The following 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 or by phone at (301) 601-1525.

Guidance From the Sidelines

Part counselor, Part Mentor, Part Cheerleader, the 'Business Coach' Is a New Addition to Corporate Rosters

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 a coach.

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 personal seminar."

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 friend."

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 partners."

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 other."

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, she said.

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 hour.

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.

From The Washington Post, June 28, 1998

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