By Kristin Kaden Dreyer
When Kate Giovanni (BU MBA '20), general manager at Otis Elevator in South Carolina, was offered the opportunity to work with an executive coach as part of the Baylor University Executive MBA program in Dallas, she jumped at the chance.
"It's a huge benefit to have an executive coaching resource during this pivotal phase of your life and career," she said. "Coaches as part of an EMBA program are a sounding board that you might not have otherwise outside your company or industry, and they provide unbiased feedback to help you meet your greatest potential. For me, it was a total game changer."
Widely embraced by corporate America, the business, personal, and relationship coaching industry has increased more than 60% since 2007, resulting in a $1 billion/year industry in the U.S., according to IBISWorld. Forbes suggests that executive coaches have gone from "rare to common," and are welcomed by people in corporations who positively view the opportunity to work with a coach. Only recently have universities offered this same level of executive coaching for MBA students.
The benefits of executive coaching at places like Baylor University—an early leader in offering executive coaching as part of the EMBA experience—is unusual and welcomed, according to Giovanni. "I've had friends who have gone through other MBA programs, and when I share with them about my Baylor experience with my coach, they are very envious and wish they'd had something similar," she said, adding that some even consider hiring an executive coach on their own after hearing about her experience.
"At Baylor, our coaching sessions are tailored to the individual student, with the purpose of helping each to reach their professional goals," said Stacy McCracken, Director of the Baylor Austin EMBA program. "What is unique about EMBA students is that they come to Baylor at different levels in their careers, from young professionals to mid-career executives. Executive coaching, which is an optional benefit of our program, is a great tool for these professionals because it's flexible and can be customized to meet their needs," she said. "Students with whom we work want to learn how to become better managers, communicators and leaders."
When universities like Baylor provide coaching, there is a unique relationship advantage between the coach and student. According to McCracken who works with EMBA students from their initial application, interview and ultimately, graduation, she is able to establish trust more quickly and have honest conversations with her students. "I have a strong bias for action, and since I know these students well, I try to inspire possibility or to move a student from being stuck to unstuck. As a coach, sometimes all it takes is a listening ear, and the willingness to ask."
Executive coaching as part of the student experience uniquely allows them to leverage new skills and self-knowledge during their education, according to JL Radford-Williard, executive coach and consultant. "Education changes us and our perspective on our world," she said, adding that students see things in themselves and their environment that they didn't see before. "These sharp, mid-career professionals have invested in themselves with the MBA and get to work with an executive coach through a customized approach that meets them exactly where they are in their personal and professional journey," said Radford-Williard.
US News suggests that working with a coach can be helpful when a person is at an inflection point in their career. Dianne Dismukes, founder and CEO of Inspire Coaching & Leadership, agrees. Dismukes finds that students may be looking to grow into another position within their company or move to another company. "Executive coaching helps students define and clarify their career vision," she said, ensuring that the roles they accept throughout their career align with dreams.
When people willingly choose to engage with a coach, the results are greater. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, managers who are assigned a coach but who are not ready to be coached gain little, regardless of how effective the coaches may be. But students who willingly opt-in to coaching stand to reap great benefits.
"Coaching is rewarding, especially when working with professional students," said Baylor's McCracken. "Since students opt-in to coaching, no one is participating who isn't genuinely interested in making progress toward a vision or goal," she said. "They are willing to answer a coach's tough questions and challenge their personal assumptions."
Dismukes agrees. "I find that when the student is motivated to work with the coach they do well," she said.
According to Radford-Williard, the goal of executive coaching is to help students—who are also seasoned professionals—to become the best version of themselves at work, home, in the community and in the world. "We work together to identify their strengths, create/achieve their goals, and help them to be introspective and self-aware. Great leaders are confident and self-aware; they live authentically because they know who they are and how they can contribute.
Baylor student Giovanni was able to immediately apply what she learned through her executive coaching sessions as she transitioned into a new role leading a large team remotely amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. "My coach helped me develop an organized approach and strategy and even had me do a dry run of my introductory presentation prior to presenting to my new team," she said. "This was so helpful and was executed without a hitch," said Giovanni who indicated that she has since received recognition from management on her approach and its success.
According to Radford-Willard, the most important "ah-ha" moments come from small insights and comments that students are willing to hear. In describing a session with a student, she noticed how his whole face changed as he talked about helping others. "I told him that energy and excitement was noticeable during our conversation," she said. "Because this student was unhappy in their current job, he absorbed my observation in a very meaningful and intentional way. As a result, he chose to start pursuing a role in which they could help others in order to make a difference in other people's lives."
Executive coaching also helps students better understand the skills, talents and values they bring to their current job or as they look to pivot in their career, said Dismukes, who asks students to be able to tell their "story" about who they are. "Most jobs in today's world come from your personal network," said Dismukes. "I coach students to not only know how to talk about their "story" but also who they need to talk with. For some students, it requires making small changes to their vision and for others; it might require a more significant shift. It's great to work with these folks as these students are our future leaders."
Giovanni said that by taking a holistic approach in her executive coaching sessions, she learned how to integrate goals for her personal goals, such as marriage and health, with her professional goals and how to transition into different internal corporate goals. "If you think about it, you can't reach your career or professional goals if you don't have those other parts of your life together as well," she said. "I gained insights and confidence in each session."