Question: Long-term career coaching with a specific goal

I am an IT project manager in a large corporation. My performance and potential have both been ranked "above expectation" for last several years.

I aim to be the CIO of a company (may not be my current employer) in next 5-7 years.

1. Will investing in a career coach help me achieve that? Or am I better off finding a mentor?
2. What will be the coaching process, both for development of my IT competencies and leadership soft skills?

6 Expert Insights

Congratulations for taking the lead on your own climb.  A terrific inquiry!

Granted I’m a business leadership coach and while every situation is not a ‘coaching’ ideal, I see your situation as a natural.  In general, coaching pertains to helping the ‘client’ move from where they are to where they want to be.  You have identified your goal in rather specific terms in the sense that you want to achieve the CIO position within 5 to 7 years.  In working with a coach the work will focus on …

1. Identifying the specific technical skills and knowledge that the position will require
2. Evaluating where you currently stand in terms of such skills and knowledge and thus able to identify what additional learning you need to bring you up to the desired level
3. Approach the leadership responsibility you will have in a similar manner … what is going to be required and where are you today in having these skills.
4. Design the learning path to mastering the leadership skills the CIO position will require in terms of being extremely effective as a leader.

The unique approach of coaching is that both coach and client are focused on creating a strategy and plan that represent a good fit for the specific client. Only if it is compatible with the person does it have potential sustainability for them.  This is what they will achieve in their joint effort.  Too often, following a more generic ‘to do’ approach risks becoming a flavor of the month to the person because they haven’t taken the required steps and adapted them to their own personality and style.    

In the overall, it is important is that both the client and coach base their time together working on a situation based on real rather than perceived circumstances.   This becomes the start point of the relationship to assure that you are building to your goal from a solid and realistic foundation.

I'll be glad to discuss this with you further if desired.  In the meantime, you're asking the right questions for sure!

Mike's response is right on the money...I would add that a mentor approach might help you navigate the nuances and shadings of your particular organization as long as the mentor works from principles vs. programs. Here's an example:  When I've been hiking with my wife, who has longer legs than I do, our hiking styles are different. On the way up, because I cycle, I'm the faster climber. However on the way down, she's much quick and strides ahead quite easily. If I were to attempt to "step where she steps" as most mentors advocate, then I might well get out of balance because my stride doesn't match heres...that's the "program" method...i.e. "step where I step"....however if the mentor, in this case my wife, were to clarify the principles she's using she might say "I move side to side so as to take some of the downhill momentum off and look for the rocks in the solid ground as I do so, which takes care of the gravel issue. "   What happens then is I can employ the principle while still using my own style and limitations/structure of my body.

If that isn't the case with the mentor, you will be directed into being a clone of the mentor which may well not fit you in some way.

This is the crucial distinction between mentor and coach and Mike Dorman's comments address it directly.  My question for you is this...What has you thinking that using a combination for the best of both wouldn't be advantageous for you?

bye for now, and I wish you the best in your adventure to CIO...I would hope you make it as fun, exhilirating, rewarding and effortless as bias is that a coach could help you do that with a little help from a mentor to shade the way.

Considering coaching to move ahead in your career is a very important decision you are making. I think it is better for you to engage a coach than a mentor.

Let me first clarify for you one thing. Coaching is not dependent on the particular skill the client has but it is important that a coaching process that both the client and the coach agree upon  is used. I have been a coach for 10 plus years and in spite of the fact that I was a very successful coach I decided to go to coaching school, International Coach Academy (ICA) to further sharpen my skills. After 6 months I have completed their Certified program which will now allow me to apply for ICF certification as well. I found the school has given me the opportunity to confirm what I already knew and also add more skills to my tool box. If you want to learn more about me please review my web site

By the way Mike Dorman addressed many things I would have addresses so I did not find it necessary to repeat the same thoughts.

I also provide to my potential clients a free coaching session  so they can familiarize themselves with me and my coaching style. If you are interested in connecting with me and getting a free coaching session, please contact me.

Looking forward hearing from you in the near future. Regards, Iva Wilson

Good questions! Regarding your first inquiry, it’s not an either/or: You can have a coach AND a mentor! While there are some similarities in these two types of relationships, they have different characteristics and serve different purposes.

A mentor is more of a trusted advisor, perhaps someone who IS where you’d like to be in the future -- for example, a current or former CIO. This is someone from whom you can learn the rules of the road and the tricks of the trade in your field and in your position. Someone who might take you under his or her wing, show you the ropes, share their personal experiences with you, and allow you to learn from their mistakes…and from their successes. They can help to open doors, be a reference, and a resource, and someone from whom you will benefit from the wisdom of their experience and the power of the relationship.

Now, as far as coaching: A coach is someone who is trained to perform this function. Almost anyone with experience can potentially serve as a mentor; not everyone can or should be a coach…or will be a GOOD coach, or the RIGHT coach, for you.

As for the coaching process, every coach has a different process, so it’s about finding someone who is a good fit, and with whom you feel comfortable and have chemistry, as well as respect, and trust.

Additionally, you seem to be talking about three separate, though related, things: a career coach; an IT-competencies coach; and a leadership or executive coach. It may not be impossible to find, but to me it would be a stretch to think you’d be able to get all three things from the same person – no matter how good a coach he or she is!

As I’m running out of space, I’ll stop here. But you are asking all the right questions, and I want to say that your proactivity, self-awareness, and insight in recognizing the benefits of seeking professional support to help you take your career to the next level are good indicators of your leadership potential. Good luck!

1. Will investing in a career coach help me achieve that? Or am I better off finding a mentor?
Get both.  Get as many mentors as you can.  They can advise you on how to engineer you through the organization.
A career coach can give you a context to understand what you got, what you want and what you need.,

2. What will be the coaching process, both for development of my IT competencies and leadership soft skills?
The process begins with an 2 hour conversation to examine your and your career aspirations:  who you are and what you want.  I have a variety of straightforward tools to help you think through these questions and develop a plan to go forward....long and short term.  
Next steps would be an Emotional Intelligence instrumented assessment of your skills and leadership competencies that will enable you to get there.  
Finally, a monthly telephone call on accomplishments and challenges.
Good luck and best for the new year.

Mentors are free, and talk with you when/if it's convenient for them. They're not trained and mentor from the kindness of their heart. A good career coach is in your corner, is neutral and will help you progress faster and smarter than you would on your own. Take any two people with the same goal, the one with a good coach will go farther.

The right coach will help you advance both the skills you have and the ones you need.

Hiring a coach is not like buying a vase. Shopping by price alone is a mistake.

I have a Top Ten list to share with you, if you choose to contact me. I'm a senior career coach.