What can executive coaching do for women aiming for the top?

Written by
Changeboard Team

17 May 2010

17 May 2010 • by Changeboard Team

Confidence in communications

The fact that coaches are objective outsiders is a real draw for many of my own clients, who are used to taking other peoples opinions, even subconsciously, into account within their normal decision-making.

One of coachings main benefit is in helping women to become more confident and decisive in the decisions they take a key skill for any woman aiming for a leadership role. For a time-starved professional woman, having the time to focus on what she wants and which direction is best for her is one of the most frequently-cited Benefits. Women who habitually need the approval of everyone else before they take a risk may be undermined by those who misinterpret a collaborative style as weak leadership which is no way to advance a career in the long term.

As you build your career, however, you will need to be seen to be able to make decisions on your own and with a minimum of input from other colleagues. Working with a coach can allow women opportunities to get clear the issues surrounding a decision in a safe environment and behind closed doors. 

Manoeuvring office politics

Others used coaching as a means of negotiating the ubiquitous world of office politics. Women often are uncertain when first learning to negotiate the boardroom, the politics of presentations and the power of unspoken alliances. It is with these Challenges that many women find coaching useful in redefining politics to incorporate influencing skills, creating awareness and good old-fashioned diplomacy all of with which most women more easily identify.

Angela, a director at Deloitte, explained:

"I just get a feeling that a lot of what goes on in meetings is discussed beforehand at the pub, the dinners, or the football club and that these discussions play a larger part than I would like to recognise. But now I have a coach who is helping me influence that process. The Challenge for me is that I used to network to bring in clients, and now I have to network for the sake of my own career, which is a big difference."

Making the most of career transitions

Many women use a coach when making a career transition to get sure footing in a new role.

Rebecca, a partner at Deloitte said:

My coach reminded me that, as I was in a newly-created role, it was vital for me to set my objectives early and agree how they would be measured. She also encouraged me to build my new network quickly, as I previously had a strong network at IBM but was now an outsider at Deloitte.

Similarly, Caroline, an IT director of a global logistics company, explained the difference to her between coaches and mentors:

"A mentor will tell you exactly what to do, whereas a coach will help you find your own right answers."

She worked with her most recent coach for 18 months before making the large step up to IT director:

"The coaching was all about me, a one-to-one focus on my career and me as a person. It helped me take time out of my schedule, even just once a month, to focus on where I am going. My coach helped me remove the obstacles I was putting in my own way without even realising it. I didnt initially believe I was ready for such a large promotion, but she helped me question why I didnt think I was ready, when all my behaviours showed me that I clearly was. It previously felt like a step too far but she helped me make more of my strengths and see what else I needed to do in order to get ready for the role."

Lack of female networking

As a specialist in helping women succeed in the workplace, I have spent most of my career helping organisations develop their high-achieving women. However, after my book Beyond the Boys Club: Strategies for Achieving Career Success as a Woman Working in a Male Dominated Field was published, I had increasing inquiries from individual women who wanted to take their career to the next level, but had little company budget, an unsupportive boss or were just keen to invest in themselves in preparation for a career change. Additionally, despite the droves of professional women working in and around London, many more professional women work further afield and have difficulty accessing local career development and networking opportunities specifically for women.

Common themes among professional women include getting comfortable with self-promotion, accessing the right connections, office politics, and establishing a sense of gravitas all of which are vital to understand and master as a woman surrounded by male colleagues.

It was to address these Challenges and give women the Benefits of both individual attention and group learning remotely and time-focused that the idea for the Beyond the Boys Club Boot Camp was born. One woman working in development for the University of Cambridge said:

"The Boot Camp has proved to be very successful for me its allowed me to build new career strategies and create immediate, practical solutions to key issues. Most of all its given me the confidence to raise my profile both within my office and elsewhere in my life!"

About Suzanne Doyle-Morris Boot Camps

The six weeks alternate between one to one sessions and group teleconferences.  The individual sessions allow me, as an executive coach, to work with a woman on brainstorming ideas and strategies that are specific for her current situation and its Challenges and opportunities.  

The Boot Camp fits into busy womens working lives as it requires just one hour a week, and leaves individuals with exercises and homework they create for themselves in between sessions. It works for time-pressed individuals who want a short, sharp kick as some say, to help get the career they actually want.