its radical formula for confronting issues ranging from a CEO's destructive temper to a company's desperate need for a long-term strategy: whatever way works best. By phone or in person? One-on-one or with a team? At set times or as needed? Paid by monthly retainer or on a session-by-session basis? In an era when "mass customization is reaching organizations," as Coleman says, the best coaches mold their involvement around the needs they see.

Among Stepp's clients, it's hard to find anyone who hasn't felt scarred by some faddish cure-all. Joseph Howell, chief financial officer at Merix, recalls how his former employer mistakenly submitted to reengineering. "The consultants solved the problem they understood, but it wasn't our problem," he says. He's not the only one ready to take a buzz saw to the next buzzword. "Every year there's a new book that everybody says has the answers," grumbles Adolph J. Ferro, the CEO of Epitope Inc., a Beaverton, Oreg., company that makes a saliva-based test for detecting HIV antibodies. "I've read them, and I just don't think there's one that applies to my company. I think every company has to write its own book."

If that's so, then CEOs need to bring new discipline to their own analysis: looking hard at the assumptions underlying their decisions, taking responsibility for the priorities they set, recognizing the distortions caused by their own biases. That's where coaches come in. "There's the insight they offer, the prodding that can get you to look at something differently," says Coleman. "This is not the easy stuff. It gets to how you think of yourself as a person, who you are, what you believe. There are ruts you get yourself into, just through lack of awareness."

Coleman began formally categorizing her own ruts more than a decade ago, when Apple deployed executive coaches to burnish its rising stars. Coleman's coach there, Isabella Conti, devised the flash cards as a way to isolate issues that kept surfacing. "When making a decision," reads one, "announce what kind of decision it's going to be." Coleman reports she's "definitely better" at that. "In a discussion where everybody's input is expected," reads another, "listen to everybody else before saying anything." That behavior "is the hardest one for me to change," Coleman concedes.

Stepp helps make Coleman aware of other areas that need shoring up. "Kay is very good at bringing you to the point of asking yourself questions that you probably should have been asking yourself before," says Ferro.

After that, you're on your own. "It's not my job to know what to do," says Stepp. "That's their job."

By calling in a coach, entrepreneurs are already admitting they suspect the source of their problems. Maybe they've been mellowed by age or battered by competition, or like Ferro they've grown bone-tired from "making a list of things I need to do, then feeling lucky if I even have time to look at the list." Whatever the reason, the same folks who not long ago were cribbing cues from Attila the Hun have now taken Oprah as their role model, reaching out to coaches to make their confession: My biggest problem is...me.

"The era of the CEO as Zeus on high has really been broken down," says Coleman. "When I'm at a meeting with a bunch of bright, energized people, I really don't think of myself in that way."

Sit in on any top-level meeting at Merix, and it's true: someone always challenges Coleman. Quite by design, though. If no one else takes aim, Stepp does. "I can make it safe for others to do it," she reasons. Staged as that may sound, it reaches into the core of what Stepp defines as a coach's role: eliminating anything that blocks her client from accurately seeing, and solving, the company's problems. By treating Coleman's ideas no differently from anybody else's, Stepp is diffusing the politics. Ideally. "I usually get some of the criticism later, hearing it through people who are not afraid," says Coleman. "I'm always surprised when it happens. I'll ask, 'Why didn't they tell me to go suck eggs on that issue?' "

Chances are, it had nothing to do with the availability of eggs. But the plausibility of so many other reasons, from simmering animosities to simple misunderstandings, makes it apparent why so much of Stepp's effort centers on meetings. Merix's five-member executive team holds six meetings a year, half of them daylong and on-site, and the others two-day affairs away from the office. Stepp not only attends those sessions but also runs them: setting the agenda, facilitating the discussion, helping members understand one another's communication styles. Coleman, Stepp says, can then "sit back and be a participant," focusing where she should as the chairman, CEO, and president of a $160-million company: on fixing problems. Specifically, the ones Stepp has placed on the agenda after interviewing each executive beforehand.

"Is this really the most important thing for us to work on?" Stepp will ask when the group wanders. She doesn't restrict herself to verbal cues. "Kay will give me a look that says, 'Debi, you're cutting off conversation,' " says Coleman.

While the executive-team members scribble on flip charts, Stepp distills the decisions the group makes into actions that someone will take, ones ranging from exercising on the treadmill three times a week ("To be accountable to our shareholders and employees, we have to take care of ourselves," notes Terri Timberman, vice-president of human resources), to making a $1-million investment in new technology. Before the next session, she'll sit down with each person on the team and go through the list of actions--organizational changes, policy moves, the pact to start "the 4 o'clock," a daily meeting--to see what has been accomplished. Everything, usually. In the past "we were making lists but not getting anything done," says Coleman. "There's a neatness to this process, but it's also about really creating focus and trying to be clear about priorities."

Clearly, one of Coleman's own priorities is to avoid the kind of "nit-picking and infighting" she endured at Apple, where she started in 1981. Stepp offers all the team members "a candid and straightforward opportunity for learning" by helping them understand different communication styles. "I'm very theatrical," says Coleman. "The others have embraced that. They would be upset if I came in and talked in a monotone." Upset, but not crushed. To get Coleman's attention, Howell says, he's learned to pound on a table or raise his voice a decibel. "Debi has learned to listen to me," he says. Howell also has become all too aware that when he talks he tends to take shortcuts, forgetting that the group needs to hear more of his thinking. "I've learned by working with Kay that I need to bring the team along on the journey," he says. "It was a revelation, rather like a club upside the head."

Stepp's bluntest weapon is her ability to be "very present" and "listen totally." To make sure she understands correctly, she'll repeat what someone has said, asking, Is this what you're saying? Trying to bring people around, she'll sometimes prompt them by using greater detail: In my earlier conversation with you, she'll say, you mentioned this event. She'll explore alternatives, trade-offs, underlying assumptions.

Stephen M. R. Covey, the son of the best-selling self-help author, is executive vice-president of Franklin Covey Co., one of the four companies at which Stepp serves on the board. (See "The Making of a Business Coach," below.) He claims that his "whole thought process has been improved" by Stepp. When presenting his first budget, in January 1995, he recalls, "I had jumped into what we were going to do and why. She asked some great questions about the assumptions we made." He goes on, "She's not trying to do the job of management. She's trying to help by making management aware of the choices being made."

Stepp takes pains to keep her distance. If the Merix group is brainstorming, she'll start her own contributions with, "In my personal experience..." or, "I have observed...." While conveying empathy, she's careful to guard her standing as a detached outsider with no hidden agenda. That enables her to point out problems that are "immediately available for solving," as she says.

Stepp's questioning pushes the management team to serve Coleman in the same way. "Kay helps us remember that we are officers of the company," says Howell, noting the natural tendency of managers to view problems solely through the lens of their own function, be it finance or marketing. "We really try to understand as if we were the CEO, so that the information is less distorted when it gets to Debi. Then she has less work to do to understand and interpret it and take action." Stepp describes her sole agenda in a similar way: "To share the best information I have in a way that helps Debi improve her effectiveness."

Improving that effectiveness means organizing more than just Coleman's thoughts. Stepp also tries to encourage CEOs to seize simplicity where they can: to carry a planning notebook with a running checklist in front, keeping the notes of their meetings in one spot. Stepp sends out those notes on three-holed paper. "It's easier for people to learn when you remove the obstacles," she says. Wherever possible. "I'm not likely to become prim and proper," warns Coleman, who favors jeans and is genetically predisposed to misplacing airline tickets.

What CEOs need, above all, is a firm sense that they're in control. At PGE, Stepp saw how easy it was to assign blame for the company's problems: to regulators maybe, or customers. That led to "battening down the hatches and becoming more self-referencing," and ignoring the marketplace even more. At PGE, Stepp says, "the plans I put in place really spoke to the need to be prepared for competition, because it was coming. But I couldn't get everyone to see deregulation as the future."

Stepp wasn't clairvoyant. She was simply willing to act on what she regarded as "the writing on the wall" rather than let time limit the utility's choices. Back in 1985, when she was vice-president of marketing and customer operations, Stepp had taken her management team through a yearlong program with a then-unknown consultant named Stephen R. Covey. The future author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People met with them one day a month, teaching and discussing readings. One book had a "profound effect" on Stepp: Man's Search for Meaning, by Victor Frankl, a Viennese psychiatrist who was imprisoned in a Nazi death camp. Frankl's message, as Stepp saw it, was that even in the most dire circumstances, a person stripped of everything could still choose how to react. "If we feel that we are victims," says Stepp, "then it's usually because we comply with the role."

By reminding CEOs that they're always making choices--even when they don't realize it--Stepp helps them recapture a sense of control that often gets obscured by day-to-day crises. It's the powerful clarity Stepp felt when she exited PGE, where streamlining had put a new CEO in charge, limiting her advancement. Having identified her own values--the work itself mattered more than the status or the paycheck--she chose the unknown instead. "I knew I didn't define myself in terms of being president of a utility," she says. "So I didn't feel I was losing any of myself to leave it."

As much as she may think of herself as "small potatoes" and her company, Executive Solutions, as "a nice little operation," Kay Stepp isn't at all casual about choosing her clients. One CEO got the heave-ho in the time it took for Stepp to deduce that he wasn't serious. "He just wanted someone to spout off to," she says. "He wanted to end meetings by saying, 'I've got to meet with my coach now.' I guess he thought it made him sound progressive." Not to Stepp, it didn't. "There's no payoff for me in that," she says.

Besides, her schedule is crowded enough. She's actively working with five clients, meaning that some weeks she's barely got time to think about, for instance, what kind of process one CEO should design to assess the company's management skills. And there are always board meetings, at which she's in a decidedly different role. "I'm available to offer advice, but I'm part of the system," she says. "I'm also in the position of evaluating a CEO's performance."

Not that she treats those she coaches more delicately than the CEOs she works with as a board member. During a one-on-one meeting at which Coleman focused on implementing a wellness program, Stepp made it clear there were more important things. "Having a coach is like having a base camp when you are trying to scale high peaks," says Coleman. "You keep coming back down to assess the route, to get refocused on what's most important." Stepp wanted Coleman to focus on managing a return to revenue growth. Merix has suffered through several quarters of disappointing numbers, boosting the perception on Wall Street that it's still a captive of five customers, including Tektronix, the high-tech giant from which it spun off in 1994. In May of that year, Merix went public at $9 a share; by May 1996, Merix had hit a high of 39 1/8. It has been mostly sinking since, settling around the midteens.

"Everything is trial by fire," says Coleman. "Business changes at warp speed, and you can't just download a Web site that has what you need to know."

Not that she would be likely to do so. Last year, when the Merix board reviewed her performance, Coleman, who has her assistant print out her E-mail, says she "hated the fact that they got me for not being a wired CEO. I'm a Luddite."

Abundant feedback has also made Coleman hyperaware of the fact that she loses her temper too much, retreats into her office too frequently, and tends to meet with people one-on-one when she should bring in a larger group. "You have to be open to understanding your limitations. If you are, a coach can make much more of a difference than an M.B.A.," says Coleman, who earned her M.B.A. at Stanford.

Either way, there's required reading. Stepp clips articles for Coleman--most recently, a Fortune story about using a "balanced scorecard" to measure financial performance and a story about board policies and procedures from Directors & Boards magazine. "It's a side service I offer," says Stepp. "I know Debi doesn't have time." It also shows that Stepp is "tuned in to the challenging issues Merix is facing." In any way she can be, in fact. If Coleman needs to talk, she can call Stepp at any time. She'll be there.

For now, she will. For the next few years she'll continue to work out of her paperless home office, which she shares with Lucy, a yellow Labrador: correspondence and accounting at night, reading on weekends. Her fee arrangements with clients differ--Merix pays her a retainer--but she claims her annual income is comparable with what she made in her last year at PGE: about $250,000. "Not bad for a woman and her dog," she notes.

She and Lucy won't be splitting it with anyone else, either. Stepp doesn't want to "worry about having to find work for others." And she's not going to lose sleep over "the risk that because it's popular, there will be unqualified people" selling themselves as coaches. (For more, see "Help Strangers Nail Bliss, Earn Big $$$ --Be a Coach Potato," below.) "I don't have any illusions that the people I work with will need me forever," she says. "I wouldn't think of myself as successful if there was a growing dependency." She fully expects to take on fewer clients in two or three years, taking time off to travel with her husband, Garry. "I know I'll want to back off," she says. "I'm choosy about how I spend my time. I've got my priorities."


Casting coach: Why, and Where, to Find One

James M. Hurd was one of the lucky ones: his employees let him know he needed a coach. Following a tradition that dates back to his 1983 founding of Planar Systems, Hurd met last January with workers in groups of 25, sharing the company's goals and hearing their concerns. By the time he was finished, Hurd was exhausted. He hadn't anticipated that it would take him all month, now that Planar had 600 employees. "The old systems just don't work anymore," says the CEO of the $80-million maker of flat-panel displays based in Beaverton, Oreg. "It's my job to change things, but this business has become too complex for me to be the change agent alone."

That sort of realization--of needing to be vigilant about destroying old systems and building new ones--is partly what sends company builders in search of an outsider who can help them find a new way to leverage their skills. Prompted by physical, emotional, or financial stresses, it can happen at any level of growth. What also drives CEOs to consult coaches is simply knowing too much about what can go wrong. Well aware of how large companies he's worked with--and for--have suffered for their arrogance, Hurd says, he's come to view company structure "as just another part of the business, not its foundation. Like suppliers, it's something you change if conditions warrant."

Not without help, though--which is now relatively easy to find. Some industry groups will match you with a coach, by either phone or computer. (See Resources below.) Hurd asked around and interviewed candidates. He ultimately chose Kay Stepp, whom he refers to as his "business partner." "She had a good sense of the complexity of the situation," says Hurd. "She knew it had to be customized, and she wasn't expecting to handle it in a two-day seminar."


Kay's steps: The Making of a Business Coach

ACTIVE CLIENTS: Helps Adolph J. Ferro, CEO and president of Epitope Inc., maker of an FDA-approved oral test for HIV, manage the shift from research and development to manufacturing and marketing; works with James M. Hurd, CEO and president of Planar Systems Inc., an $80-million maker of flat-panel displays, on strategic planning; helps Deborah Coleman, CEO, president, and chairman of $160-million Merix Corp., develop her management team; meets monthly with Katherine Keene, CEO of SAIF Corp., a nonprofit publicly owned workers' comp carrier, for coaching on organizational issues; helps A. G. "Bud" Lindstrand, CEO of ODS Health Plans, a $300-million health-insurance company, develop his board.

DIRECTORSHIPS: Chairman, $39-million Wholesome & Hearty Foods Inc.; founding director and investor, Bank of the Northwest; director, Franklin Covey Co.; director, $4.3-billion Standard Insurance Co.

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: Portland Community College, director of public relations, 1971­1976. Portland General Electric; human-resources specialist, 1979; assistant to the president, 1979­1980; vice-president of human resources and administration, 1980­1985; vice-president of marketing and customer operations, 1985­1987; president of the energy-services division, 1987­1989; president and chief operating officer, 1989­1992

EDUCATION: B.A., Stanford University, 1967; M.A., University of Portland, 1978


Careers: Help Strangers Nail Bliss, Earn Big $$$--Be a Coach PotatoI

It's lucky Kay Stepp wandered into business coaching when she did. These days it's hard to imagine that she'd get very far.

Oh, sure, her rarefied corporate experience at a big utility would electrify prospective clients at first. But sooner or later, they'd begin to wonder: How come she's not officially certified as a coach? Why hasn't she taken any teleclasses in, say, 1990s marketing? And what's she got against the phone that leads her to insist on meeting face-to-face? Quite frankly, she'd seem a trifle too casual for someone breaking into "one of the truly great professions of the 20th century," as Sandy Vilas dubs it.

Vilas, president and owner of a virtual school called Coach University, has an obvious stake in seeing coaching as more than just a resting spot for wayward big shots. And he's far from the only one. The practice of coaching may hinge on one person's offering a nonjudgmental and agenda-free zone to another, but the industry that has sprung up around coaching contains no shortage of folks who seem clear-eyed about their own intentions: to make a bundle of dough.

You can, too, if you call now--or so the standard pitch to potential coaches seems to go, inviting comparison between coaching and the lucrative science of envelope stuffing. Coaches like Jeff Raim, who carry the heavy burden of being role models as if it were a foot of freshly packed snow, waste no time hemming and hawing about the boundaries they draw around their work: Raim's workweek begins Monday morning and wraps up shortly thereafter, on Tuesday. The 42-year-old, who lives in a ski resort in Angel Fire, N. Mex., charges his roughly 35 clients $400 apiece every month for regularly scheduled half-hour phone appointments. He takes away "a great income" of about $170,000 a year. During his workdays, he jams in one measly midday break for skiing. He's back, shackled to his desk, four hours later.

Aside from coaching, Raim also serves as president of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), a group that claims 1,400 members, who pay no dues and elect no officers. Started in 1995--the same year as its nonprofit rival, the Professional & Personal Coaches Association, to which 400 members pay $115 a year--the ICF, until recently, seems to have operated on the Netscape-browser principle: people who joined were introduced to Coach U., which charges $2,495 for two years of conference-call coursework. According to Raim, the ICF declared its independence from Coach U. last fall, hoping to be "taken seriously." Dues are also being levied.

Given the snug setup, it's perhaps no shock that both highly virtual organizations (read: low overhead) were founded by the same man, Thomas J. Leonard, a former financial planner who claims to have launched the modern coaching movement. The 41-year-old embodies the phenomenon's worst contradictions. He quickly points out that the average Coach U. graduate earns at least $60,000 annually after three years. Leonard says he's "still getting used to" having sold Coach U. to Vilas last year for a clean $2 million. "I can live really well on that for several lifetimes," he adds. Vilas says that Leonard "may eventually get a sum approaching that," suggesting that Leonard retains a piece of the action. Not that Vilas is hurting: 923 students are enrolled at Coach U., which Vilas operates out of his second bedroom. He expects revenues of at least $2.5 million this year.

But enough about money. Coaching is about helping people slam shut the gap between what they've got now and what they want for themselves. "It's the surprise of two people talking," says Leonard, "the synergy of two minds working together."

That's the theory, anyway. "Tom," says Vilas, "can't stand working with people."

Joshua Hyatt is a senior editor at Inc.


Resources

Thinking of taking up a career in coaching? Pick up the phone--a skill you should practice anyway, since 95% of coaching begins that way--and order up a box of business cards. If anyone actually hires and pays you, then consider yourself a member in good standing of the newfangled breed. Typical monthly pay for a half-hour weekly conversation, as well as availability by E-mail or phone on an as-needed basis, runs from $150 to $500. ("Corporate clients," says Thomas J. Leonard, who launched the current coaching phenomenon, "won't do it if you don't charge them enough.") Some coaches require a six-month commitment, but that's about as long-term a contract as exists. Warning: you could quickly find yourself unceremoniously dumped back into the bland role of being a garden-variety consultant. Stay current on buzzwords, just in case.

As a bulwark against the inevitable onslaught of competition, you may want to become a brand-name coach by earning certification. The nonprofit Coach's Training Institute (CTI) offers two levels of training at its San Rafael, Calif., headquarters, as well as in a select group of cities. Initial training costs $325 per session in the Bay Area, $395 elsewhere. Advanced training is $425 in the Bay Area, $495 at remote spots. The rest of the program--which enables you to claim standing as a certified professional personal coach--is conducted primarily by phone and involves logging 100 hours of coaching time and having a supervisor listen in and offer feedback on coaching calls. CTI can be reached by phone (415-451-6000), by E-mail, or by mail (1879 Second St., San Rafael, CA 94901).

Hoping "to create a brand name, like an M.B.A.," Leonard says, Coach University will launch its own certification program this year, requiring 150 hours of training, 1,000 hours of billable coaching, and a 500-question exam, among other "virtual components." Contact Coach University at 2484 Bering Dr., Houston, TX 77057; 800-48COACH.

Finding the right coach may be harder than actually becoming one. But the industry's two largest professional groups do offer help. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) offers an on-line referral service at its Web site (www.coachfederation.org), as well as a free biweekly newsletter, Coaching News. Membership in the ICF is also free, although president Jeff Raim expects membership to shrink some when he levies dues of $50, starting this fall. The nonprofit Professional & Personal Coaches Association also offers a referral list, which can be obtained by E-mail, by phone (415-522-8789), or by mail (P.O. Box 2838, San Francisco, CA 94126).

Cheryl Richardson, a coach based in Newburyport, Mass., recommends that anyone hiring a coach follow these guidelines: (1) Interview at least three coaches and check their credentials. (How long have they been coaching? What training have they received?) (2) Make sure a coach either has achieved the goal you're after or has coached others who have. (3) Get names of referrals and talk to them. Dan Kennedy, a Seattle-based coach, contends that the best coaches actually have coaches themselves. "They realize there's always more to learn about coaching," he says.

Coaching at its best employs a combination of talents too delicate for most books, which typically bring a towel-snapping sensibility to the topic. One exception: Coaching for Performance, by John Whitmore (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, distributed by the LPC Group, 800-533-0301, $15.95), originally published in 1992 but brought out in a second edition last year. Whitmore captures and dissects the skill that sets the most effective coaches apart: using effective questioning to bring on increased awareness. Chapter 5, "Effective Questions," explains what good questioning can elicit (hint: it's not answers), though it does begin with one of Whitmore's ploddingly breezy sports analogies, which are at least genteel (he sticks to golf and tennis). The first eight pages of the ambitiously titled chapter 8 ("What Is Reality?") do a helpful job of explaining the point of view a coach should strive for, while chapter 14 ("Feedback and Assessment") offers such gems as why most managers get so little return from the feedback they give. (See, in particular, the first paragraph of "Hard to Change," page 110.) Despite his penchant for not-very-helpful Stephen Covey­like charts and disturbingly cutesy acronyms (GROW, SMART, PURE), Whitmore dispenses an abundance of straightforward wisdom, such as this passage from page 131: "There is no mystique about coaching. It is not difficult to learn. However, it cannot be learned from a book..."

COACH UNIVERSITY, Sandy Vilas, 2484 Bering Dr., Houston, TX 77057; 800-48COACH; www.coachu.com 46

ISABELLA CONTI, Lisardco, 1318 Brewster Dr., El Cerrito, CA 94530; 510-215-2707 46

EPITOPE, Adolph J. Ferro, 8505 SW Creekside Pl., Beaverton, OR 97008; 503-641-6115 46

EXECUTIVE SOLUTIONS, Kay Stepp, 25-6 NW 23rd Pl., #185, Portland, OR 97210; 503-220-2163 46

FRANKLIN COVEY CO., Stephen M. R. Covey, Covey Leadership Center, 3507 North, University Ave., Suite 100, Provo, UT 84604; 888-332-3013 46

INTERNATIONAL COACHING FEDERATION, 76 Cranbrook Rd., Suite 192, Cockeysville, MD 21030; 888-423-3131; www.coachfederation.org 46

THOMAS J. LEONARD, 1971 W. Lumsden Rd., Suite 331, Brandon, FL 33511; thomas@coachu.com 46

MERIX, Deborah A. Coleman, P.O. Box 3000, Forest Grove, OR 97116; 503-359-9300 46

PLANAR SYSTEMS, James M. Hurd, 1400 NW Compton Dr., Beaverton, OR 97006; 503-690-1100; www.planar.com 46

PROFESSIONAL & PERSONAL COACHES ASSOCIATION, P.O. Box 2838, San Francisco, CA 94126; 415-522-8789; ppca@aol.com 46

JEFF RAIM, Empowered Management, P.O. Box 1393, Angel Fire, NM 87710; 800-437-0764; www.spiritcoach.com; jeff@spiritcoach.com 46




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