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Sharon Williams

Taurus Marketing chief executive Sharon Williams
Rated: |

Are executive coaches and advisory boards full of bull?

If you know what you need to do, get on and do it. But in times of overload, stress management, or driving cultural change, it sometimes pays to get some help.

I'm one of the world's worst sceptics about executive coaching and so-called advisory boards, but I've just signed up with a couple of coaches. Why have I been so sceptical in the past? Because my business has spent thousands of dollars over the past 16 years on external advice for me and my team only to have them mentor my staff out of the business, reduce people to tears, demonstrate no understanding of my industry and leave me consistently thinking I'm good enough on my own. As for advisory boards,they need to do their job, they need to deliver hard advice, good leads and make a quantifiable difference.

So when is the right time to get some help and invest in an advisor, mentor or coach, and what are the criteria to look for? And in spite of my negative experiences in the past, I've just taken on a formal relationship with two individuals.

The first is a woman named Helen Jones who has 35 years of experience in my industry and is dynamic, vivacious and engaging. I am using her to guide me on change management and strategic planning within the business right now. It's a significant exercise re-engineering the transformation of my agency but I chose her in seconds. Why? Because I liked her and she has my respect.

She came recommended by a mutual friend and I know considering my busy schedule, I will want to spend time with her. I meet her for an hour once a fortnight on an hourly rate. Her mind works as fast as mine, she takes notes for me, she asks gentle questions, she's fun. I'm self-motivating so there is no chance my actions won't happen. We work through the issues together; we form an informal to-do list. No forms, no process. Entirely against anything I've experienced before. I'm seeing significant change already. And, did I mention, it's fun?

The second is Johnny, my personal trainer. I want to raise my fitness to a new level. I keep fit, but I want tighter direction on my program. It's more than aesthetics — it's a lifestyle choice to help me maintain the longevity of my life and my bones! Johnny is terrific. I meet him once or twice a week; he's gentle, supportive and again I want to spend time with him. Again it's about mutual respect.

I met Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti at a TransTasman Business Circle lunch yesterday and he articulated the value of working with good people.

"The importance of strong leadership in an organisation can't be underestimated," he said, "especially when you are embarking on any major program of change. What is equally important is that you surround yourself with good people. I choose to surround myself with people that are passionate about what they do, have a hunger to improve and a desire to win. People with these traits thrive on making the impossible possible."

As a general rule, it should be easy to ask for advice from those you trust and rate highly. I do it easily. It is faster than reading a manual and I enjoy being taught by example. I am a passionate mentor of others, and I have no patience for inaction. If you know what you need to do, get on and do it.

It's tough at the top in private business, without a board. But coaches and mentors can give you time and benchmarks to discuss things through; present a range of options; act as a catalyst for change; and provide genuine support.

So here are a few tips to working with a mentor:

    It's about timing. Ask yourself if it's the right time to take external advice. If the timing is wrong, you will not get the most out of the relationship.

  • Are the intentions good, positive, honourable, do you care? Does your mentor care?

  • Do you have time to implement the actions from your discussions or not?

  • Do you like the person? Will you want to and find the time to attend meetings?

  • What are the critical things you want to work on?

  • Note the action plan and commit to a date.

  • Make a time that works to meet, face to face or on the phone.

  • Listen to the advice.

  • Experience usually pays.

  • Find one by asking people you know.

  • The "fit" and chemistry needs to be right — this is a relationship.

  • If it doesn't feel right on the first session, it probably isn't going to work out.

I'm enjoying my coaches and my life is richer for the experience. Sometimes it helps to step out beyond our own limitations. What do you think?

User comments
So it is your opinion that once you reach a certain level in your career, as in Sharons case the founder and CEO of a company, you simply stop asking for advice or help? Do you really believe that it is possible for a person to reach a stage in their career, or life in general for that matter, that they know better than everyone else and can do nothing to improve? I completed an internship with in Sharons company last year - it was a brilliant place to work. From the way the team was managed and how they worked, to the processes of completing tasks. However, that does not mean that there is no room for improvement. A CEO who is able to ask for advice and consider new ways of operating should be praised.
Coaching works, when you know what you want to get done. But you have to be open to feedback. It is essential that you really want to create a positive change. If not. Coaching is completely useless. My experience is that executives are most likely to benefit from coaching in times of change. Even if you are confident in your abilities to take on new challenges, you may feel that an independent sounding board would be beneficial in helping you achieve a whole different level of performance. Or you may recognize that succeeding in a new role requires skills that you did not have to develop in the past. A coach will help to sharpen those skilled, especially if you have to do this „on the fly“. One of the big benefits of coaching is, that he or she is not tied to the organization, your friends, or anyone else. The coach is your ally he or she will support what you want and where you want to go. A lot of executives value coaches most in their role of the „truth-speaker“.
Gurus ARE full of bull becasue they tell you what you want to hear without really telling you anything of value. What I think you're saying is that you like both your coaches becaue they challenge your perspective in a non threatening and positive way. They get where you're at and where you're aimed. It IS a matter of surroundig yourself with people that have shared passion and can share perspective without exerting their ego and are not offended (including yourself) if a different perspective is couched.
Better to get good qualified staff & you don't need advisers or "gurus". I worked for a successful business whose owner kept telling people her business was different to everyone else's. She hired her staff because she liked them. For the last two years this became because she "got along with them" particularly on a social basis. She stopped taking notice of the people who were actually involved in the business. Service slumped, clients left and the staff who drove the business left.
Sometimes, its also a matter of finding the right coach, who can understand your psyche and a coach whose philosophy you respect
Often if has been stated if you are the smartest on our team, your team is in trouble as long as you have goood advisors and can make a decision after the advice you have been given, you are leading, lead away.
Interesting article, although I am not sure that a great leader would let someone get on their bus (Jim Collins), because they like them?? I like a lot of my friends but no way would I want take their advice on a number of issues, they are in a worse position than I am. Maybe the middle ground is to find someone you have a rapport with and one who will also challenge your norms and 'in a nice way' question your paradigms and shake things up a bit?? Good luck on the exercise, let us know how you get on?
If you have to get help from somebody else you are obviously overpaid. Move out and give somebody more competant a go.
Sharon I liked the article - agree getting the right advice, can make the world of difference. Getting advice from a trusted source is the key. However sometimes having 'contary' advice is the best. A person who can 1. Understands your strengths and how to use these assets. 2. Stretch your thinking - to see possibilities that you had not imagined. 3. As the EQ to know when to push you harder

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