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In October 1995, Bill Franklin accepted an offer with a New Jersey insurance company as director of national recruiting. But within months, his enthusiasm waned. Nothing he did seemed to please his vice president and he felt shortchanged on the support he needed to be effective, such as being introduced to the right people in the organization and receiving recognition for jobs he thought were well done.
The low point came after Franklin organized a training conference to help upgrade the skills of company recruiters. He received kudos from his peers, but his vice president hardly acknowledged him.
Knowing he had to do “something drastic,” in March 1997, Franklin hired Val Williams, an executive coach and president of Professional Coaching and Training in Edison, New Jersey. Williams served as a combination consultant, counselor, cheerleader and mentor. The experience proved to be a turning point in Franklin’s career.
“Mentors-for-hire” are a relatively new phenomenon, but the demand is increasing. The number of trained coaches-people who help executives achieve professional and personal goals–has more than tripled since 1996, from 500 to 1,610. Enhancing executive coaching’s popularity is the fact that mid- to senior-level executives realize that they need mentoring no matter how high up the corporate ladder they go.
With Williams’ help, Franklin, 49, realized that part of the disharmony with his superior was due to his blunt and direct communication style. “I was used to being in charge,” says Franklin, who owned his own financial services firm for 20 years before he joined the company. “It was a dramatic adjustment to go from entrepreneur to corporate executive.” Through confrontation- and conflict-resolution exercises, Franklin learned how to communicate with his vice president using neutral language and his strong selling skills. Within three months, Franklin had established a good relationship with the vice president. Networking throughout the company, he eventually transferred to a new position as a senior training consultant for field technology.
Unlike management consultants, coaches use a personalized, philosophical approach that focuses on career and life issues, and follow up to ensure the executive’s progress. While there is some career counseling involved, coaches don’t administer interest and aptitude tests. Williams’ clients are successful business professionals between 30 and 60 years old who want to move to the next level but need help getting there.
Coaching sessions are generally held on a weekly or monthly basis. Sessions typically run 30 minutes and cost $300-$1,500 a month depending on the coach and complexity of the issues involved. Ask your benefits director if your company covers such training. The relationship usually lasts from three to six months depending on client needs. As in any teaching environment, there is homework.
The typical coaching candidate is in career transition, burned out or wants to find new direction in life. That was the case for Leslie Gaines, 38, a former sales representative for a medical insurer. Guided by Williams, Gaines was able to clarify her career and life goals, eventually moving from the East Coast to the less-stressful Midwest to take a job