Executive coaching: helpful or hooey?

I recently experienced my first “executive coaching” session and, quite frankly, I’m skeptical.

I’ve never had a desire for a life coach of any sort and I’m one of the few Americans who has never talked to a therapist, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Not that I’m disdainful of those who do, I’m just lucky. I haven’t had the need.

So when an executive coach approached me in need of pro bono hours in order to become certified, I was hesitant.

First, she is significantly younger with me and while age doesn’t equal wisdom, it feels like I have a lot more experience than she does.

Then there’s the fact that I’m not much of a talker.

My (totally uninformed) image of therapy/coaching is an over-sharing of personal information while a sage-looking older man looks at you over the top of his glasses, nodding and making occasional highly insightful comments.

The problem is the over-sharing. Dr. Wise can’t comment if you don’t say anything. And over-sharing and talking are two things I don’t do well.

But I have been struggling with some management issues lately and the girl (I probably should call her the coach instead of the girl if I’m ever to get over my age thing) seemed nice.

Plus it was free, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Once I agreed, the coach sent me a document to read and ponder (my word, not hers) in preparation for the first session.

The list included questions like “Have you had any feedback for improvement” and “what is getting in the way of doing something you want to do?”

I read through it and thought, “uh oh.”

I’m not saying that I can’t improve or that nothing is standing in my way, but telling a complete stranger about those things and letting that stranger offer advice is intimidating.

I usually appreciate and seek out professional advice – how to apply for a grant, how to write a novel, how to design the best advertisement – but this is so much more intimate.

These are details about me and my career. Details I usually only share with people I’ve come to trust over years, not mere minutes.

But I pushed my misgivings aside in an effort to give this coach thing an honest chance and filled out the form.

The coaching sessions take place over the phone. It’s convenient because the coach commutes between Boston, New York and my town, but it actually makes it easier for me too because it reminds me of technical theater

Techies wear headsets to communicate because they are scattered all over the theater. These headsets also establish a level of intimacy. It’s something about the other person’s voice in your ear and not being able to see them. There’s comfort in being a disembodied voice.

I’ve said things over a headset that I wouldn’t dream of saying to someone’s face.

(I have no knowledge of the history of confession in the Catholic church, but I imagine it’s the same concept and explains the design of the confessionals. It’s more comfortable to admit to your sins when you’re not staring directly at the priest.)

So I pretended the coach was a light board operator.

My new executive coach and I talked for 45 minutes this first time. I responded to a question and she’d make an observation or ask me another question to delve deeper.

She complimented me often (“I can tell you are very self-motivated.” “It sounds like you have high expectations of yourself.”) which was probably meant to put me at ease but actually made me leery that she wasn’t being sincere.

But she also made a couple of good points, gave me a few things to think about.

It was a relief when the session came to an end and I kind of think this whole thing is just hooey, but I set up a second session anyway.

I figure it’s kind of like reading a book I’m not enjoying. I’m going to keep reading because it might get better or I might learn something.

Or, at the very least, I’ll decide that it definitely is hooey and I won’t ever have to wonder if I should get an executive coach again.

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