Success is Coached Out of You, It Doesn't Just Happen

by Katherine Thornberry
San Jose and Silicon Valley Business Journal
September 18, 1998

He'd steered companies through mergers, acquisitions and IPOs while working for a Big Six accounting firm. He ran the acquisitions program for a San Diego-based technology company and guided a Web startup, located in San Francisco's Multimedia Gulch, through the venture capital maze.

Then 34-year-old certified public account J.D. Davids successfully broke out on his own, forming Half Dome Consulting and effectively serving as a contract chief financial offer for primarily technology companies.

In the process, Mr. Davids, by his own admission, caught the Internet bug, began learning to build Web site applications and started working on a digital conference room of sorts, in which corporate financial deals - includingmergers, acquisitions and initial public offerings - can be closed in a secure environment.

"I realized I didn't really want to be a CFO anymore. It's a scary thing when you discover what you really want to do, but it's not clear how you're going to get paid for that," Mr. Davids said.

Mr. Davids had done a brief stint with a career coach before and knew that's what he needed to jump start his career switch. Mr. Davids went online, searched for career coaches on Yahoo, and hooked up with Jennifer White,president of Cincinnati-based The JWC Group, a success coaching firm. Ms. White also pens a syndicated column and wrote the recently released book "Work Less, Make More," which draws from her professional coachingexperience.

Eight months later, their coaching relationship is going strong and Mr. Davids is well on his way to shifting from consultant to Internet entrepreneur.

"The results have been pretty incredible. I have increased my income by over 200 percent and I'm working less hours - and that's freed me up to work on what's really my passion," he said.

Mr. Davids is not alone. Everyone from professionals and corporate managers to entrepreneurs and small-business owners are turning to professional coaches to help boost them to that next place in their career.

"I work with high achievers, typically business owners or executives and helping them redefine how they operate. Most of my clients are already successful and are looking for greater satisfaction," said Ms. White. "In today's changing society, everybody needs to look at upgrading how they operate because what used to work doesn't work anymore. Every one of my clients can and will become successful without me, but having a coach willhelp them succeed faster."

Hewlett-Packard Co. buyer Deborah Johnson did a four-month coaching stint through the Cupertino-based Career Action Center last spring. She was looking for a complete career change, but she wasn't interested in leaving HP.

Ms. Johnson was finishing up a Master of Arts degree at Santa Clara University with an emphasis in learning disabilities. She hoped to take that focus into the human resources realm. HP was supportive and picked up thetab for coaching and Ms. Johnson is moving into a new department at the company.

"Coaching gave me confidence through reinforcing and helping me identify my own unique qualifications - and guiding me through the networking process. I wouldn't have been able to make the change without the coachingprocess. It requires a special kind of guidance to change careers," Ms. Johnson said.

For the most part, the days of mentoring and giving back to your profession are gone, thanks to today's fast-paced work environment.

"When the world was less technology-based, it allowed us to have more space in our lives and in that space was when we gave back to the community or became mentors. Many people that would have been traditional mentorssimply don't have the time, so people are hiring coaches," explained Ms. White. "People hire coaches for the same reason they have mentors: to guide them along the track. It's about having someone in your corner with whatever path you choose to take."

The Career Action Center began offering coaching services in April and has worked with 20 clients to date. The service was added in response to the apparent and growing need for individuals to have someone guide themthrough the gamut of career issues.

"There's such a fast pace here in Silicon Valley, and people need to stay competitive so a coach is a necessity," said Linda Surrell, Counseling Services Manager for the Career Action Center.

Another reason success coaches are popular is the process itself is both results-oriented and convenient. "It's not about getting on the phone for 30 to 34 minutes a week to just chat or talk about past problems. It'svery focused on getting results. What I am all about is getting clients to take action or integrate what they already know," Ms. White said.

For example, many have read Steven Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," but very few have integrated it into their lives, she said. "Coaching is about asking the right questions and creating a system of accountability. What is it about this that you want to incorporate in your life? So it's not just reading a book and putting it back on the shelf," Ms. White said.

One of the pluses of having a coach is having someone who is supportive but also willing to be honest with you, according to Kathy Rice, principal of Menlo Park-based Financial Self-Reliance, a coaching and independent financial consulting firm.

"A coach spurs you on and can do brainstorming, but also has this objective approach that helps to identify where shortcomings might be," said Ms. Rice, who also provides coaching services through the Career ActionCenter. "Coaching has the right mix of keeping you on task and being supportive. You can make that call," Ms. Johnson said.

Coaching sessions are typically done via weekly telephone sessions or teleconferencing as well as unlimited e-mail exchanges between the coach and the client. Costs range from $300 to $3,000 per month, depending on whetheryou choose an organization like the Career Action Center or an executive coach like Ms. White. The fees also vary depending on the frequency and length of the coaching sessions and whether you opt for any face-to-face sessions. There is typically a minimum time commitment as well.

Mr. Davids emphasized that the results from the coaching process are dependent on the amount of effort the individual puts into it. "I like the face that it takes me from point A - dreaming about what I want my lifestyle andmy career to look like - to point B, which is not necessarily getting there tomorrow, but taking small steps toward doing it in an organized and deliberate fashion," Mr. Davids said.

Katherine Thornberry is a freelance writer based in San Jose