THE EXECUTIVE'S NEW COACH Believe it or not, he (or often she) can help cure those little behavioral defects you suffer from and make you a better manager. Smart companies pay the bill gladly.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – I HATE MEMOS. My people know that. If a deal didn't go through, tell me face to face. Even when I get good news in a memo, I'm inclined to yell. I know I shouldn't. So I got a gadget, a mechanical daisy with sunglasses and guitar that sits in a glass and oscillates with the volume of my voice. It tells me when I'm yelling. Also, I instructed my secretary to hold up a stop sign when I'm screaming at someone. Like a recovering alcoholic, I take it one day at a time. Patience, patience. Tolerance, tolerance. A 49-year-old banker
Like a growing number of managers, this recovering screamer is under the care of an executive coach. A decade ago that title belonged mostly to people who helped the boss pick a hairstyle or deliver a speech without notes. No longer. In the stressful 1990s, a coach is an outside counselor assigned to improve an executive's managerial skills and straighten out his personality disorder, not his wardrobe. The coaching business is thriving at American Express, AT&T, Citibank, Colgate, Levi Strauss, Northern Telecom, Procter & Gamble, and many other major companies.
Who needs an executive coach? Where do you find the right one? How much do they cost? Can he or she -- women are well represented in this field -- really alter behavior? Or is this a voguish sham? This new brand of coaching is grounded in and fueled by the empowerment movement, that vastly popular drive to tap creative energy throughout a corporation. In one indication of their new power, employees at a growing number of U.S. companies are being asked by top management what they think of their bosses' strengths and weaknesses. This bottom-up assessment of performance then factors into a manager's job evaluation. Already, a majority of the companies atop FORTUNE's annual Most Admired list conduct such upward evaluations (see box). In its most elaborate form, the process is called 360-degree feedback. The executive in the center is reviewed by a full circle -- superiors, subordinates, peers, and customers, both outsiders and those within the corporation who use his goods and services. The reasoning is simple: If managers are battering and terrifying the talent around and beneath them, they're likely to be wounding the bottom line. Enter the coaches. It's difficult to estimate how many there are. Some large management consulting firms offer coaching as part of their broader services. Many coaches are single practitioners. Some wear three-piece suits and pass through corporate corridors as unnoticed as purchasing agents on a visit. Others favor tweeds and plaids and have the warm and furry look of college psychology professors. Fees range from $1,500 for a single day (which is never enough) to $100,000 or more for a coaching program that lasts several years. Think of those who are coached as players. A player may be anyone from a $60,000-a-year middle manager up to the CEO, although more commonly that person will be a leading contender for the CEO's job. What players lack is not technical ability but the skill to lead and get along with others. Most players fall into one of two categories. The first is usually a white man in his late 40s who has soared because he's an outstanding engineer or has mystical intuition about coming reversals in exchange rates. He has recently been promoted to a position where he has authority over people not like himself, folks in marketing perhaps or communications. ''The only management style he knows is how to shout orders and take names,'' observes Alicia Whitaker, director of global career planning for Colgate. ''He makes people feel like idiots for coming to him with a question or suggestion.'' He finishes people's sentences for them, refuses to listen, and castigates not only his own subordinates but also those of peers, so that people in other departments refuse to work with his people. The second category is typically a woman, not necessarily white, about a decade younger than the male archetype. Her brilliance and dedication to the job have catapulted her through the lower ranks. Now, however, she must work with equally talented peers, and she hasn't mastered the complex game of competition and cooperation played at her new managerial level. She sees male chauvinism everywhere; some is real, some imagined. She isolates herself and her section from the rest of the company. Holly Regier, a senior consultant at Lee Hecht Harrison, best known for its outplacement services, describes a first encounter with one such player: ''There was a negative aura about her. She was curled up in her chair, her lower lip curled too. I had the sense of meeting a porcupine in heat.'' Regier became her coach, not to find her a new job outside the company but to help her keep her current one. Why doesn't the employer simply fire such handicapped players? With corporations everywhere thinning managerial ranks, there is no shortage of potential replacements. Usually the player who gets coaching is a very valuable talent with unique technical expertise. Also, much of the corporate managerial system itself is troubled these days, so sending in a substitute does not necessarily solve the problem. Many middle-aged white males were raised in a corporate structure as rigid and hierarchical as the Marine Corps. Some coaches don't belong in the game. Understanding business culture in general and the folkways of a player's company in particular are critical. Robert Mintz, director of human resources for Time Inc. Magazines (of which FORTUNE is one), interviewed 25 psychiatrists and psychologists as potential coaches and found them all ''clueless,'' stuck with a 1950s image of how corporations work.
Hiring a bad coach could even be dangerous. Sure, the player may be aware that others consider him a bit autocratic. But when a coach presents him with a pile of interviews demonstrating that his colleagues, friends, and family are unanimous -- he's a despot -- the effect can be devastating. ''Confronting this for the first time is like a parachute jump,'' says G.P. Alexander, a coach at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina. To avoid broken egos, he and his colleagues carefully highlight for the plummeting player all the positive things people have to say about him. How to find the right coach? Players almost never do the hiring. The program begins when a superior, perhaps one as commanding as the CEO or the board of directors, tells human resources to find someone to civilize the general counsel before the entire legal department walks out the door. HR must make a couple of fundamental decisions, including whether the coach should operate covertly or in the open. The argument for secrecy is that the player may consider the order to see a coach so embarrassing that he won't want colleagues to know about it. ''It is still unacceptable for senior people to be seen as needy,'' observes Colgate's Whitaker. ''Help of this kind is regarded as something for psychotics -- which it is not -- or maybe something spouses need because the company has moved them around the country so much.'' But by operating in the open, the coach can interview subordinates, peers, and superiors to collect more detail on the player's style. There is an additional, subtler reason for openness. Image generally lags behind reality. So even after the beast in the general counsel has been tamed, associates might continue to think of him as a monster. Says Dr. Leonard M. Moss, a New York City psychiatrist and coach: ''By interviewing potential mutineers around the general counsel you reassure them the company is dealing with the problem, and they see themselves as part of the solution.'' As a consultant to Mobil Oil for more than 20 years, Moss is one psychiatrist who knows corporate culture well. Some coaches are simple behaviorists, others deep analysts, and most somewhere in between. The behaviorist wants to stop the player from screaming at the office, without investigating where the screams originated -- say, with a mother who habitually locked the player in the closet when he was 13. ''We don't have a right to ask executives to bare their souls,'' argues psychologist Ellen Hart, a vice president of Gemini Consulting. About 250 of Gemini's senior consultants often function as coaches while helping corporate clients with major overhauls. ''It's a company's right to fix you as a manager, but not as a person.'' Analysts often want to know about mothers and closets and much more. Moss, one of them, bristles at Hart's dismissal of psychoanalysis in the workplace. ''Do you think you can cure someone who is seriously disturbed simply by pointing out to him he's disturbed?'' Moss asks. ''Unless you deal with the roots he will go right back to the same behavior.'' How do coaches put theory and technique into practice on the playing field of business? Meet four who represent a range of the good coaching available, beginning with the least intrusive and least expensive and ending with the most probing and priciest.
THE LINE COACH In his New York City office, H. Peter deLisser crouches into the three-point stance of the interior lineman to act out his metaphor. ''The two sets of skills that I teach managers are listening and talking, which are like blocking and tackling,'' says de Lisser, 64, who for 13 years was a college football coach. His academic credentials are first-rate, a bachelor's degree from Williams College and a master's in English from Middlebury. But unlike the others on this list, he has no advanced degree in psychology. His approach is behaviorist. He does not explore why a manager is a bully, any more than a football coach puzzles over what childhood trauma made his linebacker a little too ferocious. The linebacker's late hits bring penalties, so the coach trains the costly behavior away. Similiarly, deLisser focuses on the symptoms that spurred human resources to bring him onto the case. Generally it's that the manager doesn't know how to communicate. ''Not 5% of the executives in this country know how to listen,'' says deLisser. ''And when they talk they are telling somebody else 'I'm the boss' or 'I'm smarter than you are' or 'I'm angry.' '' To teach the skill of balanced conversation, deLisser forces his player to drill, drill, drill. He charges $2,500 for four sessions of two hours each. ''When you block you keep your head up, your feet underneath you, and your toes pointed forward,'' says deLisser. ''In conversation you pay attention to the other person's words, facial expression, and tone of voice.'' Here is one of deLisser's drills for the executive who won't listen: The coach and the player under instruction have a two-way conversation. When it's the player's turn to talk, he must pick up a word from the last sentence the coach uttered and use it in a declarative sentence of his own. The coach must | then use a word from the player's last sentence, and so on, as the dialogue rolls forward. It's impossible to play the game without concentrating on what the other person is saying. DeLisser instructs the player to keep practicing with a friend.
THE CLAIRVOYANT Dee A. Soder, 46, sizes up players so fast she often awes them with her powers. When Ken Dubuque was a junior officer at Mellon Bank, Soder invited him to take a couple of quick personality tests. ''Among other things, she told me that if I collected books they would be arranged not only by subject but by size as well,'' says Dubuque. ''I was astonished. She was absolutely right.'' Dubuque, now an executive vice president, came to realize that he would get along better with fellow bankers if he were less of a perfectionist. Soder coaches secretly. She believes the player's colleagues can add nothing she can't figure out for herself. ''If you ask associates about the client, you get a picture that is filtered through the eyes of people with biases,'' she maintains. Soder begins her $10,000 reform program by asking the player to send his or her autobiography as well as a forecast of what the future will bring. Then she calls the player into her New York City office for half a day of exams. On one written test she allows the player ten minutes to answer such queries as: ''Most people won't work unless they are pressed to do so. True or false?'' Simultaneously, she tries to distract the subject so that he'll worry he's running out of time. ''I do vaguely annoying things like asking him whether he'd like a cup of coffee,'' says Soder. If he gets flustered and irritated, he's rigid. If he takes distraction in stride, he's flexible. Soder shows the player a photograph of two men and three women in conversation on a plane. Two of the women could be executives. The third is a flight attendant. ''I ask what the women are talking about,'' says Soder. ''If he ignores the flight attendant, he probably has a status problem.'' After analyzing the results over a weekend, Soder brings the coachee in for three two-hour sessions in which they work out strategies for defeating his or her handicap. He is instructed to keep a diary recording when he lost his temper. What were the circumstances? When a player controls an outburst, he should reward himself with a new tie or theater tickets. Soder remains available for years afterward for refresher courses and phone calls to give spot advice and boost player morale. As I was leaving her office after our first interview, Soder politely advised me that I might not be CEO material. ''You were sitting down when I met you in the waiting room,'' she explained. ''A person looks more authoritative standing. Also, a CEO doesn't expect to be kept waiting long enough to take a seat.'' She's a quick study.
THE JUMP SCHOOL In leafy woods on the outskirts of Greensboro spreads the Center for Creative Leadership, an attractive fieldstone and glass retreat far from urban corporate bustle. The center's many projects include Apex, the Awareness Program for Executive Excellence, operated by psychologists G.P. Alexander, 55, and Randall White, 41. Apex is intense and analytical. ''This is easy for people who are introspective and like root canal,'' quips White. It is also expensive: $35,000 for the program and perhaps another $10,000 for travel. At those prices companies rarely send anyone but executives making $200,000 a year or more. In Apex's half dozen years, about 75 executives have gone through the program. Coaches Alexander and White first travel to the player's workplace, where they interview not only him but his family and as many as 20 colleagues as well. A player may be a touch resentful that the CEO or perhaps the board of directors questions his leadership skills. White is reassuring. ''We provide private swimming lessons for Olympic-class swimmers,'' he explains. The company is paying Apex big fees only because the executive is highly esteemed. After the coaches have collected their interviews, the player flies to the center for a two-day session. Coaches and player plunge into the data and such questions as: Why is he uncomfortable in large groups? Why is he so rigid? Why does he humiliate subordinates? Says Alexander: ''Very existential issues start to come up. Some clients talk about how they have so few friends, how they wake up at 3 A.M. and wonder what they've done with their lives.'' Coaches and player winnow the list of defects down to the four or five that most need changing: failure to delegate, failure to listen, and so forth. ''If the client tries to change too much, he'll be overwhelmed,'' says Alexander. Back at the office the player picks a local coach, someone from human resources perhaps, to make sure he sticks to the reform program. Apex keeps track of the client's progress for at least two years.
THE SUBMARINE For the ultimate in deep analysis, coaching's equivalent of the three-man submarine Alvin that takes long voyages exploring the ocean floor, call KRW International. The initials represent the last names of the three principals: Fred Kiel, based in Minneapolis; Eric Rimmer in Sussex, England; and Kathryn Williams in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Over 2 1/2 months, KRW interviews the player in three sessions of two hours apiece; up to 30 subordinates, peers, and superiors for 1 1/2 hours each; and 15 or so friends and family members, including parents and children, for 1 1/2 hours each. Children under 12 are excused. Clearly, this scrutiny is intended only for the top level, an executive vice president, say, who is the leading candidate to succeed the CEO in three years. He may be so irascible and demanding, however, that the rest of the senior staff might quit on the news of his elevation. How much does a KRW makeover cost? ''We don't publish our prices,'' says Williams. ''But we're cheaper than looking for a CEO outside the company.'' Headhunters commonly charge one-third of a recruited executive's total cash compensation for the first year. Williams is cerebral and animated, and she talks too fast, as her own executive coach has pointed out to her. She elaborates on her points with allusions to psychoanalyst Erich Fromm's Escape From Freedom and other scholarly sources, and although she does so without affectation, she might seem overbearing to players uncertain of their intellectual breadth. Once KRW has collected a foot-high stack of interviews, coaches and player -- and sometimes the player's spouse -- retire to a retreat for three days and pore over the report. The impact can be overpowering. One player cried when he read that his 85-year-old father said he loved him but had never been able to express his feelings. Another traced his troubles to a physically debilitating childhood illness. He compensated by studying relentlessly and making himself the smartest kid anywhere. But he has carried through life a compulsion to make others feel stupid. ''Out of the 50 people who have gone through the program, only two basically said they won't change,'' says Williams. The other 48 have, with their coaches, created a plan to transform themselves. The smartest kid, for example, concluded he would rise higher as an executive who develops people than as one who puts them down. His aides are instructed to signal him when they see a relapse coming on. KRW stays in close touch, calling some players as often as twice a month over a year and a half. The coaches also ask subordinates and peers about the player's progress from time to time. IN ALL THE PROGRAMS, from deLisser's drills to Williams's deep probes, strong and consistent follow-up is essential. Colleagues around the player have to act as assistant coaches. But even with that reinforcement, can coaching really alter behavior permanently? Humans resist change, and that includes not just the players but those around them too. Change, Williams points out, is uncomfortable and destabilizing, and it transforms all kinds of relationships. Subordinates who may have wanted more autonomy are often equivocal about taking more reponsibility and blame. When a crisis strikes, everyone tends to revert to his or her old behavior, victim as well as tormentor. Some players fear that coaching will emasculate them. A frequent question for Apex coaches is ''You're not going to take my edge off, are you?'' It's a reasonable worry. A senior vice president can wonder why he should take a chance on doing things differently. The totality of what he is has brought him a long way. Yes, but probably no further. And that's part of what makes coaching work. Players are almost always ambitious as well as disciplined and highly energized, qualities that lifted them to the level where their shortcomings became obvious. Says Williams: ''When they turn all that horsepower toward changing themselves, the results are phenomenal.'' Even modest improvements can justify hiring a coach. Says Jerome Abarbanel, vice president of executive resources for Citibank: ''An investment of $30,000 or so in an executive who has responsibility for tens of millions of dollars is a rounding error. Coaching is a success if one subordinate who was too intimidated to speak before comes up with a good idea.'' Some human resources directors have come to think that all executives should be assigned coaches when they are promoted to new levels of responsibility, whether they clearly need it or not. There's a case for that. As companies shrink, they demand more effort, inspiration, and versatility from everyone who remains, down to the novices and apprentices. An executive who obstructs that creativity, innocently or not, ought to get coached -- or get out.
BOX: YOU NEED A COACH IF. . .
% -- You finish the boss's sentences (and everyone else's for that matter). -- Your colleagues' people refuse to work with your people. -- You're being bypassed for assignments and don't know why. -- You throw a morale-building party, and your subordinates fail to show up.