article appeared in the Business section of The Washington Post on Sunday, June
28, 1998. Suzi Benoff Pomerantz is a Master Certified Coach who can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (301)
Guidance From the Sidelines
Part Mentor, Part Cheerleader, the 'Business Coach' Is a New Addition to
Shawn Adler was 27 when
his father promoted him to president of the family-run Adler Financial Group, a
Fairfax real estate investment company. Shawn admitted he "needed to learn a
lot" as he began his climb from property management to president of the company
at a relatively young age. He knew he needed help from an outsider, so he hired
Adler's coach, Suzi
Benoff, of Bethesda-based Innovative Leadership International, started meeting
with Adler three years ago, when it became apparent he was being groomed by his
father to take over the business.
Adler realized that a
father and son have a different working relationship than most managers have
with employees, so he decided he needed someone who was not connected to the
business at all. "I needed to know what my tasks were, where I needed to focus,
when I needed to ask for help," he said. Adler said Benoff provided "my own
A business coach is 'a
new tactic in the art of improving your company," says Benoff, who describes
the job as a combination of "a counselor, advisor, mentor, cheerleader and best
And although it can
sound a lot like consulting work, business coaching is not quite the same.
Consultants generally "are there to make changes," she said. "Coaching is to
work as a guide to help employees clarify their own positions in the company.
They are there to help employees find what they really want to do. . . .
Coaches do not try to fix a client. It is entirely up to the client to take the
action in order to change their life."
Benoff said she worked
with more than 1,000 clients since she opened her company in 1993 to provide
leadership consulting, coaching and training. "It's really gaining popularity
with executives," she said. Her training often consists of "a series of
conversations to get beyond whatever barriers are getting in the way of
producing whatever they want to produce." Her clients, Benoff said, "are people
who want to catapult to the next level."
Tom Morris, workplace
consultant and president of D.C.-based Morris Associates Inc., coaches local
executives and agrees that coaching is a useful tool for businesses. "It allows
us to really focus in on what a person's strengths are an how they can use
coaching to the best advantages, and it allows us to see where the problem
areas are," he said.
So why not just go to
your boss with these problems? "As an independent coach, I'm in their corner,"
Morris said. "A superior has to get the job done. The person can be a lot more
candid with than they can with their boss or superiors."
Morris coaching is
helpful because some clients need someone who can see the issues from the
outside, from a different angle. The client "is too close it, " he said, and is
often unable to clearly see where the problems lie.
"We start at strengths
and look to where they need improvement. We're taking the time to really focus
on the areas you need help in," he said.
Workers at different
levels of various types of companies have used a coach for various reasons.
"Executives feel like they're lonely at the top. Having a coach gives them
someone outside of their company to use as a sounding board," Benoff said. And
"employees under the CEO use a coach to give suggestions because they are
afraid to go to their higher-ups," she said. "We've had executives, managers,
work teams in Fortune 500 companies, attorneys and managing
Jack Dunn, chairman of
Annapolis-based FTI Consulting Inc., a litigation support service, said
professional coaching is an important part of his company's growth. "There are
certain things you can't see or assess about yourself," he said. "Unless you
have a coach, you're going to miss seeing something. . . . We have used
coaching to try to get to a place so we're able to coach each
Dunn found he needed a
coach recently as his company's founders gave way to new leaders. "It's not an
easy thing to do, and it's rare when those transitions work out," he said.
Benoff held a session, much like a retreat, with the new leaders, to see how
they would interact with one another. "The session created an intimacy that
created a power," Dunn said.
"This business has a lot
of superstars and strong personalities. We had some people who were doing great
individually, but if they could have been more aligned they could work
together," Dunn said. After some coaching, he said, they worked together much
better: "It was a major break through for us."
"I don't think you can
improve in life unless you have someone to help you. Very often you need
someone with different perspective that you can't get by looking through a
one-way glass," Dunn said.
Benoff sometimes holds
retreats away from the clients' office so she can "create a safe environment so
they express themselves to each other." In doing so, the clients are able to
open the lines of communication to each other and work through their issues,
The International Coach
Federation, a nonprofit professional organization of personal and business
coaches, based in New Mexico, estimates the number of coaches in the United
States at more than 5,000.
The federation polled
210 coaching clients during the first quarter of 1998, looking for demographic
data and opinions regarding their coaching experiences. Among the findings,
half of the respondents said they confide in their coach as much as their best
friend, spouse or therapist.
Rates vary, but most
coaches charge $200 to $250 per month for one half-hour call per week,
according to the federation. Executive coaches may charge $100 to $150 per
Benoff predicts that in
the next few years, coaching will become the norm in the business world.
"People will say 'Who is your coach?' about as often as they say 'Who is your
dentist?' Or 'Who is your attorney?'" she said.
Washington Post, June 28, 1998