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5 Times in a Career When Academics Should Hire a Coach

05/29/2013 07:01 pm ET | Updated Jul 29, 2013

The use of executive or leadership coaches has become an accepted and widespread practice in private corporations, non-profits, and government, and the reasons are becoming clearer (here). When individuals are coached, they become more effective at work and at home with notable improvements in both their task & relationship orientation; organizations become more productive with coaching returning $5-$7 for every $1 spent.

By counter-distinction, the use of coaches in academic life-for that matter, the use of any kind of systematic organizational development (OD) is virtually unknown inside the university. With the many pressures for change that universities are now facing, both economically and technologically, there are good reasons to believe that this is about to change. While universities and colleges come to grips with changes enveloping them, individual staff, professors, and administrators may want to consider the why and when of hiring a personal coach to help advance their careers and their lives.

Coaching, It's Not What You Think

Those unfamiliar with coaching sometimes think that coaching is a form of consulting, mentoring, or advice giving, but at it's best, coaching is a form of one-on-one inquiry and reflection in which the client is aided by the coaches listening and asking questions in ways that help the client find and overcome obstacles and then identify and realize possibilities.

The coach works to support only the client's agenda, starting wherever he or she is; the coach comes to the engagement without judgment or any ideal sense of what the client should or should not be doing. In this way, the client can safely explore his or her own authentic path, style, and career in a safe, supportive environment.

Compared to other kinds of OD interventions such as training and group facilitation, coaching is especially well suited to the highly competitive and individualistic nature of the academy. The confidentiality of the coaching relationship creates a safe haven for sharing hopes and concerns, successes and breakdowns, and possibilities and aspirations.

5 Times Coaching May Be Helpful in an Academic Career

There are at least five times in an academic career, when hiring a coach might be beneficial to an academic:

You're thinking about becoming an academic. Getting a PhD or other terminal graduate degree is a major commitment, and academic life is not for everyone. Consulting a career coach at the onset of the academic journey can both avoid a potentially costly and emotionally devastating decision and set sail with clear, aligned, and realistic expectations, intentions, and aspirations.

You've taken your first academic job. Congratulations, you're a newly minted assistant prof and you're eager to get started on your teaching and research, but the road to tenure is filled with many difficulty decisions. Moreover, your dean, department head, and colleagues will offer you much well intentioned advice, but how do you maximize your chances of succeeding and still stay true to your original aspirations and intentions? Consulting a coach at this stage in your career gives you a safe means of exploring your challenges and opportunities with someone who has only your interest at heart.

You've been promoted or received tenure (or denied promotion or tenure). The career ladder as a professor only has three rungs, and each promotion can be a major life transition. The transition from assistant to associate prof is usually accompanied by tenure, and the moment of getting to tenure can be disorienting. Should you continue on the same trajectory? Is it time to think about an adminstrative role? What's next? These are some of the questions that beg answers upon receiving tenure, and a coach can be helpful to asking those pertinent to your circumstances and to finding your own answers. Denial of tenure is a difficult transition, and universities and colleagues provide little or no support. A coach can help you put the event in proper perspective and find a path aligned with where you now are. Denial of promotion to full professor is another difficult case, and a coach can be especially helpful in finding perspective and next steps.

You've taken a new administrative post. Transitioning into administration can be quite a shock to the system, and even transitioning up the ranks from head or chair, to dean, to provost, and president can be challenging as each new post is quite different from the one vacated. Administrative postings and promotions are opportune times to hire a coach to help with the challenges of the new position and to prepare for subsequent advancement by building skill and developing in ways that align with the new post and the next.

You're preparing to leave the university. Perhaps you've decided that it's time to move on, start a company, become a consultant, take a position in the private sector, or retire. These transitions are to get the good questions and listening of a coach to help draw out the best in what comes next.

These five times are good ones to think about finding and using the services of a coach. The next section puts forward a number of open-ended questions to help in your quest for your coach.

Finding Your Coach

So perhaps you're at an academic transition when a coach might be useful to you. How do you find one aligned with your needs? Here are some questions to consider in hiring a coach:

  1. What training and qualifications does the person bring to their coaching
  2. To what extent does the person have academic experience and understand academic culture?
  3. To what extent is the potential coach curious about you, your obstacles, your opportunities & to what extent do they seem to have a method or an answer?
  4. To what extend do you feel comfortable with the potential coach, and to what extent is it easy or hard to share private information with him or her?
  5. To what extent does the coach ask questions that engage your reflection and are both hard and interesting to answer?
  6. To what extent does the coach seem to listen to you and "get you" through that listening?
  7. Given that universities do not yet pay for coaching, to what extent does the coach accommodate those who are paying out of their own pockets?
A good source of information about coaching and coaches is International Coach Federation, and these days there is much other information online. If you'd like to learn more about coaching with ThreeJoy, write to Dave Goldberg at deg@threejoy.com.

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