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Enhancing Leadership Through Coaching

Monday, January 19, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Sarah Stewart
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By Sarah Stewart

Experts agree that mentors and counselors are critical for developing new leaders or helping experienced leaders tackle problems. In the corporate world this need has resulted in a booming industry of executive coaches. These confidants are trained to help leaders identify areas for personal growth, navigate interpersonal relationships, and achieve professional goals. 

Executive coaches have also been used in higher education and in public schools, and recently are growing in the independent school world. The role of today’s head has increasingly mirrored that of a CEO. Heads are leading larger schools in a more complex world. There is a greater focus on operations and external duties such as development and fundraising. Meanwhile heads must lead and navigate a diverse group of stakeholders including the board, teachers, parents, and students. 

Generational changes are also impacting the head profession. Many baby boomers are retiring from lengthy tenures at their schools, opening positions to younger, first-time heads. While it is beneficial for schools when their heads have long tenures, the average tenure has dropped to around seven years. Executive coaches for new heads could be the bridge that heads need to establish themselves in their communities. 

It was just this topic that sparked a dialog between Bill Clarkson and Devereaux McClatchey in 2013. Clarkson is the former head of The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, GA, and has worked in education as a chaplain, teacher, or school leader and head for more than 40 years. McClatchey is President of Carney, Sandoe & Associates, headquartered in Boston, MA. 

“We were discussing the low average tenure, and discussing the challenges new heads, and especially first-time heads face,” Clarkson said. “Coming into the position as head of school is a learning process. The head has to learn the school’s culture, and how their trustee and volunteer leaders work, and they typically face a lot of questions and uncertainties that they might not feel comfortable talking about.”

The two imagined a coaching service Carney Sandoe could provide to support heads of schools, and Clarkson agreed to lead the execution. While Clarkson’s history in education and pastoral care were obvious qualifiers for his role, he also spent two years in a rigorous training program to gain a coaching certification from the International Coach Federation (ICF). ICF is the leading global organization that certifies and represents coaching professionals. Since its creation in 1995, it has grown from around 2,000 to more than 22,000 members. 

According to ICF, executive or professional coaching is “partnering with the client in a thought-providing and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Coaches treat clients as experts in their own lives and situations and help them identify areas they would like to grow. They help clients set goals and then hold them accountable in reaching those goals. 

The ICF also differentiates professional coaching from other sources of support. While therapy deals with mental health as well as personal pain and problems, coaching supports growth that impacts one’s career and creates actionable outcomes. While the consultant diagnoses problems and offers solutions, the coach assumes that individuals can generate their own solutions, and helps them in that task. While a mentor provides wisdom and guidance based on their experience, a coach does not advise or counsel, but focuses on the individuals identifying and accomplishing their own goals. 

“There are extraordinary and nuanced skills in order to do coaching,” said Clarkson. “It’s a relationship with the client, protected by a code of ethics and confidentiality, that allows the person to set the agenda. Then, through questioning, listening, observation, and reflective feedback, the coach can help the person come to their own decisions.” 

Carney Sandoe launched its service for school leaders in September 2014. The coaching begins with a two-day site visit and coaching session at the school. The client is then coached for one hour every other week for one year, with a mid-year visit included. The engagement is concluded with a site visit at the end of the year, as well as a session reflecting on the process and summarizing key conclusions. The coach is also available for support in an emergency situation. 

“The coach provides the head with an objective and completely confidential partnership,” Clarkson said. “It’s a safe place where they can develop communication skills, explore change management, set their priorities, and identify and turn around any difficult situations.”

Susan Banke has been working in education for more than 35 years. She retired from Whitefield Academy in Mableton, GA, in 2013, and began teaching at Kennesaw State University as an adjunct professor. She became interested in coaching as a way to support the educational leadership profession in public, as well as independent and charter schools. Banke was certified as an educational executive coach through the Leadership Coaching Institute (LCI) that provides training for experienced school leaders interested in coaching. Mt. Paran Christian School Head David Tilley, who also teaches at the college, also received training with LCI with a group of 12 leaders across the state. In addition, Banke and Tilley helped LCI develop a unique module outlining the areas that independent school leaders need coaching such as development, fundraising, communication, and business skills.

In the process of being certified, Banke received coaching and found the experience enlightening and informative. She had recently transitioned in her own career and realized the benefit coaching would have been in charting her next direction. “I thought, if I had experienced this a year earlier, I would have made different choices about my future path in education.”

Tilley was equally impressed. "There are not a lot of safe places for a head of school or senior leader to be totally vulnerable and transparent," he said. "This provides an extremely confidential, safe environment where school leaders can work through their issues with a third party who has no horse in the race at that school."

After completing their certifications, Banke and Tilley decided to partner on a new coaching consultancy, which they named CoachED. Banke and Tilley launched the business in the spring of 2013, and have grown the practice to around 12 clients. A typical commitment spans a year, with the coach and client meeting once a month for an hour. Banke is managing the bulk of the clients as Tilley’s duties as head of school dominate the bulk of his time. Tilley has also partnered with his school and a Kennesaw State University research team of leadership coaches to participate in a coaching research project. The team is
researching coaching of teacher leaders, department chairs, and administrators as a way to improve school and leadership performance and 12 of his faculty members are participating in the year-long study.

Eric Bradley, high school Head of Mt. Paran, was one of the school’s faculty who worked with a coach. He describes the experience as a valuable sounding board and an objective and confidential opinion outside of the school community. “As school leaders, you spend so much time focused on what’s best for your students, your staff, your school, and not a lot of time thinking about what’s best for me,” Bradley said. “In coaching I got to discuss my areas of weakness, and set personal goals, whether it’s better communication in the community, better time-management, or the need to pursue more personal or professional development. And there are the intangible benefits – I feel like I gained more self-confidence and a greater perspective on my strengths and what I want to do in my career.”

Another client of Banke’s who asked to remain anonymous said the process gave her clarity and held her accountable for her progress. “Instead of focusing on problems, she helped me see the possibilities. For instance, okay, you might not have this, your doctorate, or certain experiences, but you do have these other strengths you can leverage and develop.”

The Center for Creative Leadership has offered executive coaching for more than 30 years. It serves clients from around the world using coaching along with assessments such as the 360 Assessment to help leaders gain perspective, identify their strengths and weaknesses, develop their skills, and achieve their professional goals. Al Calarco has been working with CCL for almost 20 years and serves as a Global Solutions Faculty Member, as well as an Executive Coach.

Calarco says the demand for professional coaches has increased in recent years. He says that in the past, many people assumed use of a coach was a sign of weakness. However, across generations, people are realizing the many benefits of being coached. 

According to ICF, 41% of clients hire a coach to optimize their individual or team performance; 33% want to expand their career opportunities; 31% want to increase their self-confidence; 29% want to improve their management skills; and 27% are seeking a greater work/life balance. 

Calarco says in finding a coach, the client should make sure the person is credentialed and has experiences that relate to their needs. “There’s a rigor to it. If you want help with your peer relationships, ask the candidate to give examples of where they helped a client do that. They should have lots of examples.” In terms of what makes a good coach, Calarco says the ability to listen, be objective, and walk the fine line of letting someone come to their own conclusions instead of telling them what to do. 

It’s also important that the client has chemistry with the coach, says Abigail Wiebenson. Wiebenson spent 19 years as Head of Lowell School in Washington D.C. After leaving the position, she became interested in coaching and earned multiple certifications. She has been coaching for seven years both with individuals and small groups. “You want to be sure that you can trust that person and they have a manner you can respond to and that you are willing to be vulnerable with them,” she said. “It’s hard to look at things that have not worked or things people say that you wish they weren’t saying. You need someone with the skill and manner and positive energy to help you become more mindful and aware as you define solutions.”

SAIS President, Dr. Steve Robinson believes professional coaching will continue to grow in the independent school community and hopes it will be a tool to ensure heads are successfully placed. “I believe executive coaching is something that’s very needed in independent schools, and will be a trend in the future of schools. When you look at how much it costs to hire a head, the cost of an executive coach is a minimum expense to help ensure a successful placement. I’m encouraging both first time heads, but also experienced heads to consider this resource.”

Join SAIS President Steve Robinson and Al Calarco from CCL at the upcoming SAIS Heads Leadership Retreat. Calarco has designed a program especially for heads of schools. The Heads Leadership Retreat is scheduled for April 19-20 in Nashville, TN. Register here.

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