“Basically, I felt stuck,” recalls Matthew Keeling, a planner at Keeling Financial Strategies, in Mashpee, Massachusetts. “I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what I wanted to accomplish. I just didn’t know how to do it; and if I did know how, I wasn’t motivated enough to follow through,” he adds. Most advisors who have hired an executive coach identify similar reasons for taking the step. “Once you start to hit certain levels of success, it’s important to get focused on your goals,” explains Christopher. P. Jordan, president & CEO of LEXCO Wealth Management, Inc. in Tarrytown, New York. “A coach can get you focused on how to manage time and set an objective.”
Besides clarifying goals and the paths that lead to them, seasoned coaches can also offer the perspectives gained from working with other advisor clients. “My coach only deals with top-producing financial advisors and those that have built major businesses–people just like me,” notes Jordan. “He’s worked with people who have been through similar situations.”
For Mark Finke, regional director for Genworth Financial and managing partner of Mengel, Surdyke, Murphy and Finke, a wealth management practice in St. Louis, Missouri, it was refreshing to be held accountable by an outside party and “get some different viewpoints from someone that didn’t have an axe to grind inside the practice.” Finke took a look around and realized it wasn’t uncommon for the “best” to work with a coach. “We’re in an industry where there are a lot of top performers and some pretty strong personalities. Even the best professional athletes in the world have coaches and we saw we were missing the boat,” he says.
Finding Good Help
Like many challenges, the act of hiring the coach–actually making the effort to do it and trusting that the coach can help you–is most of the battle. And finding the right person for the job may be the hardest part of that effort. Coaching is the second fastest growing profession, according to Doug Gray, vice president of Learning and Development for Rich Campe International, LLC, a company that provides coaches for hire to executives, such as financial advisors. “That’s because people can say they are coaches, get a business card, and that’s all they need to look like a professional. So, buyer beware–there are a number of charlatans,” he adds.
Most advisors and coaches agree that the way to acquire a professional, trusted coach is via referrals, since the best advisors typically share the best coaches. “That’s how I met Ray,” recalls Jordan, who has been working with Ray Sclafani, president and founder of ClientWISE in Tarrytown, New York, for the past two years. “I knew Ray when he was with AllianceBernstein and I was always impressed with how they did their client acquisition business. It was a natural fit when he started his own company.” Getting the word out about your need for a coach can help, too. In Keeling’s case, his coach, Doug Gray, found him. “I had met a group of independent consultants. One was a coach and we chatted and exchanged information. I mentioned that I was in need of coaching,” Keeling remembers. “Doug reached out to me after speaking with our go-between.”
“Most clients find me through referrals,” admits Gray. However, for those that do not plan to get a coach through a referral, he suggests using the International Coaching Federation (ICF) in order to find an accredited, trusted professional. (See sidebar below.) “The ICF upholds a strong code of ethics and conduct around confidentiality and client service,” Sclafani agrees. “All our coaches are members of ICF and two-thirds are coaching at certification level.” Advisors seeking aid should make sure to do their homework before selecting a professional. “Go to the IFC Web site and search by specialties, interests, or experience,” Gray suggests. “You may want someone who has been an advisor or someone who has been in corporate financial services…and you may not.” Gray adds that an advisor should select three to six prospects, and send them each an e-mail or call directly. “Ask for a 30-minute sample coaching session. Most will provide that complimentarily.” Gray says this “interview” should be used to assess how good of a match you make. “Find someone who has expertise, who has energy you like, and who will help you in the way that you need–some [of us] need to be pushed and others need to be supported.”
Developing a Relationship
“The [coaching] process begins for us before someone even becomes a client,” Sclafani points out. “We put them through a specific process first to understand what it is they want to achieve–they have to be growth oriented and demonstrate a real curiosity to want to learn and be open to feedback.” Sclafani says the interview allows both sides to be clear about the main business purpose for engaging an executive coach. “We sat down and had a few initial meetings to assess my reasons for getting a coach,” Jordan recalls. “Ray then asked me a series of fact-finding questions designed to highlight my goals.” From there, the two laid out a timetable–how they would work together on a month-to-month basis, and what each could expect out of it. “That was the best way for us to lay out the process up front,” Jordan says.
When it comes to actual coaching time, Jordan says he and Sclafani usually take a couple of hours to talk. “What’s really critical is the preparation,” Jordan notes. “If I’m going into a coaching session, I organize topics in mind that I want to cover.” Both agree that meetings are about formulating long-term plans, and then working through issues that come up while trying to achieve those goals. “Usually, I’ll say ‘This is what I’m struggling with, here’s what I’ve done, and here’s what I think. What’s your objective view on this?’”