Thursday, March 18, 2010

Coaching for Finance Executives

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon often discourages the bank's use of executive coaches. Employees, he says, should be coached by managers, not outside consultants. Competent managers should guide professionals, give them career advice, polish their strengths, transform their weaknesses, and help them become business leaders. If managers were doing their job, then there wouldn't be a need for executive coaches, he has said many times.

But at many financial institutions, plain and simple, some senior managers do it, and many don't.

There are many reasons. The pressures, workloads and tasks senior managers are burdened with get in the way of a requirement that they develop talent and advise experienced personnel on career paths. With budgets to meet, deals to do, revenue objectives to reach, risks to manage, investments to make, research to do, and a harsh, unrelenting work schedule--they don't make it a priority to develop staff for the long term. Some do; many don't. Most want to, and just about all think it's critical. Yet often, it doesn't get done consistently.

When senior managers can't perform these roles, in recent years others have stepped up to fill the gap. Mentors fill that role informally in some ways. And executive coaches or career counselors do it in other formal ways.

Some finance executives who have long-term ambitions and who pursue a track to senior management have sought help from such coaches. Some institutions offer such services internally in career-advisory programs or by hiring select coaches to advise experienced staff in a specific area for a defined reason. An institution may ask a coach or counselor to prepare an executive for a more complex managerial role, to assist him/her in making more polished presentations of complicated material, or to help in developing staff.

These coaches help professionals decide where they need to improve to advance to another level or what they need to do broaden skills or make themselves known within vast institutions.

But there comes a time when professionals seek advice externally on their own and will go outside for assistance from a consultant, a career counselor, or an executive coach.

How can executive coaching help the finance executive?

A coach or advisor can help develop a long-term career plan, one that can be tweaked and adjusted flexibly. Many these days help the professional create a "personal brand," a "buzz" or a persona that helps him/her separate from the pack or distinguish from the rest of the crowd.

Coaches like to assess strengths and weaknesses. They will likely try to polish strengths, attach those strengths to the "brand," and help executives manage through weaknesses.

Most coaches help executives focus on specific roles of leadership--meeting presentations, deal negotiations, client interaction, client presentations, speeches to large groups, board-room presentations, managing conflicts, or managing large departments. Again, how do you shine and separate yourself from all others? How do you conduct yourself in each of these scenarios with confidence and self-assurance? How do you close the deal? How do you get clients to warm up to you? How do you present your annual business plan to a senior-management team?

Coaches are probably most helpful in determining a game plan for middle-managers to grow into senior managers and for senior managers to transform into accomplished leaders. How can a Vice President become a Managing Director? How can a Team Manager become a Department or Sector Head? How does the Head Trader become the Industry Head? How does Sector Head become an exceptional, proven business leader?

Should she take on an international assignment? Should he get more experience in a marketing role? Should she show she can shine in a major revenue-generating group? Should she take time to learn more about a new product? Does he need to improve how he interacts with peers or presents a budget proposal or client review in a large meeting? Could he enhance he appearance or improve how he communicates?

Even Dimon will admit today that after his 1998 ouster from Citi, he benefitted from coaching, advice from elders, and periods of self-reflection before he resumed his career at BankOne and JPMorgan. And he benefits from a counselor who taps him on the shoulder to remind him not to lose his cool in a presentation on the financial crisis in Washington. (Still, he challenges managers to act as everyday executive coaches.)

Consortium alumnus Shayna Gaspard runs her own executive-coaching and professional-development firm, Brand You Consulting ( Her background and experiences are in marketing--most notably in brand marketing at Coca-Cola. Yet she thinks finance executives, too, can benefit from professional guidance. She has worked with many finance people in transition in the past.

Her company tries to help executives "take control" of their careers in several basic ways and with an emphasis on the self-brand. BrandYou Consulting helps executives "present (themselves) as more than the sum of (their) experiences, provide others with a clear understanding and appreciation of what is (unique about them), and position (themselves) to be 'top of mind' for opportunities (they) seek."

Shayna developed a five-step model, the ADEPT process, and uses it to help clients create that brand. Brand You Consulting provides services to students, professionals in transition, and professionals aspiring to senior management. (Those interested in her services can reach her via her website or CFN.)

She has an advantage with those in the Consortium community. She shares a common background with many alumni and friends--having been an MBA student (at Emory) and having launched a career at Deloitte Consulting and Coca-Cola.

Shayna is eager to learn more about what finance professionals seek in the short- and long-term. She can fill the gap when internal guidance within financial institutions isn't there or isn't performing up to par. She has tools, she says, that will permit young finance executives to take steady steps to levels of senior management and substantial responsibility.

Tracy Williams

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