Mentors and Coaches, Pt. II

Coaching is a great way to acquire new skills and raise your performance. Here are some things to expect and look for in a coach.

Would Michael Jordan have won as much as he did without Phil Jackson at the helm? Would Steve Yzerman have won as much without Scotty Bowman behind the bench? Tom Brady, without Bill Belichick on the sidelines? Tiger Woods, without Butch Harmon at his side on the practice links? The most decorated athletes of our time all needed to be paired with the right coaches before they could reach the pinnacles of their professions. They might already have been all-star performers before joining forces with their respective bench bosses — but these equally world-class coaches found ways to get even more out of them.

But great coaching isn’t just for superstar athletes. Most of us could stand to gain from having an experienced coach in our corner, working with us to improve our game — whether we’re shooting for a championship, or that big promotion we’ve been pushing for. And the numbers don’t lie: coaching delivers real returns. A 2008 global survey of coaching clients by PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Association Resource Center concluded that the median ROI for companies investing in coaching was 3 times the amount spent; one-quarter of respondents reported a return of 10 to 49 times the original investment, while a further fifth saw an ROI of at least 50 times.

For finance and accounting professionals, whose jobs today are ever-expanding and require that they be constantly learning — both on- and off-the-job — smart coaching can make a big difference. Whether you feel like your career has hit a plateau or you just want to accelerate your career progress, the right coach could put you on the fast track. Based on my own experience of working with some outstanding coaches to move forward in my career as a recruiter for accountants in Toronto, I have to agree with Bob Nardelli, former CEO of Home Depot: “I absolutely believe that people, unless coached, never reach their maximum capabilities.”

Last time, we looked at some of the advantages of having a mentor in your corner, to help you consciously shape your career path. But what about coaching? How does a coach differ from a mentor? To help you figure out if hiring a coach is the right option for you and your career, we’ll look at what coaching specifically brings to the table.

…I have to agree with Bob Nardelli, former CEO of Home Depot: “I absolutely believe that people, unless coached, never reach their maximum capabilities.”

Coaching vs. mentoring

While the line between mentoring and coaching can be a little fuzzy, there are some important differences. For one thing, coaches are paid for the services they provide (whereas most mentors work with their proteges on a volunteer basis). As such, coaching is usually limited to short, finite terms (by contrast, some mentoring relationships can last for years, if not a lifetime). Coaches can work with you on a one-to-one basis on a set schedule of regular, repeated sessions.

Above all, mentoring and coaching differ in the kinds of expectations — and results — they bear. For example, you might ask your mentor how they find a balance between their work and their family lives, or how they’ve resolved conflicts between team members under their supervision.

Your mentor can offer you their advice and share their own experiences; together, you and your mentor can brainstorm some ideas for how to manage your situation. Your mentor can give you their perspective on whatever questions you ask them, but both the process and the answers are going to be as much your own as theirs. Most of the time, you are going to turn to your mentor for this type of holistic, informal guidance about your career and life.

Coaching with an agenda

When you hire a coach, both you and your coach will define a measurable, usually performance-related, objective that their coaching should help you realize — some skill or competency that will directly benefit your work situation and career — along with a timeframe in which you can expect to see results.

Maybe you need to improve your public speaking in training sessions with your staff. Your coach can come up with a program to assess your performance, and then develop a formal action plan or training regimen, over a specified period of time, that will develop your skills in whatever you want to be coached on.

If mentoring is about inspiring you to new heights, then coaching is about instructing you in new skills. A mentor guides and supports their protege’s personal and professional growth; a coach develops and enhances their client’s talents and skillset. Think of your mentor as a “role model” — a wise and experienced leader whose life and career you would like your own to resemble — and your coach as a “personal trainer” — a hired professional who can help you reach specific targets and acquire particular skills.

Think of your mentor as a “role model” — a wise and experienced leader whose life and career you would like your own to resemble — and your coach as a “personal trainer” — a hired professional who can help you reach specific targets and acquire particular skills.

What to look for in a coach

So what should you look for in a coach? There are a couple of things you want to keep an eye out for.

* Specialization in your targeted needs. First, determine what you need to be coached on, whether it’s delivering presentations to clients, or managing a finance team, or whatever. Then do some research to find well-known coaches who specialize at coaching in your area of need (presentation, leadership skills, etc.). There are coaches for everything — find one that’s suited to your needs.

If you can find someone with experience coaching accounting and finance professionals or in your industry, even better. In principle, a good coach should be able to help you, whether you’re employed in the pharmaceutical or fast food or hospitality sector, even if they themselves have never been employed in any of these. But knowing the particulars of your profession and industry should definitely be considered an asset.

* Expertise in coaching. Everyone knows how to speak at least one language, but not all of us are qualified to teach it to someone else. Just because your prospective coach was a successful business leader or owner-operator doesn’t necessarily mean they’re capable of helping someone else improve their leadership or managerial practices.

A good coach should be familiar with different styles and techniques of coaching; that requires training and expertise. Inquire into professional qualifications and certifications, as well as associations with reputable coaching organizations. Ask how long they’ve been coaching, and what other clients, both individual and corporate, they have had. Question them about the coaching systems and strategies they prefer, and their ability to deliver the results you want.

As with everything, personal referrals from someone you know should trump other considerations. Ask your co-workers or managers whether they can recommend someone they’ve worked with.

* Compatible personality and philosophy. Sometimes, people just don’t mesh. There may be some coaching philosophies or personalities to which you simply won’t respond productively, no matter how legitimate they are. Maybe you need your coach to be more of a critic than a cheerleader. Or maybe your coach is too abrasive, and you need them to be more upbeat and positive. If you can’t get along with your coach, or if you find them difficult to work with for any reason, it doesn’t matter how qualified or capable they are — the relationship just isn’t going to work.

To find out if you and your potential coach are going to have the right chemistry, ask about the possibility of a free trial session. That can help you gauge whether or not your coach is the right person for you.

Coaching is a great way for you to learn new skills and strategies that you might not have an opportunity to develop on-the-job. Along with mentoring, it can help you claim greater responsibility and ownership over your finance career. Take advantage of it.

And let us know what you think! At Clarity Recruitment, we’re always interested in hearing from accounting and finance professionals like yourselves, who are ready for new, exciting opportunities that can take their careers to the next level.